HR managers are currently faced with a challenge that is unprecedented in modern times: helping organizations and their people return to work amid an ongoing viral pandemic.

COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on countless industries across the globe. Many sectors have suffered droughts in demand that have put businesses at risk and resulted in millions of job losses.

Those firms that have been able to continue trading are having to adjust to a ‘new normal’. According to McKinsey, there are four key forces shaping this new environment:

  • Metamorphosis of demand
     
  • An altered workforce
     
  • Regulatory uncertainty
     
  • Understanding of the virus

For HR departments, the priority right now is to adjust to the current reality and come up with a back-to-work strategy that balances business continuity with the health and happiness of your workforce. That means being aware of your most pressing challenges and finding effective solutions to them.

protecting health

Given the clear health implications associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, employers need to find ways for people to return to the workplace with minimum risk to their safety and wellbeing.

Understandable fears over being exposed to the coronavirus are making some people reluctant to make a physical return to work. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, some essential staff are simply refusing to come back because they’re so worried about the risks.

HR has a key role to play in this scenario. The first and arguably most important step is to start a constructive dialogue with workers who are uneasy about returning to the workplace. Listen to their concerns, ask how you can make them feel more confident about coming back, and outline the safeguards you’re putting in place to protect employees from infection.

Information on the protective measures that are necessary in your industry and will prove most effective for your business can be obtained from various sources, including:

  • The government
     
  • Industry bodies
     
  • Trade unions
     
  • Healthcare authorities

The HR services industry, spearheaded by Randstad and other leaders in the sector, has come together to produce a range of guidance on getting safely back to work in the new normal, including health and safety best practices and practical tips on an effective restart.

maintaining workforce capacity

Keeping your people safe and happy should be the HR department’s primary goal, but the new normal created by COVID-19 will also present certain operational challenges for many companies. One of these is ensuring there is sufficient capacity in your labor force for the business to get back to work and start generating revenue again.

Global unemployment has soared in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, with many employers forced to lay off workers when their economies shut down. You might also face the problem of staff being unable to resume work because of health concerns or caring responsibilities. The combination of these issues could result in severe capacity constraints just as you’re trying to ramp up activities and get the business back on track.

On the positive side, there are solutions available for firms that have immediate skills requirements and gaps in their workforce that need to be filled. Evolution in the world of work in recent years means the gig economy and the contingent labor force are now valuable sources of skills for HR managers, and a flexible staffing strategy can help you make the most of them.

One of the biggest benefits of a flexible approach to staffing is the potential to acquire the skills and people you need with maximum speed and cost effectiveness. If you have key staff missing from a vital area of the business due to short-term health considerations, for example, bringing in contingent workers can ensure you have the human resources you need without the time and financial commitment of a permanent hire.

This level of responsiveness and efficiency will be essential for many businesses in the current climate, particularly those whose finances have been seriously affected by the pandemic.

These are just two of the HR challenges you could face as your business comes to terms with the new normal created by COVID-19.

Another possibility is that you will have to manage a long-term transition in how people want to work, for instance, as employees who have never worked remotely before now know that it’s possible, and want to continue enjoying the benefits.

Randstad has produced a guide that explores these and other issues in more depth, and provides further guidance on how you can navigate this unique business environment.

free guide: key challenges for HR as businesses return to work.