THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Written by: Angy Russell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEP
As Director of Human Resources, Angy Russell is responsible for human resources, meeting planning, customer service, and financial management for the Colliers | Columbus office. Keep reading to get Angy’s take on how COVID-19 has impacted human resources, hiring and retaining talent.
In your experience, how has COVID-19 affected your role overall so far?
It has certainly led to some interesting and challenging workplace and job transformations. HR has always played a large role in the health and safety of the associates, now more than ever.
COVID-19 has pushed me to get even more creative with communications. I have been putting a lot more time and effort into researching remote training tools. There has been a lot of coordination with management on how to best support our team members during this time, especially those associates who are juggling remote work and homeschooling.
We also transitioned to a 100% electronic onboarding process. This was a project that was in the works prior to the pandemic that we were forced to roll out a lot faster, which I am thankful for. It was a bit bumpy at the start but has made us much more efficient and has allowed us to spend more time focusing on the important things with new hires.
What has been the biggest challenge for you from an HR standpoint in the past few months?
Juggling the protection of associate health while recognizing and rewarding those who have continued to come into work has been a challenge. We are deemed an essential business, and we have associates out every day making sure the buildings we manage are taken care of. They can’t work from home. I spent a lot of time working with our VP of Operations ensuring we had enough PPE and creating new policies and safety practices.
Another challenge is maintaining our culture and momentum while not being physically together to collaborate. We are all social creatures – and some of those great ideas that come up during a meet-up at the copy machine are not happening like they used to. I think our company has done a great job trying to create virtual spaces to meet up, but there is a naturalness that comes from in-person interaction that has been lost. We are seeing a return, though, as more and more people return to the office.
With the pandemic drastically increasing the unemployment rate, have you noticed a difference in the number of people applying for jobs or in the quality of applicants?
Honestly, I have not seen a dramatic increase or change in the caliber of candidates. I think the Columbus market has been more fortunate than others in keeping people employed. In fact, we have 12 openings right now and we would appreciate an influx of talent applying for those opportunities.
There is speculation that remote working will be a permanent feature for many organizations. Do you think this will happen, and what do you think this would look like for HR?
I think more rigid or traditional companies will add flex/remote work policies in light of COVID-19. And there may even be some that go 100% remote. However I personally feel there needs to be a healthy mix of in-office and remote work opportunities. There is a lot to be said for in-person interaction and collaboration. Culture is intangible and is best experienced when immersed for a long period of time. I feel companies that go 100% remote are going to have a greater challenge with growing leaders, succession planning and training. There also may be a loss of creativity, new ideas and cross-training that happens naturally when in close proximity. I also think there is an appreciation from associates to have a separation of work and personal life. I have found myself working much longer hours that weren’t always necessary due to the fact that it was easy to do so in my home office. This could lead to burnout if not monitored appropriately.
In your opinion, how will COVID-19 impact how companies hire, retain talent and keep employees engaged in the long run?
That’s a great question, and I feel like the answer is ever-changing. Our “normal” is shifting every day. What we were doing just 6 months ago vs. 2 months ago vs. today to hire and engage employees has shifted dramatically. I believe we will see more and more use of technology. Jobs will change too – as artificial intelligence becomes more accessible and affordable, HR will have to be nimble to retain and retrain staff. Contingent workers will become more commonplace.
We were in the midst of a breakdown of what the world of work looked like even before the pandemic. Unlimited paid time off, 100% remote work, use of contingent workers, elimination of performance evaluations, diversity and inclusion initiatives – all of these and so much more were disrupting the talent space. Now to bring in COVID-19, an economic crisis, political unrest and heightened racial tensions – we are only scratching the surface of what the “new normal” will look like and it will be years for the fallout to be truly understood.
Companies who really embrace the human element of the organization with empathy, collaboration and inclusion will be much more successful than those rooted in “how we do things here.” Successful organizations will be those that embrace the whole person – not just as an employee – but the social, financial, physical and mental issues that come with being human. We will be seeing more benefits surrounding these issues to retain and keep people engaged. Wellbeing has been a hot topic in HR in recent years and COVID-19 has forced our hands to really take a look at how we can support people at all levels.