HR Leadership in a Pandemic: Making Changes to Move Forward
As a leader in your organization, you’re constantly working to strike a balance for the people counting on you. It’s always been about finding that work-life harmony, but in the midst of the pandemic, you have a new balance to find—one between those working on site and those working remotely, so your team feels engaged and valued. A new world requires a new approach, and that’s what you’ll find at PIHRA #RealHR: COVID-19 and the Future of Work: What HR Needs Now. Speakers, including guest blogger Lisa M. Sánchez, will address the spiciest topics of today and inspire you with ways to reimagine work and expand new opportunities.
An Interview with #RealHR Speaker Lisa M. Sánchez.
PIHRA: HR professionals play a critical role when it comes to leading their organizations through some of the toughest workplace challenges. How has the COVID-19 pandemic re-framed the role of HR?
Lisa M. Sánchez: The pandemic, with all of its challenges, created an opportunity for HR practitioners and leaders to show their strategic partnership value. It required the ability to pivot quickly to manage people, processes, practices and employee engagement, at a time when information was coming out quickly and, sometimes, inaccurately. The mindset is less transactional — the old way of managing HR — and now more strategic, partnership-oriented and collaborative, to guide employees and management through workforce planning, remote work, recruitment, layoffs, furloughs, work-life balance, wellness and mental health challenges.
PIHRA: As organizations transform their business models, how can HR help manage organizational culture and ensure employees feel valued and that they “belong” in this new, more virtual work environment?
Lisa M. Sánchez: Organizational culture drives how people behave in their organizations, which is directly related to how they feel in their organizations. Culture is as critical to the HR function as any other discipline that we manage and lead. Employee engagement must be top of mind in this “new normal” that we are in. We must tap into ways employees can connect and feel heard and valued. Examples include access to Employee Resource Groups, Virtual Town Hall meetings, virtual wellness events, the Employee Assistance Program and job enhancement work through participation on task forces and committees. These things help employees feel valued. Be sure to balance the involvement of employees who work on the premises and those who work remotely. This can lead to FOMO or fear of missing out. Also conduct periodic pulse surveys to assess how your employees are adapting and what their needs are to feel included.
PIHRA: What is the #1 HR challenge you have encountered during the pandemic and how did you overcome it?
Lisa M. Sánchez: I can think of a number of challenges during this pandemic, but what comes to mind is working with leadership to save as many jobs as possible at the very onset of the pandemic. Instead of layoffs, we chose to implement furloughs and create, for the first time, an early-out retirement program. In a 12-month period since the pandemic started, we only lost four jobs. Job loss is a difficult part of managing HR. But, to overcome this, it is important to help management think of other ways to reimagine work, reorganize and create bandwidth for existing employees to expand their knowledge by stretching the four corners of their job descriptions.
PIHRA: As you look to Fall 2021 and beyond, what do you expect the next HR challenge will be and how are you preparing for that now?
Lisa M. Sánchez: We are still working remotely, and it is not likely that we will return to our physical spaces in 2021. As a college administrator, our priority is getting students back first in the fall. With that said, I am working with other administrators on The Future of Work and School – a team that will create the pathway forward. The approach is to blow up the box. Disrupt HR and the old way of doing business. We are evaluating how we will deliver education; how we will reconfigure our classrooms, administrative and public spaces; how we will interact and engage as employees; and how we will staff. This means an evaluation of jobs to determine what work can remain remote or become hybrid. The biggest challenge will be managing the fear and anxiety that people still have about the pandemic. People have gotten used to working remotely. It was easy to send people home. The return to the physical spaces again will be a challenge.
PIHRA: What are 3 reasons that HR professionals in California should attend #RealHR: COVID-19 and the Future of Work: What HR Needs Now?
Lisa M. Sánchez: 1) It is important to network and understand what other HR practitioners in various industries are doing to manage the pandemic. 2) Learning is lifelong. We can always expand our knowledge. 3) It is an opportunity to earn continuing education units for those who are HR-certified – in fact this program has been approved for 1.0 California-specific recertification credit hours through HRCI!