Inclusiveness will be the new normal in Post Covid HR

Matthew Owenby, Chief Human Resource Officer and Corporate Services Executive, Aflac

Matthew Owenby, Chief Human Resource Officer and Corporate Services Executive, Aflac

The pandemic has modified the way businesses used to functions. No one thought the crisis would last such a long time. The HR trends in 2021 would determine the future of how organizations function. While the past 12 months have been mentally and emotionally taxing, we have now started to adapt the way we work to suit new restrictions and therefore, the new normal.Since the employees have adapted to the remote setup, bringing them back to the office would not be an easy task for HR leaders. 

HR Strategies Post– COVID

The work culture at Aflac was always employee-centric. We always emphasized people-to-people connection, and we achieved 98 percent in-person culture in our workforce. It doesnt mean we hate technology, but we use minimal digital tools, whether for web meetings or telepresence meetings. While COVID forced our cultural principles to change overnight, we altered from a totally in-person to a totally remote workforce. The digital transition was a smooth, higher trust transition because we had high valued personal interactions, physical interactions, and live interactions. The company is around 65 years, and I think it has enabled us to transform more smoothly. 

HR leaders have never been more critical than during the pandemic. The successful implementation of remote setup made them recognizable. But now, as things are coming back on track, the exciting thing as we think about a post-COVID environment from an HR perspective is that we have a lot of people who dont want to come back. We do surveys at regular intervals, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, as are the people working in this virtual arrangement. And the most significant change management thing were going to be dealing with over the next six to nine months is determining the appropriate time based upon conditions, on when to return. Convincing people who have now been at home for almost a year is going to be difficult and to tell them that things will be just as exciting and just as satisfying. Back on campus, no matter where were operating, it will be quite a big challenge. We have a lot of work to do there because I think people have altered their lives in a way to accommodate the various shutdowns, the multiple mandates, the various social mitigation strategies, and obviously, their work-life balance. I think no one would have believed before that we are now faced with a workforce, a portion of who may not want to return, for one reason or the other. We may have to be flexible to embrace hybrid approaches.

I think this is an opportunity for the HR industry as a whole, to show its flexibility, to show its creativity, and to show its innovation.”

So its probably going to be the more significant change management challenge for us. And if you would have asked me this, back in February of last year, I would have said the exact opposite; I would have said that the most significant change management issue would have been the exit, not the return. And there are legitimate concerns that people will have the state of vaccinations, the form of response, when there is a known issue on-site, how you make sure that the experience is as safe and as comfortable and as risk mitigated possible. Were making preparations for an eventual return, whether thats through improving the physical facilities with air quality, in sanitation procedures, on-site available medical care, through nurse practitioners, or nurses stations. 

The Road Ahead for HR

The pandemic created a remote workforce overnight for the employers and employees. It will be challenging to bring back the same normalcy in work while the employees hesitate to return to the office with the new challenges posed by COVID. I envision the HR space probably extending beyond just the employee experience and being concerned with the employee experience away from work. And I think employees in the future are going to expect much more of not only corporations, but also of HR departments. One of the things that we are actively working on deploying is mental health support in light of the COVID. We recognize that this has been a very frightening time for our people. There have been deaths, disabilities, disruptions, and personal life, hobbies, personal life goals. And we anticipate coming out of this, a pretty significant portion of our employee base needing mental health and counseling support. And I dont think were unique there. I believe that as a country and as a species, weve been through a crisis. And we have to recognize that and put the things in place at work to help people deal with that. Still, I think youre going to see more and more systems from a corporate perspective. From an HR perspective, that is concerned with the employee experience at work and the employee life experience.

Quick Tips to Aspiring HR Professionals

I think this is an opportunity for the HR enterprise as a whole to reveal its flexibility, to demonstrate its creativity, and to display its innovation. Significantly few people will anticipate returning to business as ordinary, while their companies both were or will deem it safe for their personnel to go back. And this is a perfect time for the HR organization, as an HR enterprise, to reimagine the work experience that people have and the employee experience that people can have as not only just a method of retaining their populations but also as a method of attracting and I think thats the most significant piece of advice. This is a great time when many things have changed to make a change for the better.

HR leaders around the world have to plan a considerate method for their team of workers as one length doesnt suit others. Further, some would prefer to work in a hybrid model or a few from office space. Its up to the HR space to determine and make a sustainable and effective workforce that matches the need of the groups and the employees. 

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