Changing Course: How COVID-19 Is Reshaping the Future of HR

Changing Course: How COVID-19 Is Reshaping the Future of HR

Employee Experience  |  Digital Transformation

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

When experts speculated back in January what the biggest HR trends would be this year, few could have predicted how radically the face of work would change just a few months later. 


The coronavirus has altered the course of HR radically and, perhaps, permanently. There are few silver linings to the pandemic, but some of these changes may be for the better. Many employers are re-examining their relationships with employees through an increasingly empathetic lens. And many HR leaders are embracing the idea of building greater agility and flexibility into their policies and plans. 


As you start to think about what the future looks like for your HR team, here are a few HR trends that have been upended by COVID-19—and a few that have been accelerated.


1. Remote work is here to stay, and HR will plot the path ahead

As recently as last year, companies and their employees were not on the same page when it came to remote work. Though 99% of employees said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers, many major companies were rolling back their remote work options, often citing issues with collaboration and productivity. 


Then the coronavirus came along, and companies that could go remote were forced to quickly adjust. The results were surprising: the majority found that their fears were largely unfounded, with only 15% reporting a material negative impact and 22% reporting a small negative impact, despite the additional pressures employees were facing. Many saw no impact at all.


This unplanned pilot is likely to encourage more companies to give employees remote work options in the long term—and HR will play a critical role in this. The technology may already be in place and managers and teams may have figured out what works for them, but it’s up to HR to design a detailed remote work policy that builds on these early successes and creates clarity out of uncertainty.


2. More companies will recognize their role as a safety net for employees

While the coronavirus has had an impact on everyone, it has undoubtedly affected some more than others. And as the pandemic eroded the boundaries between professional and personal lives, it became impossible not to see these discrepancies. 


This has proven an eye-opener for many leaders, who have pledged to do more to support their employees despite lingering uncertainty about what the future holds for their businesses. In fact, a recent study found that, far from stripping them back, 47% of companies are enhancing health care benefits, 45% are expanding their wellbeing programs, and 33% are adapting their paid time off and vacation programs. 


This can help take a lot of weight off employees’ shoulders, allowing them to focus on doing their best work, safe in the knowledge that their employer has their back if they experience a health or family emergency. Cuts are still happening in other areas, of course, but many leaders are taking a strategic approach to only cut back where absolutely necessary, while making the safety net more robust.


HR can help keep this momentum going—ensuring benefits packages align with what employees really need, advocating for pay equity and transparency, and making it easy for employees to access information about what’s available to them. In years to come, we may also see more companies creating roles like chief mental health officer to support the well-being of their workforces. This present challenge will pass, but employers’ responsibility to look after their people will not.


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3. The rise of the contingent workforce will speed up, and HR needs to keep pace

In a 2016 survey by Deloitte, only half (51%) of executives said they planned to increase the use of contingent workers over the following five years. 


That number is likely to spike in the aftermath of COVID-19 as companies hesitantly relax their hiring freezes and begin work on new projects. After all, hiring a full-time employee comes with a bigger price tag and degree of risk, as there’s no guarantee that business will pick up at the rate leaders anticipate. Leaning on gig workers provides more flexibility, and if a contingent hire proves a particularly good fit, companies can always offer a full-time role when the contract comes to an end. 


HR professionals will be instrumental in ensuring their companies provide a positive experience to their contingent workforces—including offering that vital safety net. At the start of 2020, 54% of gig workers had no access to employer-based benefits. Creating formal policies detailing what benefits contingent workers will be eligible for, as well as how things like onboarding and performance management will be handled, will become essential as these employees become the norm, rather than the exception. 


4. Employer branding will be under the microscope

While companies have a lot on their minds at the moment, they should be mindful not to let employer branding fall off their radars. The world is paying close attention to how companies treat their people right now—and going silent may do more harm than good.


In the short term, HR professionals should liaise with leaders to ensure they understand the lasting impact their decisions may have on the company’s ability to recruit and retain the talent it needs. HR should also seek clarity about what information they can and can’t share, both internally and online. In the long term, adopting—and maintaining—a stance of honesty, transparency, and empathy in all their employer branding efforts will allow companies to have more productive conversations with potential candidates. 


5. HR will fully embrace new technology—and become more agile as a result

Even though HR as a function has become increasingly digitized over the past few years, some companies were holding out. That's likely to change. The pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders highlighted that creating an agile HR function isn’t just beneficial—it’s absolutely essential. 


HR teams that had already adopted cloud-based tools before the pandemic found themselves in good stead to support their companies’ sudden transition to remote work. Those that hadn’t faced a much greater challenge—but something interesting happened. In the face of disruption, HR professionals around the world quickly mobilized and adapted. Many were able to condense digital transformation initiatives that would usually take many months into mere weeks or even days, then managed to encourage widespread adoption among their freshly remote workforces. 


This experience should light a fire under HR, encouraging teams to re-evaluate their readiness for future disruptions, develop a robust business continuity plan, and take steps to become more agile. It should also give HR professionals confidence in their ability to execute future initiatives. After all, if they can do it under pressure, just imagine what they could achieve with adequate time to plan and prepare. 


The road ahead might be bumpy, but the right technology can smooth the journey. Learn more about how a cloud-based HR Service Delivery platform can help your team navigate the unexpected—and stay ready for anything—in our upcoming webinar, People Continuity: The Human Side of Your Business Continuity Plan.

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About Laura Zifchak (Poggi)

Laura leads the marketing team for the PeopleDoc by Ultimate Software products in North America. She joined PeopleDoc in January 2015 to help HR teams learn about HR Service Delivery technology, understand how it benefits their existing business strategies, and become expert users of our platform as customers.

Laura has experience with bringing technical software solutions to market with prior leadership positions at both IBM and RTTS. She has an MBA from CUNY Baruch Zicklin School of Business, and a BS degree in Marketing from Siena College.

With years of practice managing teams through rapid growth and constant change, Laura is passionate about employee and manager experience, and using technology to help scale and improve operations.