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. It’s also 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. Think 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 continuous learning with a completely new set of skills. Skills such as customer attraction, engagement and retention. Even traditional industries are reducing their workforces and relying on digital infrastructure. This requires a different skill set.
- Many organisations are looking at flatten structures. This means technical / younger employees will need first line manager skills
- Current team leaders have traditionally relied on face to face people management. Activities such as giving feedback, coaching, team engagement. They will need to learn to do this for a remote/distributed team.
- Senior leaders have had to change their leadership style significantly during the crisis. They’ve moved away from a traditional top-down, structured approach. Now they are learning 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. Classroom training will be less relevant with remote workers, so they will need to learn at home. Edtech solutions are also attractive from a cost perspective. Finally, Edtech solutions provide real time data and predictive analytics. Something that’s 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 lead with empathy. This means EQ will be as important as IQ.
- Resilience – workplaces and employees will see 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. Innovation makes use of new opportunities and partnerships, making companies 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.