What HR Can Learn from 2020 (incl. the most important skill)

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What HR Can Learn from 2020 (incl. the most important skill)

2020 has been an intense year for everyone, but particularly for HR professionals. They had to come up with solutions and answers nobody had a clue about while looking out for their employees and the business at the same time. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most important HR lessons from 2020. Here goes!

HR lessons from 2020
Remote engagement
What managers learned
Number one HR skill
How HR can prepare for 2021

This article is a round-up of a great conversation I had with Suzanne Lucas, also known as the Evil HR Lady, during a recent episode of AIHR Live. If you rather watch the video, you can find the entire interview here:

HR lessons from 2020

SL: There are so many things that we’ve learned in HR this year. One of those things indeed goes back to working from home because before Covid everybody said that the number one benefit they wanted was the option to work from home. Some people have been thrilled about it and some companies have completely closed their offices and will never go back. Other people, however, have learned that they actually love the office.

I think this gives us a mind switch in HR. For years, we’ve been fighting with business leaders and said that if a job can be done from home there is no reason it shouldn’t be done from home and we’ve been pushing for that. Now we have got to take a step back and ask ourselves whether that’s best for our people. If it isn’t best for our people, then it isn’t best for our business because what we need is happy people. 

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We will see that some businesses will have to make adjustments the other way around. I think some of them jumped the gun too quickly thinking everybody could work from home. They thought we don’t need these offices and we don’t need the infrastructure so we’ll just stop paying our rent and save a fortune. Right now that’s fine perhaps, but if this vaccine works and we can all go back to ‘normal life’ I think we will see people opening offices again.

This is something where HR truly needs to advocate for their people, which is what I’ve seen them doing all year. I’ve really seen how much HR is concerned about their people and that’s a great thing to see.

What HR has learned about engaging people remotely  

SL: Engaging people has been a really interesting challenge this year because we had to switch from face-to-face to the infamous Zoom (and other types of online) meetings. I remember how at first we were all wondering why Zoom meetings were so exhausting.

Several psychologists looked into this and we learned that Zoom gives us a very different feeling than face-to-face meetings do. One of the reasons for this is the fact that we’re constantly looking at our own face whereas in a meeting you’re not.

We also learned that because we were doing everything from home – our business meetings, talking to our friends, talking to our family – all from the same chair and the same computer, that it all became very draining because there was no break. I might be talking with a friend instead of my boss right now but I’m doing it in the exact same way and that turns out to be rather stressful.

So, we learned a lot about remote meetings and how to handle things better. We also learned that you don’t have to be face to face for everything and that it’s ok to turn off your camera from time to time.

What managers can learn from 2020

SL: The word agility has been thrown around a lot the last few years and many software companies were saying their solution would (miraculously) make your business agile. And then, all of a sudden, we went from ‘there is this new disease in China’ to ‘we are shutting down our entire country’ in just a couple of months.

Managers had to really learn what it meant to be agile. Agility was no longer something that software gave you and it was no longer this superficial thing of ‘look I can take on new things.’ It was about the entire business model that had to change. Right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw clothing manufacturers switch from making clothing to making masks. That’s agility. We saw various automobile manufactures switch from making cars to making respirators. That’s agility.

These are examples of true agility. Before Covid, when we said we were going to change this or that process we called it agility. Now we’ve seen that agility is turning on a dime and this is what managers want.

Important skills for HR professionals in 2021

SL: The number one skill that I saw during 2020 was the skill of collaboration. Many HR professionals work in small businesses where they are an HR department of one or two and suddenly everything changed. Every country had its own rules, every region had its own rules and the rules changed all the time. 

I run a Facebook group for HR professionals called Evil HR Lady and we have over 5000 people on there. Most of them are HR professionals and a lot of them are HR departments of one and two so they were alone in their offices but they collaborated like a team.

Information was going back and forth, best practices were being shared, people were asking each other how they implemented certain rules, what they thought of this or that – we even had employment attorneys jumping in handing out free advice.

It was this great collaboration that was all about ‘I figured this out, let me tell you how I did en let me help you in your business’ and this collaboration skill was amazing to watch. I recommend anyone complaining about HR – and yes there are reasons to complain – to check out my Facebook group and just read. Go back to March and April and just read, you’ll see that people were doing their absolute best to work with one another.

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Collaboration is a skill that was polished this year and it’s going to be critical going forward because the changes aren’t stopping. I believe it’s one of the top skills for HR.

How HR can start to prepare for 2021

SL: We need to continue to be willing to change on a dime and that’s what we have been doing. For 2021, I think we need to prepare our backbones to stand up to senior management because there are going to be some tough things coming. One of them being this vaccine.

We need to look out for our employees and for our business and that may mean standing up to an executive saying they cannot force everyone to get the vaccine. Or, if you’re in healthcare, it may mean you’ll need to implement this or that policy. I’m not advising anyone here, I’m saying this is coming up and we need to be prepared for whatever individual governments will say.

What if, for instance, an airline says they’ll require people to get the vaccine? If your employees need to travel for work and they’re required to get the vaccine is it their employer forcing them? These are questions to work on right now. The difficulty is that the governments don’t have the answers yet but that this is something that will fall into HR’s lap.

After all, we’re the ones dealing with the people, we’re going to be the ones working with the employment lawyers to interpret the regulation, we’re going to be the ones working with the risk assessment people to determine whether or not this is something our employees need, etc.

Let me give an example. I often run webinars and I do one for banks too. Banks can have various branches with very different populations. There may be a branch near a university where nobody over 30 enters the building ever so you may only be dealing with a low-risk population. Whereas another branch could be located across the street from a retirement home and nobody under 70 ever enters the building.

At the branch that’s near the retirement home they’re dealing with a high-risk population every day, at the branch that’s near the university they’re dealing with a low-risk population every day – do you make one policy for the whole company?

My advice to HR people is to start thinking about these questions right now since they are really hard things. We need to get our backbones stiffened to go to battle because there are going to be battles and we will need to look out for our employees one way or another. Even more so in 2021 than in 2020.

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