The Impact of Covid-19 on HR - How Digital HR Can Support People Operations in a Time of Crisis
Est. Read Time: 2 min.
Every year, we try to analyse global macro-level social and economic trends to make predictions about the future of work. At the beginning of 2020, we shared our 2020 MegaTrends with our customers and the broader HR community. We hoped to identify big topics that every HR leader has to have in mind to prepare their organisations for the years to come. Now 6 months later, we are faced with a massive public health crisis that no one saw coming. We are living through a global pandemic that has changed the way we work overnight.
A key measure for HR moving forward and coming to terms with this crisis will be to focus on accessibility for all, balancing transparency with data privacy, and building an adaptive workforce.
Coming to terms with a growing trust crisis
In our MegaTrends report, we talked a lot about trust and how it has become a key topic in the workplace. In their Trust Barometer, Edelman shows that we are currently facing a trust crisis. People don’t trust governments and/or the media. You just have to open any newspaper to see riots and protests happening all around the globe. What is surprising though is that at the same time, people have never trusted their employers as much. When asked, 76% of people said that the institution they trust the most is their employer; not the business world in general, but their own direct employer. This puts a lot of pressure and responsibility on employers and HR around the world but also presents a great opportunity for HR to shine and protect this level of trust.
Now when we look at the current crisis we can see how this actually reflects in real life. For example, many companies have reorganised work shifts and moved to a total remote work solution when possible, even before governments actually mandated it.
How HR can manage the journey back to the new normal
6 months later, even though the crisis has not yet come to an end, many countries have started their journey back to “normal”, whatever normal really is. We wanted to reflect on how the crisis has reshaped the role of HR and how HR can actually support employees in difficult times like these.
3 main areas were crucial for HR during the most recent months of the crisis:
- Communicating with employees to ensure they have the right level of information and support
- Enforcing health and safety policies to protect employees
- Managing to have most employees work from home very quickly
As a provider of HR Services Delivery solutions, we asked ourselves how HR digital tools like PeopleDoc by Ultimate Software could help HR during this crisis on these 3 elements. So we had a look at what happened recently on our platforms and how our customers have been able to leverage PeopleDoc during the first few weeks of the Covid-19 crisis. We asked Alexis Charrier who is responsible for the BI and Data Analytics team at PeopleDoc to share his thoughts with us.
How digitisation helps keep employees up to date
We first had a look at our Knowledge Base which, for our customers, is the main point of entry for employees looking for answers to their questions. With the PeopleDoc Knowledge Base, HR teams can share information with employees via different articles that are personalised based on employee attributes; so for instance you can have a specific policy for remote workers and a different one for people who have to go into the office. Personalisation is key in a time like this when we are all surrounded by lots of noise and uncertainty.
According to Alexis Charrier, “We have seen that our customers created dedicated content for the Covid-19 crisis and employees are reading it, with an increase of +25,000% views between February and March. Currently, Covid-19-related articles are way more popular than other article type”.
It is not a surprise, but this indicates that our customers are using the Knowledge Base as an important source of information for employees, and that employees are reading it more and more to get official communication from HR and leadership.
In parallel to this, we know that most companies have been communicating a lot with employees through video-conferencing tools, e-mails or videos. While these communication tools are very efficient in keeping a connection between employees and managers, it’s also key to have a place where employees can go and check for information when they want or have the time, which can be challenging when the whole family is stuck at home.
Getting quick feedback in a time of crisis
We then had a look at our employee portal and in particular our Case Management solution that allows employees to raise HR requests directly from their desktop, mobile or tablet.
In a normal situation, the Case Management module helps our customers to manage all the requests they get from employees in a more effective way by automatically sending them to the correct contact or by allowing them to prioritise topics and organise the workload of the People Ops teams. In a time of crisis, this has also helped them get back to employees more quickly and efficiently and manage the high volume of cases being raised in a very short period of time.
According to Alexis Charrier, the number of employee requests about Covid-19 grew very fast, with an increase of +6,900% between February and March. “The trend is not decreasing. Winter is still coming for HR teams”, he adds.
Employees had a lot of questions about their security, whether or not they could go into the workplace, what will happen to their time off, how to work from home… and so on. Getting on top of this is a very difficult task for People Operations teams. By leveraging a Case Management System, they can automate the most recurring questions and save time to dig further into unprecedented situations.
Preparing Employees to work from home
For many people, the Covid-19 crisis has put them in a new situation: working from home. Even though many companies have been doing this for years, for many organisations this was completely new. We are not only talking about some employees working from home from time to time, but in many cases the whole organisation working from home while schools are closed and without any preparation or training. Quite a challenge for HR!
We had a look at this specific topic and how our customers leveraged PeopleDoc to manage working from home. Alexis Charrier says that “We can see an acceleration in the number of employee requests related to remote work but the numbers are not so big when you compare them with other Covid-19 related requests. Why is that? As we can see in the graph “Articles about Working from Home”, companies have been preparing their teams to work remotely for quite some time already. The topic is not completely new but the Covid-19 situation is accelerating it”.
We had conversations with many HR professionals about this in recent weeks. They say that even though remote work is not a new topic for them, the fact that so many people were forced to work from home was a challenge from an IT-perspective, but also in terms of management, health and safety, and employee motivation. Now that so many people have been able to experience it, the question remains “is working from home going to be the new normal for most people?”. It’s hard to predict the future but one thing is clear for HR professionals, we can’t organise our services with the primary focus being people going into offices.The digital and mobile employee experience has to come first!
Although no one could have predicted the situation we all face, for HR building an adaptive workforce and having the agility to pivot HR processes at the speed that change dictates is key. HR will always face changes and have to deal with crises. Building this resilience into HR Service Delivery will ensure they can be as prepared as possible.