How HR rose to the challenge of COVID-19 and the new normal
As organizations everywhere grapple with the impact of COVID-19, one thing is clear — the only way forward is with a people-first mentality. And from layoffs, to transitions to remote work environments, to digital onboarding processes, the people aspect of a company falls on the shoulders of the unsung heroes of the pandemic: human resources professionals.
“It’s hard work, and a lot of what happens behind the scenes that translates into what people can see a company doing is really being navigated by HR,” says Jamie Hoobanoff, founder of The Leadership Agency and sponsor at our upcoming Canadian HR Awards.
“Companies are realizing you need that person, or that strategy, or that department to really help facilitate and drive that people-first message forward.”
Whether organizations had a full HR department or one HR professional in-house, when the COVID-19 crisis broke they were called to action immediately and tasked with guiding the company through the challenges of the pandemic and the new normal. Because what HR does is behind the scenes and, especially in the case of the pandemic, difficult by nature they often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Read more: Are Canadian businesses stronger post COVID-19?
Few are willing to sing the praises of the person or department that served multiple layoff letters and made the tough decisions that negatively impacted so many people’s lives, Hoobanoff notes, but while COVID-19 has seen companies adapting on many levels much of the learning expectation has been on HR’s plate. There are many seasoned HR professionals out there, but nobody has been trained to deal with a situation like a global pandemic.
“For people to figure out how to do that when nobody knows how to do it — so much credit needs to be given to the HR people, the HR profession and the HR line of business,” Hoobanoff says. “There’s a lot of trauma for these professionals in what needed to happen — and still continues to happen — during COVID.”
HR professionals’ ecosystem has changed during the course of the pandemic from onboarding, to lay offs, to culture building essentially overnight. Before the pandemic, many companies didn’t realize the importance of a strong HR component. For Hoobanoff, start-up clients generally had no or minimal resources when it came to HR because the focus was very much on growth. In the current climate, however, organizations are starting to realize HR “is a very special and unique line of business.”
Hoobanoff says one thing she’s seeing with her clients in the start-up community is a change in narrative — it’s less about what employees can do for the company, and more about communicating what the company can do for the employees. The most common trend “is a lot of emphasis on the cultural aspect — really investing in it, communicating it and making hires to secure current company culture” while also growing and, in some cases, changing it. To achieve this, typically leaders call on ambassadors or cheerleaders to navigate the process, and those roles fall within the HR line of business.
Read more: How recession will impact HR strategy
New recognition and appreciation of HR roles has taken shape in an upswing in creating or hiring for HR, Hoobanoff says. As the most important thing from an HR perspective has broadened from recruitment to include more cultural recognition as companies start to understand how vital that piece is, there are new roles popping up that align with expectations moving forward — companies want to hire a chief of staff, a culture ambassador or a head of talent, for example.
“You’re seeing that recognition in new and different types of HR hires being made — there’s a lot of value being invested in the marketplace,” says Hoobanoff. “You’re starting to see the HR departments get built back up again and take shape in different ways.”
Don’t forget to register for the Canadian HR Awards, for free, here.