Preparing the HR Team for a Long COVID Reality


COVID-19 is, unfortunately, as much of our daily reality as it was three months ago and in some cases, even more so. The optimism around a summer lull in infections hasn’t come to pass for a variety of reasons and with lockdowns being eased and in many states, not returning, it doesn’t seem as though we’ll see a post pandemic reality any time soon.

While potential vaccines are entering the final stages of testing, we’re still a ways out from a time when this virus isn’t impacting how we do business. Even after a vaccine arrives, it will take time to administer it broadly and for people who are skeptical of medicine to embrace it. Even then, there is no guarantee that we won’t face another pandemic in the near future.

If this situation has taught us anything, it’s the value in being adaptable and in being ready for things to change quickly. In just a few short months, we’ve seen transformations that many thought would take years. HR has been the glue holding many organizations together, collaborating with IT, operations and management of all levels to keep the business moving forward. Now, as we look ahead and wonder what’s to come, here are some inevitabilities to prepare for.

Reskilling is for HR Too

The term reskilling can sound a bit negative. Some might take it as the skills they have are useless and they now have to learn all new ones just to remain employed. That’s not necessarily the case as is evident for HR teams. A good example is in the recruitment team in many companies right now. While their core skillset will be needed again eventually, hiring freezes and shifts in priorities means they simply aren’t handling as much as they would have been six months ago.

With this in mind, HR leaders can transition teams with a specific focus on to more pressing challenges, such as helping new technology investments succeed, taking stock of and analyzing existing policies and being able to provide answers and insight around procedures and data that are being created around newly remote teams.

Get Everyone Up to Date on Compensation Challenges

There are no shortages of challenges around compensation during all of this. The evolving situation may create new variations in how people are paid that simply didn’t exist before. Is there hazard pay? Is the organization being forced to make pay cuts? What about bonuses or raises? Are new hires being done on a contract or gig basis? Are they living in different countries?

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All of this presents a challenge that impacts the core of HR’s function. How performance management is done, the way employees experience plays out, expectations for productivity are all changing and will be impacted by compensation conversations and challenges. Everyone on the HR team needs to be prepared to address these challenges and look for innovative solutions that will help employees remain engaged.

Become Masters of the Contingency Plan

The future has never been more uncertain. Every industry has experienced some pains around a lack of scenario planning. As organizations move forward, one of the biggest lessons from the COVID-era workplace may just be the need to understand the possibilities and plan for any and all of them.

The fruits of remote labor are already starting to see more scenario planning come into play as some of Silicon Valley’s tech firms are already announcing that employees will remain remote until at least the fall of 2021. Preparing contingency plans now requires HR professionals to think outside of the norms and make no assumptions. In just a couple of months, we’ve seen a breaking down of norms around social issues, political viewpoints and acceptance of the reality around this virus. Any planning for the future that doesn’t take into account how quickly things can change is foolhardy.

Another valuable lesson from COVID should be what’s possible in terms of the rate of change. While HR must avoid rash decisions, swift action once an understanding of the bigger implications of a new policy is gained is possible. Being able to do it again when the next thing upends our views and policies that shape the workplace is going to be extremely valuable to the organization.

Consider Where Technology is Necessary

There is a great deal of talk around technology at the moment and rightfully so. With smaller workforces and greater strain on the people involved, technology has a big role to play in the future of work. From automation to data analysis, machine learning and natural language processing, there is a wide variety of tools for HR to implement to aide in creating efficiency and improving the employee experience, but embracing it all won’t be possible as budget constraints and organizational culture concerns take a toll.

In the end, careful analysis of the technology and the data needed to make it successful is required before rushing into something. HR teams have to examine metrics closely, as some of things that were considered important pre-pandemic are longer applicable or need to be measured in new ways. This is vital to the success of technology implementations as they are reliant on clean, relevant data to fulfill the promise of their value.

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