As we move through the pandemic, many governments are now encouraging businesses to return to the workplace after months of remote working. In a certain sense, it marks the end of a phase in our year, as well as an opportunity to take stock of lessons learned and refocus on priorities for the season ahead. We spoke to Devyani Vaishampayan, Managing Partner at The HR TECH Partnership, about how we can best engage and upskill our employees, as well as harness the power of continuous learning.
What specific changes do you think COVID-19 will bring to engagement practices in the workplace?
Covid has needed HR leaders to address several unexpected and diverse issues.
- During the initial lockdown phase, organisations and employees were busy adapting to the sudden change in business operations (different supply chains, home working, organising laptops, virtual meetings) etc
- In the second phase of the lockdown the focus was around making remote working more effective. HR functions focussed on additional workplace services for employees eg virtual exercise classes, effective team meetings, ensuring mental health support
- In the third phase companies are turning from “resilience” to “return”. The key focus is safety. Tracking and tracing is a key concern. Commuting is also supported eg BofA is providing free taxi rides to all employees who need to be in the office.
But managing employee concerns and sensitivities will continue to be very important. Many employees are not keen to return to work or prefer working from home. Tracking employee engagement and ensuring it is enhanced will be a big challenge for most employers.
Do you think it is important that workplaces embrace continuous learning in their employees?
Given the large- scale change in established businesses, it is critical that the emphasis on continuous learning does not reduce. In fact, most of our clients are saying they are planning to protect their L&D budgets in spite of cost pressures. This is because:
- Business models are changing rapidly. Retail and hospitality businesses are rapidly moving from physical to online models. This will require a completely new set of skills around customer attraction, engagement and retention. Even traditional industries such as oil& gas have started looking at massive workforce reductions and relying on digital infrastructure needing different capabilities.
- Many organisations are looking at flatter structures which will mean technical / younger employees will need first line manager skills
- Current team leaders have traditionally relied on face to face people management – giving feedback, coaching, team engagement. They will need to learn to do this for a remote/distributed team.
- Finally, senior leaders have had to change their leadership style quite significantly during the crisis. From a traditional top down, structured approach they have had to learn to be empathetic and operate in an agile manner.
How important do you think EdTech is to the future of work?
As described above, there will be a greater need to upskill employees in a shorter time. However, employers will have to pay greater attention to how employees learn and what they are really interested in (personalisation). Edtech will ensure employees stay engaged. The increased incidence of remote working will mean classroom training will be less relevant and will need to be provided at home. Continued pressure on costs will mean Edtech solutions will become more attractive. Finally, Edtech solutions provide real time data and predictive analytics which becomes hugely important during these uncertain times.
What would your #1 piece of advice be to workplace HR teams right now, in the current climate?
The workplace is changing rapidly and HR teams need to start getting more agile in their approach. A big part of this change is the use of digital & AI solutions. These solutions can integrate with any existing HRIS system and require minimal budget and support. The UK is one of the leaders in HRtech & Edtech so HR leaders have a whole range of interesting and innovating solutions to ensure they can provide leaders with more support around strategic support as well as virtual people management.
Which three soft skills do you think will be the most important for workplaces moving forwards?
- Empathy – anybody in a leadership role will have to develop a far more empathic approach to leading their teams. This means EQ will be as important as IQ.
- Resilience – workplaces and employees will see an unprecedented level of uncertainty over the next few years. Stress and anxiety will be become a big issue. Workplaces that support employees become resilient will be more successful.
- Innovation – Precedents are no longer valid. Employees, teams and organisations who are innovative can make use of new opportunities and partnerships and become far more competitive.
Yes or No – do you think that companies will need to put additional focus on training employees’ soft skills to prepare them for the post-COVID world?
Devyani Vaishampayan is Managing Partner at The HR TECH Partnership, an innovation and investment venture in digital HR startups.