The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries and businesses across the nation; more importantly, it’s transformed—perhaps permanently—the way that many businesses function. The new working environments have embraced social distancing and remote working on a scale that many could never have imagined.
Amid the pandemic, HR professionals have played a crucial role: serving on the front lines to protect employees’ health and well-being, addressing the strain and concerns of those who have been laid off or furloughed, and attempting to keep retained employees engaged, productive, and motivated under evolving working conditions. And these professionals have been accomplishing this while also adapting to a remote working model, which is likely here to remain in some capacity, long after the quarantine and stay-at-home orders are lifted.
In response to the changing needs of the workplace, it’s crucial for HR professionals to re-think their skill set and address the current and future needs within their profession. These needs encompass both hard and soft skills that will be increasingly important.
Hard Skills for a Changing Workplace
To face the challenges of the “new normal” many HR professionals will need to maintain and enhance their “hard” skill sets. A few areas of focus might include:
Compliance:Recent policy changes have had direct impacts on remote working conditions and employer obligations. These changes mean that HR professionals must be able to address questions related to ADA, FMLA, Title VII, and other federal and state statutes and regulations. Company leave and telework policies should reflect strategic management decisions, and HR leaders will play a pivotal role in the creation and implementation of these policies.
Data Analytics:Data analytics plays a crucial role across all industries. Most companies have sophisticated tools to measure and track productivity and address operational challenges. This data is more crucial than ever in helping leaders identify what’s working and what requires enhancement, as workplaces undergo immense transformation. HR professionals need to pay close attention to this data, including how it impacts overall company performance, to deliver insight into how to optimize employee performance.
Collaboration: Collaboration within departments and across the organization poses a significant challenge under new remote-working models. Not only will HR professionals need to help facilitate close and effective methods of connection for employees, but they must also collaborate with other departments to develop and implement new policies and guidelines to address issues surrounding meetings and scheduling, emerging employee needs in a remote environment, changing job descriptions, new processes for talent acquisition and employee management, and benefits and compensation needs.
Financial Acumen: While HR professionals generally have high involvement in the financial functions of an organization, this role will take on even more significance as companies try to weather the storm of disruption caused by the pandemic. Beyond the initial disruption, many companies face a long road to recovery to regain profits that may have been lost during this period. Smart financial decisions play a crucial role in the long-term sustainability of organizations, and HR professionals who can effectively contribute to this conversation and provide insight under the precursor of change management will be in high demand.
Workforce Planning: Workforce planning, including employee acquisition and retention, has always been an area of adaptation. Amid dire economic circumstances surrounding the pandemic, many companies are facing difficult choices about staffing and automation for certain tasks. HR professionals must place emphasis on reaching and engaging top talent in their industry, as well as understanding the role of contract workers, and how automation may fit into the long-term staffing needs.
Soft Skills for a Changing Workplace
In addition to technical knowledge, many communication and leadership skills will be necessary to lead the organization during these trying times, which are marked with high levels of change, disruption, and transformation.
Heightened Communication: Communication is critical in maintaining a happy workforce, but in remote working conditions, interpersonal communication can prove incredibly challenging. Cross-divisional dialogue helps to build a company’s culture and, as we move toward a more sustainable remote workplace, it will be essential for HR leadership to emphasize this culture by actively listening to the needs of employees, adopting strategies that increase employee engagement, and continuing to facilitate constant communication.
Empathy: COVID-19 isn’t only a trying economic time for businesses; it also has been incredibly stressful for working parents across the globe. Many professionals are now also home-school educators, daytime babysitters, and in-home caregivers for those at higher risk—all while they simultaneously adapt to new working-from-home processes and challenges. Responding with empathy, as well as implementing policies that can enhance employee well-being during this stressful time, is crucial in helping these employees find the mental fortitude they need to continue functioning successfully in their roles.
Adaptability: If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that those who can adapt will be better able to weather the storm. Amid changing working conditions, evolving legislation, and financial uncertainty, adaptability is essential—not only now, but also in the future. No one knows what will happen and how business-as-usual may be further disrupted, but those who continue to learn, grow, and respond to change quickly have a distinct advantage over those who are waiting for a return to normal that likely will never come.
HR professionals generally place more emphasis on personal development and growth than those in other roles, because they’re also actively seeking to help others learn and expand. Throughout the pandemic, and even after it ends, the continuous development of certain hard and soft skills can further help these professionals play a part in company transformation and better serve their teams.