2020 saw businesses across Australia – and, indeed, across the globe – thrown into chaos. For the vast majority of us, we faced the most dramatic challenges of our lifetime in simply keeping our businesses alive.
For most HR professionals, the year was spent redefining how employees are kept engaged with their work; dealing with redundancies; and figuring out how to manage the impacts of remote working on OHS, supervision and motivation. All this, while still needing to manage the day-to-day operations of HR.
But as we enter the second half of 2021, with the vaccination roll-out gathering pace, restrictions lifting and many people returning to the workplace in some capacity, HR once again faces a wealth of new challenges.
The prospect of entering the next chapter in the world of work, with the reinvigoration of the job market and new employee needs and expectations to address, is daunting. We break down the top challenges HR will face in the months ahead and recommend key steps you can take now to ensure your business is ready for the next chapter.
1. Understanding Where You Are Now
It’s almost inevitable that your organisation looks nothing like it did at the start of 2020. Policies, processes, employee needs, working practices and company culture have, in most cases, changed phenomenally in just 18 months.
You may feel somewhat windswept by these changes – and understandably so. But before devising a strategy for embracing the ‘new normal’ of post-pandemic work, it’s crucial you stop to reflect on how your business and workforce have evolved, and what your biggest priorities should be for the months ahead.
As market trends fluctuate and consumer confidence grows, are you ready to meet new opportunities as they emerge? How long will it take you to bring the organisation back up to production? What have you lost? Who have you lost? What are the internal and external factors affecting your human capital and ability to meet those new opportunities?
Over the past year, it’s likely your succession planning, training and development and skills gap analysis fell by the wayside as you did everything you could to simply survive as a business. Now, time will need to be invested in looking at your business and reviewing the organisational structure, key personnel, skill gaps and potential for upskilling or recruitment.
With the right tools in place, you can also start understanding the changes to your employees’ needs, priorities and challenges through people analytics. How many people are returning to the office, and how often? Have their circumstances changed drastically during the pandemic? Are your staff working excessively long hours? Which benefits are they using? And which could be introduced to make their lives easier?
This may sound time-consuming, but with the right insights into your business and employee challenges, you can better prepare for the next chapter of work – and start thriving, rather than simply surviving.
2. Attracting the Right Talent
As business picks up and demand for goods and services resurges, ensuring you have the right skills and expertise to meet those demands will become even more essential – and more challenging.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has emphasised the challenges Australian businesses currently face in recruiting and developing key skills to fuel the economy’s revival after the pandemic, calling workforce skills “the single biggest challenge facing the Australian economy”. And with 54% of businesses in WA struggling to recruit skilled staff, it’s not hard to see why.
Many industries are increasingly becoming an employee’s market, with the high demand for skilled roles – and limitations on migration due to travel restrictions – giving many the freedom to choose an employer that best suits their needs.
While looking to develop key skills within your organisation, HR and senior leaders need to make the business an attractive place to work – both for existing employees, to minimise staff turnover, and for new recruits. Of course, this encompasses a wide range of factors, from salary and employee benefits to company culture and flexible working policies.
Again, understanding your existing workforce will be central to identifying what changes can be made to make your organisation a great place to work. With the right tools, people analytics and qualitative feedback from employees, you can ensure you’re taking the right steps to become an employer of choice.
Start by asking yourself the following questions: How are we placed to attract key talent? What benefits should we offer? What else can we offer to set ourselves aside from the competition? How do our current employees feel about their working environment and culture? And, most importantly, how do we manage these changes?
As recovery kicks in, the organisation’s leadership and management will look to HR for guidance in attracting the right talent to meet their team’s changing demands. The better you can prepare now, the quicker you can start supporting teams to bring the right skills into your business.
3. The End of Working From Home?
Potentially not, if early data is any indication of the future of work. 2 in 5 Australians who are currently employed are working from home at least one day a week, while 47% expect this to remain the norm over the next 6 months.
While some degree of uncertainty may remain over the coming months, particularly with new variants resulting in further short-term lockdowns, employers should already be considering what their permanent ‘new normal’ will look like. Once the pandemic is well and truly behind us, will employees be expected in the office five days a week? Or just some days? Maybe you’re considering going fully remote, or adopting a flexible working policy.
Ultimately, any transition back to the office will be a welcome return to normal for some and a potentially overwhelming chore for others. The work-life balance that was achieved through widespread working from home will make it difficult for many to return to a life of long (and expensive) daily commutes and lost time with family. But, likewise, working from home comes with its own set of challenges – including keeping employees engaged and supported, Wi-Fi connectivity, and ensuring a safe and secure working environment from an OHS and cybersecurity perspective.
Whatever path you choose, it’s important you define your position on flexible working sooner rather than later in order to manage employee expectations. This could also help with recruiting new talent, by giving candidates the reassurances they need to make an informed decision when accepting or rejecting a job offer.
Listen to your employees’ concerns before making a final decision, consult with management to understand what setup would work for different teams and, crucially, communicate the reasons for your final decision to employees clearly and in a way that demonstrates the myriad of factors you’ve taken into consideration.
On the whole, hybrid seems to be the future of working for many Australian businesses – with 60% of Australians preferring a mix of face-to-face and remote working. Technology will be at the heart of any hybrid model, so HR and senior leaderships teams will need to ensure they have the right tools in place to support flexibility, communication and collaboration through 2021 and beyond.
4. Redefining Working Hours
Regardless of whether you plan to bring employees back to the workplace full-time, adopt a hybrid model, or go fully remote, you need to consider the benefits of flexible working hours.
If, for example, you anticipate all employees physically attending work five days a week, offering flexible hours can help accommodate the parts of remote working that have proven invaluable to many employees – such as allowing time to attend appointments, do the school run, avoid peak commuting times, or even just get home in time for dinner. Not only will this improve your staff’s work-life balance and overall wellbeing, but it may result in fewer employees leaving the business in favour of more flexible roles.
For home or hybrid workers, the challenges around flexible hours are more nuanced. Throughout the pandemic, many people have worked more hours than they would if physically attending the workplace. While some leadership teams may be pleased by this trend, hoping it will lead to increased productivity, working excessively long hours can have a hugely damaging impact on employee wellbeing – resulting in increased stress, burnout, and likelihood of absenteeism.
Allowing your employees to work excessively long hours, whether at home or in the office, can also result in regulatory non-compliance. The National Employment Standards (NES) sets out the maximum number of hours an employee can work in Australia – 38 hours a week, “unless the additional hours are reasonable”, including authorised absence. But how do you ensure compliance with this regulation when people are working varying hours in various locations?
The answer, in most cases, is technology. Manually managing part-time, full-time, fixed term and casual employees, along with their work rosters, shift allocation, timesheets and working locations, will demand considerable time and resource from HR in any business. To prevent your valuable resources being drained by administration, and allow you to focus on your people and strategy, you need to have the right tools in place to empower employees to log and amend their working patterns independently but in line with organisational policy.
Prepare for the Future of Work, Today
HR professionals have their work cut out when it comes to preparing for the next chapter in the world of work. Several changes will need to be considered, communicated and implemented in a relatively short space of time – and the sooner you get started, the better your business will be able to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of both your business and your employees.
Embracing technology could well be the key to successfully preparing for the ‘new normal’. With the right tools, you can significantly reduce the time and resource of admin; better enable flexible or hybrid working; gain clear visibility into your employee benefits uptake; and understand your workforce demographics, trends and habits through people analytics.
At Eppione, we’re supporting businesses across the globe to achieve all this and more with our HR & employee benefits platform. Designed to support the future of work, with a range of advanced features to help employees manage their time, working locations and absence, Eppione can be accessed anytime, anywhere through our cloud-based platform and mobile app.
To find out more about what Eppione can do to empower your business in the next chapter of work – and beyond – get in touch with our friendly team, and we’d be happy to show you what our platform can do.
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