HR’s role in the new world of work

Businesswoman using mobile phone communication technology

The way we work is changing rapidly. The remote working experiment, as a result of covid-19 measures, showed employers that working from home does not hurt their workforce’s productivity level. At the same time, employers recognise that remote working provides a welcome opportunity to save costs on travel expenses and office space. 

Aside from the changes that covid-19 has brought to offices around the world, job automation has significantly disrupted the way we work. We now have the technology to automate repetitive tasks, a development that affects not only what we do, but also how and where we carry out our work. HR leaders have a pivotal part to play in preparing employees for the new world of work. 

Human resources as a strategic partner 

Automation will inevitably hit the Human Resources department at some point. Not only will it potentially eliminate administrative HR functions, it may also deskill some of the roles in HR departments. For learning and development specialists, as an example, the booking of training could be automated, freeing up time to focus on the strategic aspect of learning and development. In a nutshell, automation will allow the HR department to increase its focus on HR’s role as a business partner. As a strategic partner, HR will be responsible for developing ways to help a company achieve its competitive goals. To create an optimal business environment for employees to carry out their tasks, HR needs to put strategies in place that have a positive impact on company culture, mental health, employer brand, performance measurements and rewards, and learning and development.  

A future-proofed company culture  

A job description may tell employees what to do, but company culture is what shapes how they do it. It is imperative to keep retention rates high, especially for skilled jobs where the cost of hiring a new employee is significant. In a world where benefits can be largely the same, but also for smaller companies that need to fish in the same talent pool as big-name brands, company culture is a game-changer when it comes to retention.

A (partly) remote workforce can decrease the level of connectivity within a company. The same goes for job automation; fewer people will share the same set of tasks, and the need for personal contact with colleagues may decrease. HR business partners can take an active approach in redressing this balance. They can strengthen company culture through training and performance management, to reinforce the company’s values. Learning and development specialists can play their part in training employees on the technologies they can use internally to communicate best, as well as teaching them about company culture itself. Retention rates can also be improved by seeking out new recruits that are a great cultural fit. 

Mental health in times of uncertainty 

Depression and anxiety, as well as being potentially debilitating for those who suffer, can take a great toll on the economy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that these conditions account for $1 trillion in lost economic productivity per year. More than one-third of the world’s population suffers from some form of mental health condition. This can be further aggravated by fears of the economic downturn after COVID-19, the social isolation that a mandatory remote working environment can bring, and increased workload due to cost-cutting in an economic downturn. An active approach to preventing mental health issues among your workforce will support employee wellbeing, save costs in the long run, and strengthen your employer brand.

A new approach to performance management 

Redesigning the performance measurement system is likely to have the biggest impact on HR‘s strategic influence. Giving continuous feedback yields the best results in your employees, as referenced examples will still be fresh in the employee’s mind. It is important that employees gather feedback from key stakeholders throughout the organisation, not just from their manager. This gives a 360° impression of an employee’s performance. Technology can also help determine who the top performers are. This information is useful, as research shows that the top five percent of employees perform 400 percent better than average. Rewarding only your top performers with bonuses is not only fair, it will also eliminate the time-consuming and arbitrary process of rating the relative performance of all employees, to determine the value of their bonuses. 

Learning and development for leaders 

The leaders of the future need a new approach to managing their workforce. Managers may no longer fully understand the job their employees are doing. And remote work will make it difficult for managers to see what employees are doing throughout their day. Future leaders need to feel confident about extending more autonomy to their employees, and focus on results and output, rather than worked hours. Leaders will also need to be more empathic to the work-life balance of employees and assume more of a motivational and connecting role. HR managers may struggle to develop these management skills among their mid-level and senior leaders, who are used to managing teams in a certain way. The best approach for HR when preparing their leaders for the workplace of the future is to pair them with another leader with complementary skills - the so-called role modelling method of learning. 

For many reasons, work will become more challenging in the coming years. Employees will look to their managers for guidance in navigating these changes. And great leaders will need the support from their HR business partner to fulfil their potential.

Download our eGuide, HR’s role in the new world of work, for practical advice and a framework of key considerations for HR leaders.