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Adapting to the new normal: HR Trends before and after the pandemic

3 key takeaways from this blog:

  •  What was the main focus of HR before, and what was after the pandemic?
  • How the way we see HR changed?
  •  What comes next?

To say that the Covid-19 pandemic caught the world by surprise, would be an understatement. In a matter of days, businesses and whole industries were forced to make substantial changes in order to continue their operations and quickly adapt to the new normal.

As such, HR departments all around the world faced challenges such as employee engagement, retention, talent development, and remote work. Now, halfway through 2022, we can take a look at how HR trends changed before and after the pandemic started. We will also take a look at some predictions for the future – which HR trends can we expect to come?

Remote/Hybrid work

The biggest and the most obvious change was the possibility to work remotely. Prior to the pandemic, many companies were skeptical of even thinking of implementing this. It’s almost surprising to read that before the pandemic only 6% of Americans worked remotely, while almost ¾ never worked remotely at all.

Understandably, this figure changed dramatically during 2020. What was once exclusive to a handful of daring companies became the reality of most businesses. While we can see a trend where employees are slowly returning to their offices, we can safely say that there will always be a possibility of working from home.

Many companies have decided to implement a flexible work week model, giving employees more autonomy with their schedules. This has several proven benefits such as improved employee retention, greater diversity within a company, increased productivity (remote workers on average worked 1.4 days more every month which amounted to 16.8 more days on a yearly level), and, most importantly, a better overall work life balance for the employees.

In a time where companies put more focus on the well-being of their workers, good work-life balance has become the main selling point for recruiters trying to attract new talent. To support this claim, a survey conducted by Deloitte states that 16% of millennials choose their job if it offers work-life balance. This trend is expected to continue as generation Z comes into the workforce. 

Employee Wellbeing

As mentioned before, companies have started to make employee wellbeing a priority. If before the pandemic some businesses could have managed to downplay the importance of workers’ satisfaction, the pandemic has shown it to be a key factor not just for performance, but for overall company image and their positioning among potential employees.

Companies are investing in training their managers to adopt a more empathetic style of leadership. People-oriented organizations provide employees with a sense of ownership over their work and give them fulfillment beyond salary. This field has much potential for improvement, however, a recent study by IBM Institute for Business Value discovered that there is a massive gap between employers’ and employee perceptions of support and care for workers’ wellbeing (only 46% of employees felt that the executives really cared for their wellbeing, compared to 86% of employers). HR professionals will have the task of forging strategies that will reduce this gap between employers and employees.

Data-driven HR 

With businesses coming to terms with the importance of good HR practices, we also have to make sure we are making the right decisions on what strategies and programs we need to implement.

People analytics, as some would call them, give us a better understanding of what staff is doing, why they are doing it, and how their actions affect the organization. Fields like finance have been utilizing data for years now, yet, their main focus remains profit rather than people. HR forecast mentions that only 34% of HR executives use metrics and data for decision-making.

In this sense, it’s not only important to gather the right data but also to know how to integrate it to understand the full picture. One interesting benefit of data in HR is an improved hiring process, as one of the biggest problems companies face is finding the right candidates for the role. Analytics can help by sorting out relevant characteristics about top performers and give us a chance to use that data while shortlisting the best potential candidates.

In perspective, this can ensure that the candidates thrive in their roles and it will increase the chance of hiring the right people the first time. For HR to become truly strategic it will have to engage with all stakeholders. In this case, analytics could give fast insight into different scenarios that could happen if there were a sudden change in working conditions.

Business resilience/agility 

The pandemic taught us to expect the unexpected.

Before, most of the top companies were focused on creating strategies focused on efficiency. These types of strategies may have given an edge in market expansion when things are stable, but in a situation where market conditions are rapidly changing – organizations that rely on rigid structures will inevitably fall behind.

An agile approach will give organizations a better framework to respond to changes and keep track of their goals. HR professionals should be focused on promoting greater collaboration and devolved decision-making within companies. They should also ensure that managers meaningfully engage with employees and foster team culture using technology to bring together a dispersed workforce and improve productivity and performance.

Communication between managers and employees should be genuine and the latter should know how their work is aligned with the long-term goals of the company. There is also a push for teams to acquire greater autonomy to make small changes to their operations, without getting multiple approvals that could slow down work. 

While the previous trends are surely the main theme for HR, we cannot forget some “honorable mentions” when talking about what the future holds. 

Diversity and inclusion

This topic, in the workplace, has been discussed for the past few years already but for many it is still challenging to fully accept those who are different. As more and more companies come to accept diversity as their core values, they will need to formulate their own diversity and inclusive training programs in order for underrepresented groups to feel valued and respected in the workplace.

This could also bode well for businesses as a McKinsey and CO study shows that companies that have a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to have above-average profit margins than those with a homogenous workforce.

Digitalization

Shifting processes from the old paper and pen practice to the digital environment will only be sped up thanks to the pandemic. It will be interesting to see how new software will contribute to the speed and convenience of HR processes in the future. We already see how it impacted recruitment and database management, so we can expect all fields of HR to be impacted with the creation and implementation of new IT solutions.

We can rightly assume that we only scratched the surface of the matter, and to truly dive into all the trends that await us would be no simple task. The past two years have taught us that times are indeed changing rapidly and each year will bring something different when compared to the last one. With the pandemic slowly but surely getting under control and workers getting back to their offices, HR professionals must be careful not to fall complacent in this new reality and be on their guard for the next big challenge. 

Author: Strahinja Grujić

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