COVID-19: Top priorities for HR leaders revealed

As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts organisations across the globe, HR leaders must respond quickly

COVID-19: Top priorities for HR leaders revealed

The vast majority (88%) of organisations have encouraged or required employees to work from home, regardless of whether or not they showed coronavirus-related symptoms, according to a Gartner survey of 800 global HR professionals.

Moreover, nearly all organisations (97%) have cancelled work-related travel, more than an 80% increase since March 3.

“As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts organisations across the globe, HR leaders must respond quickly and comprehensively, considering both immediate and long-term talent consequences,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice.

The Gartner survey shows that organisations, trying to balance employee needs with financial realities, are employing a variety of approaches to time-off policies in response to COVID-19. Nearly half (48%) of employers require employees to use sick leave first, then vacation leave and finally potential PTO for coronavirus absences.

Twenty percent of organisations increased PTO for individuals who are sick and/or caring for a sick family member; 18% of organisations have granted additional PTO for parents who are caring for children whose schools are closed.

Seventy percent of organisations report that the main cost-cutting measure they plan to use is more effective use of technology. Nearly half of organisations plan to freeze new hiring.

A greater percentage of organisations plan to reduce work for external partners rather than employees — one-fifth of organisations plan to stop or limit consultant spend and/or reduce the number of contract workers. Only 10% of employers plan to reduce working hours, and just 6% report asking employees to take unpaid leave.

To manage remote talent during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gartner recommends HR leaders do the following:

  • Provide direction, confidence and resilience. Employees are relying on leaders at all levels of the business to take action and set the tone. Communications from senior business leaders to managers should prioritise associate health and business sustainability. Communicate regularly with employees, maintaining an open dialog. Gartner’s survey found that 56% of organisations have communicated a plan of action to employees in the event the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Contextualise coronavirus for the organisation. Leaders should be a trusted source for accurate and up-to-date information on coronavirus and how it is impacting the organisation. Avoid sharing information from social media; leverage trusted resources such as the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contextualise information and data as much as possible so that it specifically relates to the organisation.
  • Encourage intentional peer-to-peer interactions. With reduced or no face time in the office, employees should maintain regular professional and personal interactions with their peers. Gartner’s survey found that 40% of organisations have set up additional virtual check-ins for employees with managers and 32% of organisations have introduced new tools for virtual meetings. HR leaders should encourage employees to leverage communication platforms they already use, either at work or in their personal lives, to create new ways to work together. 
  • Establish team guidelines. Remote work looks different for each employee depending on their needs and those of their families. With unprecedented school closures, many employees must take on a double role as they support their children and families throughout the workday. Organisations can meet employees’ needs by empowering teams to adapt to their conflicting time demands. For instance, teams can set “core team times” when all team members are available to collaborate.
  • Provide flexibility for employees’ remote work needs. When preparing for employees’ eventual return to the office, empower employees to make choices best suited for their needs and comfort levels. Where possible, allow employees to decide when to return to the office. Enable essential employees whose work requires them to return to the office to choose the hours that work best for them to return to avoid peak commute times.

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