HR’s role in redesigning the future workplace

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HR will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic as a stronger influencer, write Philippe Gnomes and Marine Fournier, but now it must play its role in building a blended, ‘hybrid workforce’. Is it ready?

The CIPD has described 2020 as a “monumental year” for HR. Many would say it has been one of the toughest and most challenging years ever. HR has had to redesign and reimagine the way it works within the workplace. As such, HR has seen greater agility, creativity and innovation emerge this year than ever before.

The government’s first directive to lockdown the UK back in March required a very swift shift to a digital workplace to enable a vast number of employees, some for the first time, to suddenly be able to work from home. Now, eight months on and a second lockdown, most companies have adapted well, with 1.7 million UK staff now working mainly from home.

During this colossal shift to the digital workplace, the role of HR has changed too. We’ve seen and experienced first-hand the need for HR and IT to collaborate much closer than ever, with HR professionals having to quickly learn on the job the latest tools and technology to ensure employees stay connected and engaged while working from home.

Training and development has taken on a whole new meaning, getting employees up to speed on virtual working tools, from video conferencing to collaboration platforms like Teams. While company intranets have been revitalised to provide the central safe space for HR to communicate between organisation and its workforce.

All the while, HR has had to ensure that a “remote everything” workplace continues to support the health, safety and wellbeing of the workforce the same way it would have while in the office. Workplace policies have had to adapt and with that, new technology and apps introduced to support employees’ wellbeing and ensure compliance and governance is met, even from a distance.

HR the influencer

HR has emerged from the severe and long-lasting disruption of Covid-19, as a stronger influencer within the business, driving the change needed through collaborative technology to maintain a productive and engaged virtual workforce that doesn’t get “lost in the cloud”.

Whether an influencer, change manager, tech adviser or all three – in the rush to set up a virtual workforce, HR lessons have been learnt along the way and new skills have emerged. All of these will now be vital as organisations look beyond the pandemic and post lockdowns, to build a more blended workplace of the future that retains all the benefits of homeworking and the advantages of flexible office space.

A recent IoD report found 74% of UK firms plan to maintain the rise in employees working from home while according to the Cisco’s Future of Work global report, employees believe that the hybrid workplace is here, and here to stay.

However, the same report concludes that there’s still a lot organisations and HR need to do before employers and employees feel fully confident about the new hybrid workplace. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work, and employees want choice and flexibility.

So how can HR create the ideal hybrid workplace for the future – tailored to the individual needs of the employee, organisation and HR?

The critical need for collaboration technology like Microsoft 365 and Teams in order to keep workforces fully connected has been realised by most HRs during the height of the pandemic, if not before.

Challenges to face

But keeping employees well connected is not all that’s needed to sustain a happy productive workplace of the future. There’re the challenges around managing recruitment, mental wellbeing, corporate culture, and engagement in this new way of working.

Onboarding virtually, and immersing teams into a remote culture from a distance is tough but with 20% of new hires leaving a job within the first 45 days after a bad onboarding experience, it’s never been more important.

The re-emergence, during the pandemic, of the modern day intranet has helped with new customised, onboarding intranet templates available for HR to quickly create personal spaces for new employees; a customised place where new joiners can communicate in private, connect to a buddy and manager, and access the specific documents they need to understand the business and get started.

Less time is spent setting employees up in the digital workplace or ensuring intranet pages adhere to the organisation’s established IT governance and naming conventions, allowing employees to acclimatise faster and focus on building meaningful internal relationships.

Creating that in-office experience in the home long-term, is also a priority for HR as we move into the New Year. Microsoft recently found that people are working longer hours from home, missing the extra downtime and headspace of their daily commute.

Hybrid workplace

The hybrid workplace of the future will bring with it the virtual commute; technology that sends end of day reminders, emotional check-ins and even wellbeing mediation apps, as employers realise that time saved not travelling can be better spent elsewhere improving wellbeing and preventing burnout.

From next year, HR will be able to build all these functionalities and more into one virtual collaborative workspace for all employees to easily access and for HR to encourage employees to check-in on themselves, which will be ever more important as we evolve further into a new workplace.

2021 will be the year for more digital workplace innovations and apps that will engage, unite and excite teams working in this new world. It will also be the year for HR to take lessons learnt and really shine when it comes to digital transformation.

Wellbeing will be front and centre of many new developments as people adapt to change, as will cost efficiency and productivity – a chance for forward-thinking HRs to lead the evolution in creating a better and brighter workplace for 2021.

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