The important role of Human Resources in the post-COVID phase

The pandemic has transformed work and the workplace faster than we could ever have imagined, but it's also given companies the chance to reimagine their HR strategies for the 21st century
Industries
Management
  • The pandemic’s impact on HR
  • Challenging times call for innovations
  • Visions and predictions for the HR  sector
  • Closing thoughts

Not every sector has been equally affected by the pandemic. While many are trying to keep their heads above water, some have actually managed to thrive in this new normal. And as the world starts to prepare to enter some kind of post-pandemic phase, the HRM sector looks ready to initiate a digital transformation right across the board, from recruitment and onboarding to employee wellbeing, and learning and development. The years ahead are expected to be highlighted by resourcefulness and ingenuity, putting the HRM sector firmly on the road to recovery and ensuring post-pandemic success.

The pandemic’s impact on HR

According the world’s largest independent publisher of industry research reports, IBISWorld, the demand for HR services saw significant decline in 2020. The majority of HR professionals, however, are of the opinion that they responded relatively well to the crisis, although the recovery process will undoubtedly be challenging. HR managers need to be aware of the new structural changes that could have a lasting impact on the future of the sector. HR managers will, for instance, need to learn how to use new technologies, and with remote working becoming the new normal, companies will have to increase their investments in cybersecurity to ensure a safe and secure working environment. In the future, onboarding of new employees is also increasingly taking place remotely, using video conferencing tools and apps to provide online training opportunities. One thing’s for sure – the pandemic has kickstarted a sweeping transformation, prompting HR to reimagine operations so that the sector can become better and more efficient at meeting the needs of the workforce of the future.

Challenging times call for innovations

Apart from the challenges, the recent crisis has also forced many companies to explore new and creative ways to support their workers and sparked new waves of innovation across the HR sector. In fact, quite a few HR companies and initiatives seem to be faring very well – even during these challenging times – launching remarkable and promising innovations.

Reimagining the future of work

Even before the pandemic, Silicon Valley-based network hardware company Cisco already had nearly half of its workforce working remotely, and this figure has since then increased to a whopping 96 per cent. With the majority of its functions now in the cloud, the company has developed the Network Visualizer, an AI-powered tool that  uses data analytics to form high-performing teams by identifying which employees would be the best fit for a particular project. AI has also proved very helpful in areas like hiring and talent development. Most importantly, employee productivity wasn’t hurt by the switch to remote work, just the opposite. Customer service representatives, for example, took more calls while working from home, while customers were more satisfied with the service provided. Cisco’s chief people officer Fran Katsoudas says: “AI and machine learning are helping us better understand how our people think and work. The tech has helped us develop perks to incentivise our employees, find pools of hidden talent around the globe and develop new ways to stimulate innovation.”

Open talent market platform

Another company that is using AI to streamline its HR operations is the global energy management and automation firm Schneider Electric. The company has developed the AI-powered Open Talent Market platform, a “one-stop-shop for career development by creating an internal talent market leveraging AI to match the supply and demand of talent”. Through this platform, employees can find a mentor, be alerted about available opportunities that match their skills, and get connected to part-time assignments. “Previously, we would humanly try to make matches, but we weren’t able to bring the supply and demand together,” says Jean Pelletier, vice president of digital talent transformation at Schneider. “We’d been asking to do this for years, as we outgrew our ability to operate without it. The spirit was there, but the technology was missing, and that’s where AI is the game-changer.”

Turning AI into a digital human experience

To make things easier for human recruiters in the post-pandemic world and help them improve their performance, organisations could also consider hiring a digital employee, such as IPsoft’s chatbot Amelia. Powered by sophisticated conversational AI technology, Amelia can communicate through text or voice and operates in more than 40 languages. Amelia never takes a break, can simultaneously speak to an unlimited number of people, instantly learn new processes – and remember them forever. To name just one of her many roles, Amelia works in IT service support for an international telecom company and its 20,000 staff members. To date, she’s handled more than 80,000 conversations, over 80 per cent of IT service desk requests, and single-handedly resolved a whopping 70 per cent of these requests.

Visions and predictions for the HR sector

With the world having transformed into a vastly different place, particularly in terms of how and where we work and the technologies we use to engage with each other, HR departments have been pressured into adjusting their strategies. Now, more than ever, HR needs to ensure that organisations can adapt and remain resilient in the future. We envision many more changes in this sector, necessitating a redefinition of HR strategies to enable businesses to transition into the new future of work.

According to Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer, more and more people will be working remotely, giving rise to a new, hybrid workforce model. “By 2025 I envision we will have a hybrid model and we will be more deliberate in who comes to the office and for what purpose. That may include engineers working in our labs, customer visits that would bring us into the office or innovation days to bring in project teams,” Katsoudas explains. “Many employees are working remotely and have the added burdens of helping their children with school, caring for elderly parents while doing their daily jobs. As a result, there is more of a focus on mental health, wellness, and work/life balance.” To help them better juggle so many different responsibilities, Cisco is offering more flexible work schedules, financing employee training costs, and helping career development by enabling face time with the leaders. “In the future we’ll put more focus on work and less on roles. We will give people opportunities to try new things and give leaders more flexibility in how they hire talent. But for all this to work we have to keep abreast of human development. Wellness and the mental health of our employees comes first,” says Katsoudas.

According to Richard van Hooijdonk, trendwatcher, futurist, and international keynote speaker, AI software can help organisations easily pick the right candidate for any position. This way, a process that would typically take recruiters days or even months to complete, can be finalised in just a few seconds. Van Hooijdonk predicts that AI could one day even determine whether a job candidate is honest about his or er qualifications and skills. The IoT and sensor technologies are also making inroads into the HR sector, allowing HR managers to track employee activity and health around the clock. In the future, flexible hiring will also become more important, concludes van Hooijdonk. Job candidates sharing a negative job interview experience on social media, for instance, could hurt the company’s reputation. Recruiters should, therefore, be trained on how to make interviews a more pleasant experience, and find ways to deliver news around unsuccessful job applications.

And to successfully navigate the future, “HR departments must develop a digital mindset that enables them to shift from traditional operational functions to a more coordinated digital model,” says HR futurist Jason Averbook. Aside from ensuring digital success, it’s important for organisations to prioritise their employees. HR departments should know how their employees are feeling or what they are thinking about. It’s important to reinvent their traditional HRM practices and focus on establishing better communication, coaching, and wellbeing.

Closing thoughts

As we move beyond the crisis to the next normal, it’s becoming clear that the way we work has changed dramatically across all types of organisations. Digital technology will take on an increasingly critical role now that more and more people are – and will be – working remotely. HR departments will use of technology for screening potential candidates, making hiring decisions, and providing employee support and training. We’re also seeing an increased focus on employee wellbeing, mental health and work-life balance. And to better prepare staff members for the future of work, companies will need to invest in upskilling and reskilling their existing employees. HR will be playing a vital part in shaping the way companies source and develop talent, handle employee experience, and transform outdated operating models. The sector is uniquely positioned to lead the evolution, help organisations navigate trough recovery, and create a better and brighter workplace in the post-pandemic new normal.

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