The opportunity in crisis for human resources
Part 1 (Crisis): How should HR be responding?
There’s no “right” answer to this question. Unprecedented situations don’t have a rulebook to follow.
So the best thing we can do is have a close look at what’s happening, and model our response around that. And in that respect, I’ve seen two things happening in different ways all over the world:
- People are isolated (if they live alone and are in lockdown alone.)
- People are unable to carve out the space they need to perform the multiple roles they need to play (as a parent, worker, teacher, and so on).
These issues are blurring the boundaries between our work lives and our home lives.
Even though these two groups are facing very different problems, it’s possible for HR to help solve them with one strategy. I like to sum that strategy up in the following terms:
Create a sense of stability and movement for everyone in the company.
In practice for a company like ours, this approach translates into a multitude of different tactics. And of course, stability will be more important to some people, movement more important to others.
Stability is important for everyone – but particularly those who’ve worked in our offices until recently and are now working from home.
We’ve gone out of our way to make it easier for both our managers and our individual staff to speak to us directly. We’re holding regular COVID care calls to allow managers to tell us about the challenges they and their teams are facing.
We’ve launched manager and employee portals to provide both information on how to handle the issues we’re seeing. And we’ve instituted initiatives like Fit 4U to help everyone look after their physical and mental health in a situation where many are unable to leave their own homes at all.
The challenges vary for different managers in different regions. Some of the Nordic countries are still able to work on-site with relatively little disruption. But in Spain, it’s only been possible to leave the house for anything other than basic necessities recently. Because of this, we’ve had to introduce a much greater element of flexibility alongside our attempts to preserve normality (as without it, many people wouldn’t be able to carry on their lives at all). Our new work/life balance policy reflects this, and is based on contribution rather than hours worked - with a much more flexible approach to when people choose to work as well as where they work.
On the other hand, a sense of movement and progress is more important for two groups in particular right now: those who’ve been furloughed, and our new hires.
I’m glad to say that we’ve been able to avoid furloughing the vast majority of our global workforce. But when people have had their normal duties affected or postponed, we’ve been able to create a sense of progress for them by reassigning them to areas that complement their normal duties. Offering them the opportunity to continue adding value, while also acquiring new skills that complement and enhance the ones they use in their regular roles. It allows us to keep the company running smoothly - but it also helps us to keep all of our people working productively even when they can’t carry on as normal.
For new joiners, we’ve had to re-examine our onboarding process extensively. We’ve created systems that allow the process to happen completely virtually, moving all the required inductions and learning online via our own Intuo platform. (We’re also making Intuo available to our customers to help them and their people stay fully engaged, wherever they are).
Part 2 (Opportunity): How can we capitalize on the crisis to create a better way of working
One of the more positive aspects of a large-scale crisis is that it gives us a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the way we do things, and ask if they’re truly necessary. Before COVID, Unit4 was already engaged in a mission to create an extraordinary workspace for our people. We can use the crisis to help accelerate that process.
The two most obvious ways in which we can make big changes to help get to extraordinary faster are related to travel and offices.
We’ve now shown that travel is usually unnecessary even though, as a company, we’ve used it heavily (I myself flew 50 times for business last year). This means we can save a lot of people a lot of time that they can ultimately give back to the business and their families. Using digital technology in its place can foster just as much communication and collaboration (especially with the right tools in place). And it does so at a smaller cost to people and the environment.
And as for the office? We’re working alongside our new global Head of Workspace to transform our real estate worldwide to reflect the new realities of working.
It’s become fashionable recently to call remote working the “new normal,” but I find that a little premature. In truth, we can’t really be sure what the “new normal” is.
But we anticipate that home working on a large scale really is here to stay. This crisis has shown that with a people-first attitude and the willingness to deliver the right support, people can work just as well remotely as they can in the office. (Worldwide, Unit4’s productivity has actually gone up quite substantially in the last couple of months).
For this reason, we’re recreating our offices for the purpose we think they’re likely to serve best when we’re able to open them again: collaboration. We’ll be restructuring them from places where people go to do their job, to places with a lower capacity designed around people working together to complete specific projects.
We’re also looking at transforming some of our offices into dedicated customer briefing centers. An innovation which will support our ability to deliver exceptional experiences for our customers and partners as well as our people.
Because some of the new legal requirements in many jurisdictions will make it impossible for everyone to come back to work as before, we’ve made it our policy that nobody will have to return to the office if they don’t want to. We want our people to feel safe, because feeling safe is vital to working well. We’re also exploring booking systems for our new style offices – along with strict capacity limits to ensure proper social distancing.
Have a plan, but give yourself permission to change it - make mistakes
HR teams across the globe are learning very quickly if they can scale to meet new expectations. But crisis response isn’t a “one off”, it’s a process.
Therefore, we need to make plans with clear phases, and we need to be willing to stop and evaluate how well we’re doing every so often. Importantly, this means giving ourselves permission to make mistakes – and to decide what we should and shouldn’t be focusing on at any given time. As situations change, it’s easy to go from doing the right thing to doing the wrong thing, and it’s vital to be on guard against that.
How long the crisis lasts – and how long it’ll be before restrictions are relaxed enough for businesses to resume at least some of their normal operations – is out of our hands. But it is possible for us to choose how we respond – and it’s our responsibility to ensure that our response creates a better environment for our people to continue to do great work in the long run.