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October 27, 2020 | Covid-19 | Posted by Ascentis Thought Leadership

What Have Business Leaders Learned From Our Pandemic Year?

The close of a year is usually the time for high-concept think pieces about what our industries have learned from the events of the last 365 days and how we can apply those lessons to the year ahead. This year is obviously going to be a little bit different. The lessons we’ve learned and are still learning from the year of the global COVID-19 pandemic are unlike those of any previous year. In a year that has changed the very shape of employment in America, the potential lessons are endless for businesses across nearly every industry. Let’s take a look at a few of the most pressing takeaways from this most challenging year of doing business. 

Work Arrangements Require More Flexibility 

Many industries were moving toward allowing more employees to work remotely even before the pandemic hit, but many other employers were reluctant to change up their approaches and move away from a traditional office environment. Now that COVID has forced employers of all stripes to try mobile solutions for managing their workforces, many have found that a remote workforce has some marked advantages.  

Some of the world’s largest companies have now gone almost totally remote. That has required serious adjustments in time management, personal wellness routines, collaboration strategies, and training to use technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet. It seems likely that some form of remote employment will remain the norm for many companies even beyond the pandemic, which should drive more businesses to invest in mobile strategies like workforce management apps and HRIS automation. 

Of course, there are also a number of industries for which remote work simply is not an option. Employees in the healthcare, manufacturing, construction, and service industries, for instance, are generally still required to be physically present at their workplaces. Employers in those fields are also adapting to the pandemic environment by instituting flexible scheduling, adding extra shifts to allow for social distancing, and developing plans to deal with pandemic stress and burnoutWhether workers are onsite or remote, there are very few industries that have not had to make major adaptations to work through this time of crisis. 

HR and Operations Play a Key Role in Safety 

A safe workplace has never been a more desirable commodity for workers than it is right now, and workforce management teams are at the forefront of establishing that safety. The CDC and many state organizations have issued official recommendations for worker safety, but the role of HR  and operations doesn’t end with compliance on those fronts. From upgrading to touch-free timekeeping technology to establishing worker wellbeing plans to setting up safety-related push notifications on a company’s mobile app, HR and operations touch workplace safety from multiple angles. Facilities managers in manufacturing and healthcare settings are improving safety by rearranging workspaces, collaborating on schedules that keep teams compartmentalized, and developing plans for sanitizing physical workspaces quickly and efficiently. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that safety will play a huge role in recruitment and hiring for the foreseeable future. Potential hires are likely to have health issues at the front of their minds as they search for new roles. Establishing a plan for workplace safety will be an important tool for businesses looking to attract and retain top quality employees in the coming years. 

Virtual Recruiting is the Way of the Future 

Most companies took a good portion of their recruitment and hiring operations online long ago. In the COVID era, however, more and more of those processes are taking place fully remotely, and the results are better than some companies may have expected. HR teams are learning how to make the most of a recruitment and onboarding process that in many cases doesn’t involve a physical meeting with the new hire.  

Important elements like communicating a company culture, setting benchmarks for success, and making a new employee feel like part of an established team are unquestionably trickier in a virtual environment, but just as people have begun adapting to remote work overall, so will HR teams adjust to this new system of online onboarding. 

Communication Feeds Engagement 

One of the more unexpected statistical findings of the pandemic has been a marked increase in employee engagement. Rather than the demoralization and anxiety that might be expected under these unique circumstances, the American workforce has reported higher engagement across the board.  

Experts believe that has a lot to do with the sudden organizational changes necessitated by the pandemic: since virtually every business has had to adopt a new plan, there has been a lot more direct communication between management (including HR) and employees. Workers feel more looped-in and directly involved as their employers work to forge new processes, which has led to a more engaged and energized workforce. 

On the administrative side, a sudden increase in overall communication has required operations teams to make a quick pivot in the way they communicate. That might entail creating new communications platforms, investing in new devices such as mobile phones or tablets for employeesand adapting existing communication tools to better reflect new processes in the workplace. 

These new communications measures are not just a response to the pandemic; they’re also an important means for informing employees about it. Workplace operations are constantly evolving as the science of the pandemic is refined. Quickly alerting workers to changes in policies, schedules, and procedures is vital to keeping a business operating efficiently through this crisis. The CDC has issued a full communication strategy for organizations to alert workers about infections and outbreaks, which may also require adjustments to established practices. Workforce management teams should study the communication methods they’ve been forced to adopt during this unusual time and formulate ways to maintain that level of communication post-COVID. 

HR Data is More Important Than Ever Before

Keeping tabs on key HR statistics is crucial at any time. During this pandemic, accurate data tracking has taken on a whole new dimension. Knowing which employees are working remotely and which ones are onsite, making sure that critical roles are staffed by properly certified workers, knowing how many employees have sufficient paid sick leave banked in case of illness, recording basic health and safety informationand many other key HR metrics are more crucial to efficient operations than ever before.  

As the moving pieces involved in employers’ daily operations keep multiplying due to remote work, community outbreaks, social distancing measures, and other unprecedented situations, maintaining an easy-to-use analytics dashboard with timely reporting features becomes another workplace essential.   

Urgency Can Be a Motivator 

The only predictable thing about 2020 has been unpredictability. As the data surrounding the virus evolves and local, state, and federal authorities issue new and sometimes contradictory guidelines, HR and operations teams have had to scramble to stay up to date with the latest information.  

That has led to confusing situations for many businesses, but also to a useful sense of urgency. This year has left teams with less room for the endless meetings and planning sessions that often bog down projects, and less opportunity for the distractions and derailments of a physical office space. While that situation presents some significant challenges, some leaders have also reported a noticeable uptick in efficiency. When every project feels urgent, employees are spurred to cut through the red tape and get things done. Whether that’s sustainable in the long-term without burning everyone out remains to be seen, but that urgency has helped some teams increase productivity during difficult times. 

HR and Workforce Management are More Essential Than Ever 

For all of the challenges the COVID era has presented for HR and operations teams, it has also put one hard truth in clear focus: in times of crisis, businesses rely on their workforce management staff to keep them operating effectively. Without the quick thinking, adaptability, and agility of dedicated HR and operations staff, many businesses likely would have found themselves unable to adapt to the unexpected demands of moving workers to remote roles, managing temporary layoffs and rehires, and adjusting payroll in accordance with these new realities.   

Some observers have noted that the role of HR and workforce management in this crisis is similar to the role financial administrators played during the 2008 recession. At this stage of 2020, that comparison seems apt. As we move ahead into the uncharted territory of 2021, high quality human capital management will continue to play a major role in bringing our businesses and our economy back to something approaching normal.  

Technology and automation tools like Ascentis’ suite of solutions will be essential to getting a handle on time and attendance, HR and benefits administration, payroll operations, recruiting, onboarding and much more. Try a demonstration today and learn how Ascentis can be your guide through our constantly changing business landscape. 

With more than 35 years of experience in providing Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, Ascentis thought leaders have become a respected source for insights, tips, and innovations in the Human Capital Management (HCM) space.