HR compliance in a post-COVID world

Jason Gerlis of TMF Group shares their insights into the crucial HR considerations as the world begins to re-open

HR compliance in a post-COVID world

As countries begin to emerge from lockdowns and a tentative – perhaps even temporary – recovery gets underway, businesses are adapting to changes caused by COVID-19. Jason Gerlis, Global Head of Consultancy Solutions for TMF Group, believes that while managing HR teams through the present situation, the focus must be on agile change, with a keen awareness that the situation is continuously evolving. Each business, Gerlis explains, needs to agree on both a tactical short-term approach, whilst also considering longer term strategies.

“A useful way to break these problems down is to focus on three key factors – people, processes and systems – to help address the most urgent and important questions.”  

COVID-19 is first and foremost a human crisis, notes Gerlis. When managing HR departments, professionals need to be even more sensitive to the personal impacts of the pandemic as they lead employees. This social and economic upheaval has affected many people’s emotional and mental health; accordingly, HR teams must keep people front and centre, putting health, safety and flexibility first, based on all the considerations and limitations.

“We’re living through a high-pressure situation that will likely continue for months, or even years,” says Gerlis. “People have sadly lost loved ones, spent months indoors and had to quickly learn how to home-school their children. Others have put their health on the line performing essential jobs that cannot be done remotely, and all of us have seen our lives change in ways we never could have expected.”

Businesses must consider how every aspect of work life translates to remote working – from maintaining staff morale to ensuring the home-life balance stays healthy, along with factors such as language barriers, time zone differences and cultural norms around the globe.

“Lots of businesses are looking at ways to transition back to ‘normal’ – but with the risk of additional virus peaks later in the year, any changes should be made cautiously,” says Gerlis. “Staff safety and flexibility need to be kept in mind. Plus, we need to assess the impacts of the short-term changes to decide where exactly to roll back to – for example, will we ever return all our workforces to the office or will we continue with a proportion of remote workers?”

Once plans are in place to ensure people are looked after, businesses can address the other operational changes wrought by COVID-19. How does government support for employers, which is changing all the time, vary across locations? Do supply chains require review or modification? How do you quickly adapt or expand Business Continuity Plans that never factored in such a global crisis? Gerlis also points to employee safety and the local regulations that affect it – for example, what are the current social distancing rules in all the jurisdictions the company operates in? And what forecasting and planning needs to be done to maintain cashflow to ensure employees can be paid?

“Based on the speed of the changing circumstances, businesses must be agile and quickly respond with new processes that can be immediately communicated to staff or clients,” says Gerlis. “The approach must be one of continuous improvement with proper governance to ensure changes land clearly and don’t create confusion.”

The shift towards working from home has forced many businesses to review the way they store, access and maintain their data and applications. Whether companies decide move staff back to the office, or continuing with flexible working, it will be essential to assess its impact on productivity and teamwork.

Taking a strategic view will help companies stay ahead of this curve, says Gerlis. Data must be maintained in an accessible but secure fashion. Documents will need to be signed by people who can’t be physically present. Information must be distributed to keep employees up to date and engaged in the absence of physical meetings. Applications need to be remotely accessible, backed up by infrastructure that supports higher levels of utilisation.

“Technology is vital for enabling this, but it needs a human touch as well,” says Gerlis. “Processes must be designed and agreed alongside system selection and deployment, so that business requirements and system capabilities are jointly considered. On-the-ground expertise that helps firms understand and support the needs of employees locally will be key to success. Approaches need to be centrally governed and carefully managed to avoid unnecessary variation, but also allow for legitimate local differences.”

In the current landscape and moving forward, getting human resources right is crucial, notes Gerlis.

“HR directors that keep abreast of this ever-evolving situation and react both quickly and strategically to get ahead of the resulting changes will be well placed to help carry their businesses forward.”  

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