SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries. We receive questions from HR professionals on a wide range of topics, from COVID-19 to HR leadership.
During the unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic, HR became the workplace champion for businesses and employees. It was HR’s finest hour.
In the past, we heard employers say, “We can't have employees working from home. How will we know if they're even working?"
But all that changed in March 2020. Threatened by the coronavirus, the U.S. and many other countries were locked down. Some employers had no choice but to allow telework to remain operational. Nonessential businesses closed, toilet paper and hand sanitizer became luxury items, and executives, managers and employees collectively asked, "Oh my gosh, now what do we do?” (OK, they didn't say that exactly, but it was close.)
Remember how chaotic and messy the early days of the pandemic were? Business leaders in HR and other fields were thirsty for guidance on what to do next. They were constantly asking questions like: What does an employer do if someone is coughing? Can I ask if they have COVID-19? What type of leave do I have to provide my employees?
Businesses had to figure out how to generate revenue, meet customer commitments, develop products and keep their workforces productive. Decisions had to be made in days, not weeks, as we experienced frequent changes in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and regulations. Employers scrambled to find their business continuity plans, and some had to create them on the fly. SHRM hosted several webcasts on COVID-19, including one with 40,000 attendees. If 10,000 more people had attended, it would technically have been the official population needed to be a city in Virginia.
Out of adversity, however, leaders emerge. HR did. It was HR's time to shine by leading the largest workforce transformation in modern history. HR led by developing remote-work standards and policies, getting employees paid leave, figuring out how to file for tax credits, addressing I-9 compliance for remote new hires, and increasing employee communications so staff felt connected. Businesses stayed afloat due in large part to HR’s efforts.
Now HR has the chance to lead once again. But this time, it’s with knowledge of hindsight and space to think more purposefully about a return to the workplace and other practices. There are so many questions: What did we learn about the workplace during the pandemic? What worked and didn’t work? What could the future of work look like? Which workplace practices could promote sustainability? Is there other technology out there that could improve the remote-work experience for managers? Is some form of regular teleworking the best way to attract better candidates, increase productivity and employee retention, and lower fixed rental costs because not as much office space is needed? HR does not have to come up with these answers on their own. But questions like these can help HR lead discussions and decisions on how to move forward.
What will you do to help lead your business into the future?
If you want to know more about HR strategic planning or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. The HR Knowledge Center is one of the best benefits of SHRM membership!