HR functions across all sectors needed to rapidly pivot in uncharted ways in response to COVID-19. However, as challenging as the immediate impacts were, organisations have the opportunity to use this experience to consider how they can operate with more efficiency, accuracy and flexibility in the new reality.

Our future ways of working will demand new skills from all of us – including the HR function. To embed these new ways of operating, organisations will need to identify what capabilities they have across their operations, and what capabilities they will need to take the business forward in world that will require more organisational agility. To assist with this, the HR function needs to consider:

  • Can we predict different workforce requirement scenarios? 
  • Do we know how many contingent versus permanent employees we have and how to change the split rapidly?
  • Do we know what skills and capabilities by role we have?


Three HR actions to ensure future success for people and business

COVID-19 HR transformation infographic

Systematically change the shape of the workforce

COVID-19 taught us that knowing how you can change the shape of your organisation, understanding the capabilities you do and don’t have and being able to flex the number of contingent versus permanent employees, is critical to agility.

Workforce shaping is taking a scenario-based approach to defining the required workforce, with the understanding of how digital disruption and artificial intelligence will change how work is done and with a focus on optimising the customer experience. In our The Future of HR: 2020, we noted that HR will effectively cease to exist if it does not modernise its approach to planning for the future needs of the workforce as businesses automate more. Traditional HR planning cycles are no longer sufficient to fully respond to future workforce challenges.

In the new reality HR needs to have the agility to:

  • Redeploy the workforce at a moment’s notice. HR will need to be agile in working with the business to define new or changed roles, manage redeployment of people, amend employment contracts, and update redeployment and legal instruments, quickly. 
  • Creatively move and shape to an optimal organisation design that fits.
    HR functions will need to ensure accessibility of the data needed to understand the fully loaded employee cost base, and the evolution versus revolution of the organisation and its functions.
  • Optimise the workforce and workplace mix to suit the new reality – considering the mix of permanent, flexible, remote, contractor or gig roles. The 5B’s approach to workforce optimisation takes the evolution of the scenario planning undertaken in workforce shaping and considers that for each scenario, there is an optimal mix required: what permanent employee mix will we buy; where and when will we borrow contingent contractors and consultants; how do we build talent up through reskilling; what roles can be augmented by bots/artificial intelligence/machine learning; what mix of building options should we offer?
  • Know what is in the labour market pipeline to align to your talent and capability build to enable competitive advantage and success, and, recruit in a fast, efficient and interconnected way across systems for on-boarding. 
  • The need to work remotely will require enhanced communication skills, improved problem solving abilities, a strong ability to deal with ambiguity and a technology enabled mindset. To reskill employees, HR needs to think how this can be done remotely and more importantly, know which of your people resources can be rapidly reskilled (or where external pipeline talent already have the skills) to respond to the customer or organisation as they demand this.


Transform the HR operating model

HR needs to action and improve the use of advanced analytics to assess critical demand pathways and channels. This improved capability will help the HR function to redesign its operating model and ensure the right services are brought in to enhance the functional HR service offering. In an environment shaped by crisis and reactivity, organisational information (whether available through disparate systems or a core HCM system) can help to foster rapid management decision making and agility in making changes. To achieve the transformation needed for HR functions, organisations must seek to integrate and optimise their information solutions to build more effective value for the organisation and accelerate enhanced digital adoption.

There are three short term focus areas that HR should prioritise if it is to deliver value for the organisations and build a sustainable competitive advantage.

Free up HR to focus on the transformation agenda

  • Consider – HR does not need to aim for 100 per cent operational effectiveness before it moves into the transformation space; as this typically sidelines HR from reaching the enterprise transformation agenda.
  • Ensure operational business leaders have the right capabilities to lead and manage their teams (i.e. cyclical, performance management, employee relations, and shift operational workload from HR actioning to HR supporting.
  • Ensure your human capital management and service delivery model provides self-service and solution centre/advisory services to enable the right support at the right time. Can you ‘buy in’ industrial relations/employment relations advice at Tier 1 or Tier 2 levels and instead shift your operational support focus to transformation more effectively or, do you need to improve your foundational technology to enable this?  

Get your workforce agile ready

  • Get your workforce ready to shift, look for capability and technology uplift opportunities, and encourage role flexibility and movement to enable the ability to rapidly respond to future challenges.
  • Every employee whether strategic, operational or functional needs to be agile and ready to triage effective customer solutions – no matter the role. Customer satisfaction ultimately drives revenue and success for the organisation. This is done through your job cataloguing, centralising and recording role based skills in your technology solution.

Focus on leading transformation and innovation

  • HR must make its play to keep or gain a seat at the table. Prioritise HR investment for best ROI. Utilise the existing change and transformation skills (where available) to position the transformation agenda.
  • Adopt leading practices through pre-built end-to-end processes with built-in governance, enable your technology through data cleansing and management improvement, and integrated technology solutions and create a governance framework that reflects industry and organisational requirements for your service delivery model.

Create an integrated employee experience

While the focus is on providing a consumer grade experience for employees, who owns the experience and what role does HR play in bringing it all together?

As organisations support these new ways of working, HR’s remit must also seek to focus on the employee experience – it is essential to keep workers connected, engaged and productive. Organisations must consider all three channels of the employee experience (environmental, digital & tools, and socio-cultural) and determine what actions and tactics they must take now to ensure a new norm is successful.

Many parts of a ‘consumer-grade’ employee experience is delivered by different divisions of an organisation, including facilities, IT and the business unit, but as the custodian of the employee experience, HR’s leadership skills and overarching vision of the design is paramount to a successful experience, and ultimately a competitive advantage.

HR can help ensure the employee experience is connected across the organisation, maintained and sustained by building on three core capabilities.

  1. A culturally aligned and digitally enhanced talent attraction, recruitment and on boarding process.
  2. A personalised digital workflow solution that delivers all the information about team members to their team leaders. 
  3. Role based capabilities that highlight career paths for individual employees to autonomously manage their learning and promotion opportunities. 

Transforming the HR function to enable rapid responsiveness in the short term and reposition itself as an agile, valued contributor to the organisation is critical if HR is to be regarded as more than just order takers of recruiting and paying employees

Changes in employee requirements and the forced shift to agile ways of working will ensure HR has a compelling reason to uplift capability and focus on the things that matter.