Charlie Garside

June 15, 2020

Posted by Network HR

How has Covid-19 affected HR? 

Charlie Garside - June 15 2020

In mid-March, COVID-19 took the UK by storm and in a few short months, the way that businesses operated was fundamentally changed. As companies struggle to deal with the new reality of remote working and changes that are happening at lightning speed, HR departments were expected to lead the way with no experience of dealing with a global pandemic in this lifetime.

The role of HR has always been rather comprehensive, ranging from recruiting to training to assembling the best employee benefits packages etc. However, now, HR managers are expected to continue their regular work while taking on all the new challenges presented by the pandemic. 

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Greater focus on remote working and training

When COVID-19 struck, millions of in-office workers quickly became remote workers. While the remote workforce has been growing steadily over the past few decades, this recent spike in numbers was dramatic and unexpected. People who previously worked from home knew how to do so — they had home offices, headphones, printers, and generally knew how to achieve the work-life balance in a healthy way. The office workers who became remote workers suddenly had none of those things. Moreover, both remote workers by choice and by non-choice had to contend with school closures and finding time to be full-time parents, teachers, and employees.

To meet the sudden needs of remote workers, HR departments have spearheaded the offering of remote-work training in the forms of mentoring, coaching, frequent manager check-ins, manager training, and support groups. Microsoft even produced a Guide to Working From Home During COVID-19, which was shared with its global workforce and also made available to customers in an editable format. 

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Employee wellness becomes essential

Even before the pandemic struck, the need to enlarge the resources for employee wellness was growing more important every day. With workers feeling pressure to constantly stay connected and answer emails after work hours, HR had already shifted well being to a necessity as opposed to a perk. Now that many employees are working from home, the already-delicate work-life balance is more tenuous than ever.

To combat the current challenge, HR departments have increased their wellness offerings and become more vocal about them. Employee wellness initiatives during this time include Q&As with health specialists, curated lists of health and wellness resources, employee hotlines, and more. Given the importance of providing mental and emotional support to employees, this trend will likely continue to grow whether there is a pandemic or not.

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Job Retention Scheme (Furlough)

It is estimated that the UK Government has spent 19.6 billion on the JRS but the word ‘Furlough’ was one that no one had heard of prior to 2020. When the government announced in March 2020 that they would be introducing a Job retention scheme to protect the British economy and people, there was a huge sigh of relief. People felt protected and valued, but for a member of HR what on earth did this mean? Not only was this a brand new scheme but something that they had to action immediately and support employees in the process. This was huge! Many questions will have risen from the topic… Who will we furlough? How will this affect the business profit? How will we communicate this? How do we choose who gets furloughed? HR needed to get this right the first time around so tension and stress levels were sky high, they had longer working days and the amount of unanswered questions had more than doubled,but they had to be careful. The majority of these questions lead me onto another area of importance during Covid-19….Employee Relations!

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Employee Relations cases soar

During this global pandemic I believe that people have really pulled together, whether that be clapping on the doorsteps every Thursday for the NHS or respecting each other on how they have dealt with this change in everyday life. This hasn’t been the case for some areas of business. I spoke with a HR Director of a large corporate business recently who explained to me that their ER cases have increased by 70% and the majority of these result from Covid. Whether that be from poor mental health, absence, sickness or discrimination it is something that they are having to deal with on a daily basis. Everybody needs to step up during times like this to help ease the crisis within the business. HR have been looking at different ways for managers to engage with employees and deal with the casework presented. 


Adapting to a new reality

The coronavirus pandemic has essentially changed the way that companies interact with their employees and with their clients. The entire world has suddenly found itself in the midst of a new reality, a reality that comes with new and different needs than the previous one. Companies that are able to adapt and develop new products and services to suit the current consumer demands will be the ones that survive. Companies that do not adapt will not. I recently asked my network on Linked In how they felt about the changes that workforce's have taken. Will the new changes remain in place or go back to previous ways? 91 people voted. 51% believe that the changes will remain, 44% are hopeful that these will not change and a mere 5% thought the new changes were ridiculous and won't stick when we go back to normal. I am confident that we can see a more flexible approach for the future.

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Some Changes Will Stick, Some Won’t.

Some of the changes spurred by COVID-19 are likely to be temporary, while some will probably last. The focus on worker wellness and emphasising quality over quality were trends that started before the pandemic, so these are likely to stick around and continue. Likewise, the use of virtual platforms working is something that HR always has to adapt to, so learning to adapt now will serve it well in the future. As for remote working, it’s unclear whether that will last once COVID-19 is behind us. At the very least, even if most employees return to work, a significant portion will likely request to continue to work from home. It will then be up to HR to decide how to handle those requests.


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 By Charlie Garside 

Senior Consultant - Network HR