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After a year of unprecedented health and economic crises, companies and their human resources staff are coming to terms with what awaits the workforce. The first question is how to reboot the system. 

“Crisis does create opportunity—and we were out there, for our people and their families,” said Lisa Dodman, chief people officer at Unit4, an enterprise software company. 

She talked with Meghan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer, about ways the pandemic has changed HR and how offices can successfully reopen. 

Human resources has had to adapt to virtual operations along with much of the rest of the economy. The question is how much of those new approaches survives into what will pass for new-normal businesses. 

“There is an increased focus on well-being,” Dodman said. “The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities and emphasized the importance of care ethics in rebuilding well-being in the light of constraints arising from lockdown.

“HR has evolved from a model of linear engagement and talent management,” she said. “We’re moving toward a more distributed model that maintains engagement while also allowing and embracing increasing levels of freedom.”

A notable change is the growing voice of the worker. 

“We’re now in the age of trust and personal responsibility,” Dodman said. “Employees have more say in how they manage their time and workload. Managers have freedom to manage their teams in a way that gives their teams autonomy and empowerment.”

Leaders of the Change

This is when those in opportune positions need to assert themselves. 

“HR people are the leaders of change within organizations,” Biro said. “They have had to pivot numerous times to make not only the policy but also the cultural changes needed to make their employees feel heard, connected and safe.

“Careful listening has become one of the greatest skills for HR,” she said. “They can learn their employee’s needs, how the organization can help and what they see the future of work looking like.”

With that ear to the ground, the human resources pros can be ideal liaisons. 

“HR has to rise to the occasion of being the gatekeeper of communication between employers and employees during an unprecedented time,” Biro said. “They can act swiftly to ensure employees feel safe and valued while continuing productivity at a time when almost everyone is working from home. 

“HR has the challenge of recruiting, but more importantly retaining their current talent during the pandemic,” she said. “Keep up with latest benefits employees expect, the work culture they want and the development they need. Adaptability is the heart of HR.”

There also has to be a sense of urgency. 

“The pandemic has really helped the process speed up, mainly for the better,” Biro said. “There is no longer time to plan out your plans. HR has needed to act—and fast. Most has been for the better, but it’s also been great to see HR departments pivot quickly from what hasn’t worked. 

“Empower your team,” she said. “You wouldn’t have hired them if they couldn’t do their job, so let them fly.”

Responsive Communication

For employee well-being, HR is the workers’ link to corporate leaders and resources. The more human and responsive that communication channel is, the more employees are well served and feel more secure. They are also more likely to stay with the company. 

“Show empathy and understanding and help leaders to listen and create space for their people during difficult moments,” Dodman said. 

“Provide a safe and solid support network,” she said. “Conduct regular check-ins with employees, while also sending out company-wide communications to keep the workforce updated.”

The effort has to extend beyond strictly on-the-job activities. 

“Introduce health, mind and well-being programs,” Dodman said. “Then employees can participate in fitness activities, listen to mindfulness podcasts or have virtual coffee mornings with colleagues.”

Such programs should be based on solid intelligence. 

“Survey employees, gather the data and improve your practices and work culture,” Biro said. “When HR can establish the importance of the health and well-being of your employees into the core of your company, it gives your business a competitive advantage.

“Mental health and wellness are at the forefront of the pandemic,” she said. “Many employees feel it is up to their employers to provide benefits that support these areas. HR has to continue to listen to their workforce and find how they can continue to serve their needs.”

Reinforce Values

As all of this goes on, workers need to know they have value within the organization. 

“HR is at the heart of delivering clear communication that should make employees feel engaged, included, empowered and most importantly, safe with the direction the workplace is going,” Biro said. 

“Just because many of us are physically distant, doesn’t mean we should feel disconnected from our teams,” she said. “Check in, have clear communication and personally engage with your people.”

New normal for work will vary from company to company and the individual biases of leaders. Operations overall will likely be more mixed, but the extent depends on who calls the shots. 

“That’s why it’s important to work for a company or leaders who listen to your wants and needs,” Biro said. 

“There will no longer be a one-size-fits-all culture,” she said. “Employees will be able to choose the schedule that works best for them whether work from home, hybrid or work from office. Allow for better talent pools, employee satisfaction and work productivity.”

People skills should have greater emphasis no matter the ultimate culture. 

“Emotional intelligence and empathy will play a large role in the workplace post-pandemic,” Biro said. “Employers will need to build an inclusive workplace culture along with expanding their benefits to include caregiving, financial wellness and mental health.

“For many, our work and personal lives have crashed into each other,” she said. “I say embrace it. Kids disrupting your Zoom meeting or an animal making noise in the background? Allow your employees to be transparent and learn how your organization can support them.”

Altogether, employees should feel empowered as never before. 

“Create an environment of freedom of choice, no guard rails limiting the way our people work,” Dodman said. 

“Pave the way for a better normal,” she said. “Combine collaborative and innovation spaces in an office environment while encouraging people to use remote working, even if that includes working in coffee shops.”

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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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