BeyondHR looks beyond covid-19 highlighting what to expect and how to adapt

Covid-19 made 2020 one of the most memorable years of this century and for many Northern Ireland businesses the first few months of 2021 have felt like an extension of last year.

By Claire Cartmill
Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 5:00 pm
Neil McLeese, Managing Director at BeyondHR
Neil McLeese, Managing Director at BeyondHR

The pandemic has completely changed how millions of us work and the local Human Resources industry has seen a huge shift in the tools available for communicating with and assisting employees using online channels.

As much as the pandemic dominates current HR trends, businesses also need to plan for life after Covid-19 and for when the world opens up again. It simply won’t return to the way it was.

Neil McLeese, Managing Director at BeyondHR, a leading HR services provider with offices in Ballymena and Glasgow, shares the six HR Trends to look out for in 2021 and offers his professional opinion on what to expect and how to adapt.

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1. Covid-19 Vaccinations: Employees Rights

Pimlico Plumbers recently introduced a ‘no jab, no job’ policy requiring all of its workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and it’s attracted a lot of attention from supporters and protestors.

As someone famous once said: ‘Not a lot of people know this’ but did you know an employee’s anti-vaccination position could amount to a protected philosophical belief under equality legislation? If a fervent anti-vaxxer could establish that their belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect, then they may find success at a tribunal.

An employer could decide to take indirect measures to pressurise vaccination of their employees, such as refusing employees entry to certain parts of the workplace if they cannot demonstrate that they have been vaccinated. Similarly, you may be tempted to issue disciplinary action if an employee repeatedly refuses to be vaccinated. Our advice is that any such measures should be considered very carefully before being implemented.

If an employee’s refusal to be vaccinated is down to a disability/protected religious/philosophical belief, and results in disciplinary action from their employer, they may be able to issue a direct or indirect discrimination claim and claim constructive unfair dismissal if they resign in protest. A better course of action for organisations would be to help employees to make informed decisions regarding their vaccination by sharing impartial, factual information.

2. Managing Employees Remotely

It’s really important employers understand certain elements can make working remotely quite demanding. Consequently, high-performing employees may experience dips in performance and engagement levels, particularly in the absence of preparation, privacy at home, training, and face-to-face supervision.

Employers need to assist with managing the life experience of employees working from home as, for some employees, balancing home-working and raising children/caring for family members can be very difficult, equally, other employees could be losing their usual human interaction from being in insolation.

Promoting two-way dialogue between managers and employees ensures that communication efforts help, rather than hurt engagement.

Employers may be frustrated to lose the physical visibility they once had of their staff, but the response shouldn’t be too micro-manage. Putting trust and confidence in your employees is a two-way street and will go a long way with your employees. Recognition is crucial now more than ever and with employees working remotely it can sometimes be forgotten or overlooked. Giving your employees recognition should now come in the form of group emails and team meetings, making it public also serves as a strong indicator to other employees of best practice.

3. Returning from Furlough

It was announced in November 2020 that workers across the UK will benefit from increased support with a five-month extension of the furlough scheme into March 2021. With March fast approaching and there being no sign yet of the scheme being extended, its paramount that HR professionals have properly prepared for employees returning from furlough. It’s crucial that returning employees are brought up to speed with changes to the business and the effect these may have on their roles. Employers will also need to consider the operational changes that have occurred and provide training and support to their returning staff members. Training and support will range from advising on new safety procedures that are in place and the new ways of communicating with other colleagues and clients.

Some furloughed employees may be worried about their job security as the company operated effectively without them, so it’s important that managers set aside some time to discuss their feelings and try to alleviate any concerns they may have. Many furloughed employees will not have spoken with their colleagues for a long period of time. Virtual team meetings could be an effective way to gently reunite team members on a regular basis to rebuild these relationships.

4. Increased Mental Health Awareness & Support

Employees may be experiencing mental health struggles due to concerns about their job security and future within their company, as well as feeling overwhelmed by working remotely without the usual support and guidance they would receive in an office environment.

If an employee’s job performance is showing signs of suffering this could be a result of mental health issues created by the pandemic, it may then fall on HR to step in to offer support to help.

For many companies, offering remote support has become a permanent solution however HR departments will need to develop more specific long-term solutions, such as scheduling regular meetings, providing mental health training and resources, promoting a healthy work-life balance, encouraging regular exercise, embedding employee wellbeing into meetings and catch-ups, and when possible, plan in-person meetings/events.

5. Issues Arising from Digitally Tracking Employees

Employers wanting to monitor their employees’ productivity isn’t new but with so many employees working remotely the necessity to keep track of progress has increased. There are many different applications that employers can use that track real-time activity, take screenshots of workers’ computers at regular intervals, and record screens. In some cases, the tracking tools can be installed without the knowledge of employees.

This trend raises concerns about employee privacy and how far companies should be allowed to go to keep tabs on their workers. Employers need to be completely transparent and make sure employees are fully aware of their tracking capabilities, what they can and can’t monitor and their privacy rights.

6. Remote Working and Flexible Working Hours – Here to Stay

According to a survey carried out by Deloitte, as many as a quarter of British employees could end up working from home for good and employers are anticipating flexible working hours and home- working to be around long after the pandemic.

Some employers may be sceptical of this at first but it’s important they see the bigger picture and make sure the capabilities are there for their employees to work effectively and efficiently from home. This could mean providing them with faster broadband, up-to-date equipment, relevant software packages and all-inclusive mobile phone contracts.

If you’re concerned about the performance of employees on flexible working hours, one solution for this is to focus on output rather than input or hours, look at the finished product you want from staff, and how to measure that accurately. A big challenge with flexible hours will be maintaining collaboration and innovation within your company. A lot of the responsibility for ensuring this will fall on managers. One solution is to celebrate success, recognise your team’s achievements, provide specific feedback, and encourage other team members to do the same. Technology is also critical to keeping teams connected, organisations need to agree which channels they use for different types of communication, even the more informal platforms, where teams can chat like they would in the office.

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