The post-pandemic world of work: ‘Robo-Sapiens’ and the role of HR

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As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is becoming crystal clear: despite the accelerated automation and the expanding adoption of AI and technology in the workplace, the greatest asset any company has is its people. 

Indeed, if there is one lesson to be drawn from the impact COVID-19 has had on the world of work, it is the recognition of how people management can make or break the organization when the going gets tough. This is true so much so that employees are now perceived as more impactful when it comes to a company’s success than are its customers, shareholders and the communities it serves.

That is not to say that technology, for instance, will play no part in the new era of work. Quite to the contrary. The intersection of humanity and technology is only expected to grow stronger. The Bank Of America, for instance, anticipates that because of accelerated automation as many as 100 million workers will need to switch their jobs by 2030.

But the future of work is not an either-or dichotomy. It is not a choice between robots and humans but it is rather a combination of both. This is what the Bank of America calls the era of Robo-Sapiens – an era of humans working alongside robots rather than being replaced by them entirely.

The post-pandemic world of work will require investment in humans

Therefore, investing in robots without equally investing in humans whose jobs are to be augmented by these robots will not make any sense. Taking good care of one’s employees, investing in their skills and wellbeing, creating an inclusive and diverse workplace as well as embracing more flexibility has long stopped being a luxury for an organization to have. It is now a necessity. Not despite technology, but precisely because of it.

And at the heart of this effort stand HR professionals who have not only been driving the change during the COVID-19 pandemic but are now faced with an even bigger challenge: how to help upgrade their organizations for the new hybrid era of work.

So what can HR professionals do to start future-proofing their organizations? 

HR professionals need new skills

The answer is simple. They need new skills. The new era of work has emphasized new competencies that were previously not recognized as essential. Namely, competencies that allow HR professionals to collaborate and innovate across disciplines and their companies’ departments. 

Thus HR professionals need to move beyond their traditional HR specialization and develop additional, more general HR skills. Only then will they be able to develop innovative solutions to new and increasingly complex issues that the new flexible era of work will bring. 

To that end, we at AIHR have developed a new T-shaped HR 2025 competency model that combines these horizontal (i.e. more general) with vertical (i.e. specialized) skills. HR professionals who have used this framework have become T-shaped and have been able to rely on the breadth and depth of their HR knowledge to tackle problems they were never before equipped to deal with. [For more on why HR professionals need new skills, click here].

t shape future proof HR

Compensation and benefits policy: Example of how T-shaped HR professionals can shine in the new era of work

To better illustrate what skills HR professionals need to develop, let us zoom in on one particular challenge that many in HR will be grappling with in the coming months: hybrid work and its effect on organizations’ compensation and benefits policies. 

According to the latest McKinsey survey of 100 executives, nine out of ten organizations will be combining remote and on-site working – with some employees working entirely remotely. This means that many companies will need to revisit the way they pay and reward their employees to reflect this change.

Here are four must-have competencies that HR professionals need:

#1. Business acumen: understanding your business and the world around you

For HR professionals to do their job well in these turbulent times, they need to better understand their own business. They need to be acquainted with their organization’s purpose, mission, goals and strategies. But that’s not all! They should equally be interested in what is happening beyond their company to identify and react to broader trends. 

That’s why, when it comes to the compensation and benefits policy, HR professionals need to get a good grasp of how their own company has changed due to COVID-19. But they should also understand how this trend has played out in the broader economy and look at other companies. Examples are ranging from Facebook and Twitter – which have pegged their workers’ salaries to their location – to Reddit – which has decided not to do so. 

Similarly, HR professionals should also keep an eye on legislative changes. The Irish government, for instance, has approved the National Remote Working Strategy that has introduced the so-called “right to disconnect” policy that gives employees the right to switch off outside normal working hours. Earlier this year, Austria passed a directive on remote working and so has Argentina. These are all relevant changes that can determine the future of one’s new compensation and benefits policy.

#2. Data literacy: turning your knowledge into data 

But learning enough about one’s organization and the world around it will only get you so far. The new compensation and benefits policy will furthermore require the collection and analysis of all kinds of new data. These include the number of days people work from home and from the office and the level of tax and social security contributions in various locations (if applicable). 

Moreover, to ensure people are offered the right amount of flexibility they want, HR professionals will also need to regularly check people’s perceived priorities. For instance, and surprisingly to many, the majority of employees of companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple have said they would rather pass on a $30,000 pay rise than lose their ability to work from home. When it comes to business decisions, it’s better not to make assumptions and use hard data.

Of course, becoming data-literate does not mean that every HR professional will now need to live, breathe, and sleep data. Rather, it means that they are able to read, apply, create, and transform data into valuable information to influence decision-making processes. More and more companies will require this skill as 73% of them say people analytics will be a major priority for the next five years.

#3. Digital savvy: keeping abreast with data requires new digital tools

Furthermore, to collect this new and necessary information on remote workers, the HR professionals will most likely need new technology to help them. For instance, they could set up a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) or update the existing one if the company has one already. 

HRIS would then allow employees to directly provide some information regarding their time spent working remotely and the location where they worked instead of expecting the HR department to do so for them. 

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The use of technology is meant to help HR professionals get their work done more efficiently and free up their time to focus on other more strategic tasks. 

#4. People advocacy: building a new business culture 

But that’s not all! Even after the new compensation and benefits policy has been developed, the work is not done yet completely. HR professionals will still need to ensure the new policy is sufficiently communicated to the employees and embedded in the company’s business culture. This is to allow for the new policy to be understood by both the current and future employees and to align it with the company’s values and mission.

When it comes to HR solutions, there’s no shortcut bypassing the human element. After all, you can’t spell human resources without the word human in it. The many complex challenges of the present day require a combination of both data and a human approach. 

Being a people advocate means building a strong internal culture, communicating skillfully, getting the best out of people, and acting as a trusted employee champion. No overhaul of the compensation and benefits policy will be a success without these skills.

The future of work depends on HR professionals who in turn depend on their skills

The future is human – even if our work will be increasingly augmented and accompanied by the power of AI and technology.

No organization will survive, much less thrive without humans in the post-pandemic era of work. To harness the power of humans, however, will require a new approach from companies and organizations. It will require a new emphasis on HR departments and HR professionals and more specifically on their skills.

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