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For the past six months, if you work in HR, you might feel as though you haven’t had a moment to come up for air. The HR department has been at the forefront of adapting policies, managing employee wellbeing and putting out fires amidst the pandemic. 

That’s why we hosted our recent panel to see what changes HR is facing and how to better prepare yourself. Ed Chamberlain, the founder of Altus and co-host Lucy Chamberlain, founder of C&C search, were joined by a brilliant panel including:  

  • Rachel Patterson, Human Resources Consultant 

  • Sally Miles, Business Consulting, People Practice & Development at TWYO CONSULTING Ltd

We’ve highlighted some of the key questions you asked during the session and our panellist's answers. 

How can HRs encourage more traditional leadership teams to embrace remote working? 

Rachel: This is a global conversation that I’m having. How can we take this ‘new normal’ and make a lasting change in the office? 

It’s about how we address or position the justification for working from home. The key is building on the trust that has formed in the last few months and using that trust to move forward for lasting change. I like to twist the argument on its head. People often say that the argument for WFH is reduced costs and people being happier. The question is how can we motivate our employees and how can we retain and engage them – WFH from home wins on that. 

Sally: For me, it’s about the bottom line and the impact. For a lot of us, we’re working with leaders who are less concerned in engagement and culture and care more about the bottom line and shareholders. There are effective ways to manage costs and facilities when working remotely. You can easily attribute it to the bottom line and that’s a business angle to go in on. 

When it comes to managing those old fashioned working mindsets, you need to hold the mirror up to leadership and those boards. Ask them what or why do you want employees in the office and around you? Is it for the sake of the employees or the ego of leaders? 

I work with one organisation where I’ve implemented a tool called Office Vibe. It gives real-time engagement surveys, which we can make bespoke to different areas of change and that gives us feedback. Since doing this, and working from home, the engagement levels have shot up. We now have all the data and rationale to build a business case when talking to the leadership team. It comes back to a knowledge of how your team best wants to work and engage. It’s been fantastic for us. 90% of people don’t want to come back to the old way of working. Only 2% wanted to come back to the way things were and one of those was the CEO.

In this strange time, what key actions should HRs focus on? 

Rachel: People are going to remember how you made them feel during this time. Don’t worry about every communication or policy being perfectly right. It’s about getting out there and doing good stuff that is going to boost morale. 

For me, a key focus I have is upskilling my managers to make them more comfortable with building connections. The pandemic has extenuated the areas when managers aren't communicating. Anxiety is high for everyone, so I would say the advice is to communicate and encourage managers to talk to their team and not just about work. Check how they are, how things are and ask ‘how can I support you’. 

Sally: Technology is king right now. Despite the horrific situation, L&D has pivoted quickly. Moving online means you can continue to upskill staff. Tech is also great for wellbeing, surveys of engagement, webinars. We can use tech more effectively than we did before and HR pros should run with that.

How do you manage culture-shifting with lots of people WFH?

Sally: Trust is the biggest issue. With any policy put in place, there needs to be a framework. Whether that’s set hours or days that people are working, they like a sense of structure and belonging. 

It's also about measuring people on output. Decide as an organisation what that is and then allow people to work in that framework the best way they can. 

Rachel: It’s important to recognise the environment. Facebook, for example, gave everyone a Friday off just because it’s been difficult. I’ve had clients stall quarterly performance reviews, saying they’ll push them back to just the end of the year because they’re stressful. It’s about recognising the environment and pivoting HR policies. 

How do you deal with people's fear of coming back to the office? 

Sally: There are guidelines with social distancing and risk assessments to manage the return. But it’s also understanding fear and investing in staff where you can. I have some clients who can pay for their staff to get taxis so they don’t have to rely on public transport but not everyone can do that. 

I listen to Kevin Gaskell, he’s a turn-around guru. He turns businesses around by taking the vision and breaking it down into manageable chunks. For example 100 day plans, or even further. That way every success, every milestone is communicated. 

How do you think the role of the HR will change post-COVID? 

Sally: HR needs to understand business revenue, bottom line and the customer. There is a real opportunity for HR pros to step-ups and be confident and open and honest with opinions. Take on the responsibility to understand commercials of the business and the economics of how the business may change. When HR understands the bottom line, they have more impact and bring about more confidence in leaders and staff. 

What are the key skills to improve yourself in HR?

Sally: One of the great things about not commuting means I can read and learn more. Read the Harvard Business Review, look at Quartz. Mckinsey reports and try listening to podcasts to keep learning and ask your network if you have questions. 

Rachel: I’d always recommend joining or building a network of other pros. Having like-minded people in your industry can give you real-time direct competitor analysis. Which does help when you're justifying initiatives. 

You also need to practice what you preach. Take the advice you’re giving. Take time to learn for yourself, either work-related or just something you enjoy. I did the CIPD qualification and that taught me how to communicate and form an argument. This meant I’m much better at persuading people around change.

Just take some time for yourself as well. HR has been hard, this is our time. It’s such a polarised situation. Now it’s about organising priority and focusing on what matters. 

This period, whilst exhausting, has opened up the opportunity for HR professionals to show the value they add to businesses. Be creative with your ideas and solidify your seat at the management table. To hear more incredible insight from Sally Miles, why not check out our upcoming Behavioural Science Series for HR and Talent Professionals, event series. Get your free tickets here.