As organizations bring renewed focus to unlocking the power of people, the role of HR is expanding. It's no longer enough to source, hire, and engage talent; HR executives are now at the helm of leading a remote workforce, building company culture, and countless other administrative duties.
In fact, HR Dive's 2021 Identity of HR Survey revealed an example of this "responsibility sprawl," with 75% of respondents reporting that they performed duties outside of the HR department on an ad hoc basis or as a permanent part of their jobs.
With too much on their plate, HR leaders should stop and reconsider how they can make room for a growing to-do list, and it often involves learning how to be more flexible.
"HR has been tasked with both organizational and employee needs, and it’s a lot to handle as organizations make moves to reinvent themselves completely," said John Sullivan, National Account Manager at FedEx Office. "It's pulling these professionals in too many different directions and spreading their resources too thin, which is why it's so important to find valuable supplier relationships whenever possible."
Here are three ways HR leaders are learning to be flexible in order to prepare for success in the post-pandemic world of work.
Leading a hybrid remote workforce
Organizations making the full or partial shift to permanent remote work have two challenges ahead: ensuring team members are ready for the new normal and enabling leaders to develop the skills they need to lead a remote workforce effectively. Often this puts a spotlight on adjusting engagement and company culture initiatives from in-person to personal so employees feel connected to leadership, their colleagues, and the company as a whole—whether they’re based in the office or at home.
This shift also comes into play as HR leaders consider the requests for flexible work arrangements post-pandemic. To prepare, organizations will have to consider what communication needs to look like for employees who request to split time between the home and office and all the possible variations to come.
"No matter where they’re working from, team members want to feel valued and engaged just as much as those in a physical office," said Sullivan. "Leadership for a hybrid remote workforce will require a different approach, and employers should take every opportunity to communicate with employees in creative and personalized ways."
Shifting out of survival mode
Even before the pandemic, HR leaders had a full workload balancing competing demands of the organization and its employees. But organizations experienced the pandemic differently: some thrived in the face of accelerated demand, and some shifted into survival mode and had to make difficult operating choices. These choices introduced a sense of urgency across the working world and may have long-term effects on employee morale, burnout, and mental health.
To move forward, there's yet another thing to add to the HR team's to-do list: offering more frequent and varied direct support to employees. Prioritizing employee-focused initiatives related to employee recognition and company culture can help rebuild and boost performance and engagement and help employees shift out of survival mode.
Many companies are pursuing these initiatives with creative community- and connection-building, such as themed Zoom gatherings, more frequent all-hands meetings, and physical recognition and tokens of appreciation like wellness boxes and company-branded gifts.
Accepting support to make room for what matters
Rather than adding more headcount to tackle these additional responsibilities, companies may consider the support of trusted suppliers to help resource-constrained HR teams achieve more.
In the print space, this marks the entry of auxiliary service providers that act as traffic controllers for HR print programs. Though many communications have shifted to digital, having access to a one-stop print shop with a nationwide footprint like FedEx Office helps an organization to prepare and distribute highly personalized, human communications on a very short timeline.
"It's no longer the best use of an HR team's time to run downstairs to the copy center and prepare onboarding packages for a hiring cohort," said Sullivan. "Having a capability like robust just-in-time printing at your fingertips when you need it allows HR leaders to keep up with how quickly they need to move and respond to changes today."
Building a flexible HR function
The organizations that may be best positioned to thrive in the post-pandemic world of work are the ones that pursue new skills, strengths, and support for their employees and HR leaders. Some of these shifts will take place within the company, and some will bring in outside support – but both require that organizations start now to put the foundations of a flexible HR function in place.
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