Damian Oldham, HCM division director at The Access Group explains how tech teams can help their HR teams navigate the post-Covid-19 world of work and drive positive change in their business.
Many in the tech industry, us included, have long advocated flexible and remote working, and we’re all part of a quiet revolution that has been gathering momentum over the past few years. Had it not been for Covid-19 however, the pace of change would have been a lot slower – now practices born out of necessity look set to become permanent.
Hopefully, the past few months showed even the most skeptical company bosses that workers can be as engaged and productive at home, if not more so. What was patently clear, however, was that digitally mature organizations could adapt faster because they already had the systems and culture in place.
Take a department like HR, for example. One of the biggest discrepancies is between those who use cloud software and real-time data, and those who still rely on multiple spreadsheets and back-and-forth emails. Time-consuming and error-prone at the best of times, manual processes were always going to be ineffective in a fast-moving situation like this.
The fact that 88 per cent of HR professionals say they are going to review their technologies and normal ways of working because of Covid-19 suggests many found themselves ill-equipped to do their job well at home. With no precedent to follow, they needed to engage a remote workforce and quickly understand what impact Covid-19 was having on employee wellbeing, finances and absence levels.
Whatever their experiences in lockdown, it’s likely that more HR teams along with their colleagues in finance, payroll and so on, will be looking to digitize their processes, or digitize them further. And IT has a crucial role to play, working with department heads to choose the right solutions, harness data and lead on security best practice.
Build a strong digital foundation
More and more, employees want business technology to mirror what they use in their own lives. It should be social, intuitive and accessible via any device – a far cry from the confusing mix of paper-based systems and spreadsheets HR has traditionally used.
While tech teams have been quick to embrace collaborative software like Slack, other departments lagged behind. Lack of visibility across organizations means tasks end up being duplicated, while trying to find information often results in long (and frustrating) email chains with colleagues.
HR now has a golden opportunity to think and act like a tech team. Bringing their processes together using a cloud-based HR platform paves the way for flexibility and collaboration, efficiency and productivity.
While we all hope there won’t be another lockdown, around 84 per cent of HR professionals expect their organization to continue to offer remote working as a standard practice. To do so, they’ll need to be able to accurately track absence rates, monitor employee wellbeing and engagement, deliver updates and action requests, wherever they are based.
Leverage data for faster and more effective decision-making
An unexpected event like Covid-19 only underlined why people management today demands a strategic and analytical approach.
Line managers might previously have agreed remote working with staff on an ad hoc basis, but it surely makes sense to develop clear policies that work for everyone. By putting it at the heart of their strategy, HR can lead the way on helping employees achieve a better work-life balance, attracting and retaining top talent, reducing office costs and much more.
Any policy, of course, should be informed by reliable data – something you’re unlikely to get from old-style reporting methods like spreadsheets. Meanwhile, self-service portals for staff provide a recognized route for individuals and managers to report absences and other issues. This then generates valuable data for HR to identify trends and red flags and inform decision-making.
Given the speed and scale of change seen in just a few months, professionals may be well-aware that historic data may be of little use; they need to know what’s happening in their organization right now.
Protecting your business
Remote working brings with it a number of security issues IT teams understand only too well, particularly on the scale we have seen in recent months. Weak or shared home WiFi passwords could, in serious cases, lead to a data breach and the fines and reputational damage that can follow.
Cloud-based business technology can address some of these concerns by providing secure file storage and communications channels, but any investment should also be reinforced by clear cyber-security policies and best practice. You’ll need to undertake regular risk assessments and check that software is authorized and up-to-date and that workers have strong anti-virus protection in place.
As the shift towards home working continues, organizations will need to educate the wider workforce about the importance of security – and this is where HR can help you. Using their systems, they’re able to deliver updates and online training on personal compliance, GDPR and any other relevant topics, and ensure it is completed.
While I’m sure the vast majority of people are not trying to maliciously compromise data, carelessness and complacency makes organizations vulnerable.
The distinction between work and homelife has been blurring for a long time but recent events could compound the problem of shadow IT even more. We’re all aware of the security issues that can arise when staff use company devices and networks for personal purposes and their own hardware and WiFi (or public WiFi in cafés and on trains). They might also be downloading their own applications and business software, without seeking permission first.
I would, therefore, urge IT teams to review the technology staff already have and find out what they need to do their job well at home and in the office, so they are not tempted to find their own risky workarounds.
As the lockdown slowly eases, and lessons are learned, businesses will rely on HR teams to help steer their recovery and put them on the path to growth. With a digital-first mindset and the right tech support, they can not only manage but augment every part of the employee experience and drive up performance.
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Damian Oldham, HCM division,. Access Group