How the COVID-19 crisis will redefine HR

A global chief people officer takes HRD through the monumental changes in our sector

How the COVID-19 crisis will redefine HR

With everything in a constant state of change, what does it mean for the future of HR? As the definition of where and how we work evolves, HR must find ways to be the ‘solid ground’ for employees coping in a world of disruption.

“We’re really underpinned by significant levels of insecurity, and probably greater than we have ever been,” said Stephanie Nash, chief people officer and global head at Chapman V. “People are worried about job security, financial security and medical insurance security.

“Do I go to work? Do I not? What will the implications be if I’m meant to go, when I don't want to? What happens if I do go when I shouldn’t?

“The insecurity that people are feeling is very real and prevalent across all levels of the organisation, no matter how senior someone is, how much tenure they have, or how experienced they are.”

While it’s true that ‘there’s no better time to be part of HR’ than now, Nash spoke about just how daunting it’s all been. She’s appreciated that leaders have rallied during the crisis and been open to sharing experiences and ideas through virtual events, thereby helping everyone to navigate the crisis better.

Read more: HRDs reveal their greatest lessons from 2020

How to redefine HR
Nash was speaking at a recent webinar on HR megatrends for 2021, organised by and attended by HRD.

Her session was focused on ‘demystifying’ the future of work, as well as finding ways to redefine HR and remain effective in a world that has experienced accelerated change. Nash believes breaking down the term is the first step to charting a proper course for HR.

“What is the future of work?” she said. “It means a lot of new.”

Read more: How the COVID-19 pandemic will change work for the better

There will soon be new jobs and new types of employees. Jobs like gig economy manager, wellness advisor, and even Zoom producers will be in demand. These new functions are a combination of emerging and current skills, and HR needs to understand tech-related abilities from ‘low to high levels of detail’ as they seek out recruits.

Employees will also no longer be ‘simplistically’ labelled as white- or blue-collar workers, or even just office workers. Hybrids will become common, especially with gig and freelance workers. And a new generation of employees will require new management approaches.

But most of all, she highlighted 2020’s most prominent result: new ways of working. This year has ‘demonstrated no shortage of that’, said Nash. We’ve moved to remote working in technology-enabled environments and are now trying to find a hybrid working model.

Read more: Microsoft reveals key trends around our 'new normal'

Critical HR leadership skills
So what does it all mean for HR? What HR roles will be in demand 12 months from now or further into the future?

“What we need to know is the skills we need to have are changing,” she said. “How well we need to be able to do it, and therefore also the mindset that we bring to it, all [needs] changing.”

The future version of HR needs to be adept at managing well-being – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. Professionals will also need to have ‘a depth of understanding’ around data integrity and ethics as HR continues to collect insights and feedback from employees.

However, while HR worked on readying themselves for the information age, there are groups of professionals who might face a serious hurdle.

“We tend to stay in our comfort zone in HR,” she said. “Particularly the more senior we go. And we focus on continuing to build our core HR capabilities and leadership capabilities.

“What I would encourage us to do as HR professionals is take some risks to assess ourselves, assess our teams, where we are, and where do we need to be, relative to HR technology and people analytics in particular, and to incorporate that into our development plans.”

Read more: 5 roles to evolve beyond your leadership comfort zone

This is especially crucial as 2020 has proven just how important HR automation is in remote working conditions. HR remains a critical ‘touch point’ for employees, so it’s important to review HR technologies and processes, and decide which are redundant. Nash strongly encouraged leaders to forge a relationship with IT to maintain internal systems.

“Keep looking [out for] what you should stop doing because it’s no longer relevant or no longer having an impact,” she said. “Or what you need to start doing because you’re falling behind.

“We need to be changing our game."

“Really think about ourselves, our teams, and our organisation – what knowledge, skills, abilities, or behaviours do we need to be developing to be relevant and to be anticipatory of the future needs of the organisation.”

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