The lasting effects of coronavirus on HR and business

Flexible working

The Covid-19 crisis will change how we work in future. Gartner’s Brian Kropp looks at the impact of the pandemic on how and where we work and whether businesses will become greener.

How should HR play a role in safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of staff at home?

One of the biggest risks of employees working from home is an increase in isolation. In fact, 26% of employees who work remote report being socially isolated and 41% say they lack emotional connections with their colleagues. Because of this, HR must focus on helping employees who have shifted to remote work build these emotional connections. It is still true that having friends at work is a critical driver of employee engagement. But it is also true that for many employees, have friends at work in a virtual environment is much harder to build and maintain.

Can HR play this role effectively without being too intrusive?

Yes. While HR should not being play the role of match-maker when it comes to helping employees or are feeling isolated or struggling with mental health challenges, it can play a critical role in supporting their employees. HR must build awareness for their employees about the mental health services that they provide. HR can also engage in network-building activities to help employees identify who they can potentially connect with. Finally, HR can work with managers to help them identify signs of employee isolation and loneliness and advice for managers on what to do when they spot these signs.

Should businesses conduct an audit of employees’ home internet and IT capacity?

Most companies have moved as many employees as possible to working from home. In fact, 88% of companies (as of 1 April) has encouraged all of their employees who are able to work from home to work from home. However, this shift presents a whole new set of challenges for employers. Specifically, as more work is shifted to virtual conversations and interactions, it is critical that employees have the right capabilities to do their work. Without these investments in technology, employee productivity is likely to suffer. Many companies have audited their employees technology to make sure they are capable of doing work. But this audit needs to be more than simply having a laptop and a phone. Companies should also investigate the home wi-fi bandwidth that employees have as well any additional technology that an employee might need.

After the crisis is over, do you expect businesses to take action over continuity as more people work at home?

One certainty coming out of Covid-19 is that there will be a significant shift of employees to working from home. This will both be from employees shifting to working remote full time as well as employees shifting to working remote at least some of the time. In order to enable this shift in employee preferences, employers will likely offer additional technology and support to employees to make them as productive as they can. In fact, several companies that we work with have already started to provide a “home wi-fi benefit” where they pay for their employees wi-fi as part of their employee experience offering.

How will business travel be regarded in future as a result of this crisis?

At some point, Covid-19 will pass. And when it does, there will be a rebound in business travel, but there are some behavioural shifts that are starting to emerge that are indicating net travel might stay below pre-Covid 19 levels. This is true for several reasons. First, employees are starting to become comfortable with the idea of virtual meetings rather than in-person meetings. While they might not be as effective, they are generally perceived as “good enough”. For examples, some sales executives are starting to believe that while an in-person sales visit might be more effective than a virtual visit, the fact that you don’t waste sale employee time sitting on a plane, you might actually get a higher ROI (less effective, but much less costly). Second, while corporate budgets will rebound, they will not immediately bounce back. Given this, chief financial officers will be hesitant to turn travel expenses back on right away.

Will the crisis hinder or encourage firms looking to become greener?

Some employees will realise that they can be just as productive by working from home as they have been by coming into an office. With this in mind, they will start to argue that they should be allowed to work from home more often. As part of this they will argue that by eliminating their commute to work not only can they be more productive, but they can also be greener (fewer miles driven). The world’s largest experiment ever conducted on how people work will increase the pressure on companies to let employees do this.

Interview by Adam McCulloch

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