The COVID-19 Silver Lining: Creating HR Best Practices
The challenges of doing business during a global pandemic are now known. Business owners have pivoted more than LeBron during a championship game. Company business playbooks have been rewritten.
Workforce management has been a big part of most pandemic decision-making, and while it may have been one of the hardest ways to do it, COVID-19 has given companies the chance to create and implement best practices. When the printing industry was deemed an essential business, and printers were able to remain open during initial government lockdowns, HR professionals were scrambling to keep workers safe, determine the size of the workforce, calculate equitable wages that still kept the company afloat, and scores of other related decisions.
Many positive outcomes came from all of that hard work.
- Right-sizing Your Workforce
Many companies needed to sync the appropriate number of employees with the amount of work. Before the pandemic, many companies had employees that were not performing well, but were kept because there were no good candidates to replace them. The pandemic allowed companies to separate from poor-performers because of a downturn in business. The former employees received a generous supplement to their unemployment compensation, and an extension of those benefits. Nobody likes to terminate employees, but it helps to know they had additional government assistance.
- Creating Training Opportunities
Cross-training has always been a best practice for HR, but there is little time to do it in most printing companies. With many printers facing a reduction in business and the resulting unclaimed time, but supplemented with Paycheck Protection Program funds to cover wages, companies cross-trained employees, giving them strength that will be rewarded if employees fall ill or are out to care for children who are remote learning, or caring for a parent or family member.
Anti-harassment training, safety training, and other modules can easily get pushed aside when companies are at full-capacity and deadlines are tight. The pandemic reduced capacity for many, which allowed time to train employees. These trainings make the workplace safer, more inclusive, and potentially reduce liability for employers by avoiding accidents, lawsuits, and employee turnover.
- Fine-tuning Leave Policies
Managing employee leave is challenging in the best circumstances. COVID-19 made this aspect of workforce management very difficult, but prodded companies to re-examine leave policies. Many rewrote their policies to incorporate improved approval parameters, rollover caps, and end-of-year payouts. Tracking employee leave for intermittent FMLA became more frequent, so policies and systems have been put in place to make this confusing process clearer for everyone involved.
- Cross-functional Management
HR has always worked with environmental, health, and safety managers; chief financial officers; and company presidents. The pandemic, however, forced managers from all of these areas to cooperate and coordinate responsibilities in the most efficient manner possible. Assignment of duties, flexibility in implementation, quick decision-making, and nimble responses to dynamic circumstances all were critical to keep business going, keep employees safe, and keep up with the changing nature of COVID-19 information.
- Building Resilience
Ideally, HR professionals are tough as nails, but also smart, approachable, and empathetic. They are able to accommodate employees experiencing challenges, discipline toxic team members, and terminate poor-performing employees. These interactions are emotionally exhausting. HR professionals also have to learn the complex regulations and systems necessary for HR compliance. When COVID-19 hit, all of these responsibilities were multiplied exponentially. HR representatives had to deal with scores of key employment decisions, and were flooded with critical information necessary to help keep their companies in business.
- Succession Planning
The unwelcome and often-ignored task of succession planning got some attention as a result of COVID-19. Company owners and executives were able to see which of their employees performed exceptionally well during the crisis. Who kept a cool head when the lockdowns happened? Who presented ideas about how to keep the business vital? Who worked extra to make sure important tasks were accomplished? Who was able to remain motivated and to motivate others? The employees able to lead during the pandemic are the same employees that should be given the opportunity to grow within the company. If the tragic situation arises when a manager or executive falls ill, HR should now have a list of people who have proven their ability to step in to help, if not take over the role.
These silver linings need to be turned into a best practices playbook. Take the time to document all of it. Write down all of the things revised, changed, and learned during the pandemic. Distribute the information to the executive team, and share ideas for the future. If your company got through the pandemic with financial and workforce stability, then everyone on the team won, and the new company playbook is the trophy.
Adriane Harrison is an experienced human resources professional with an extensive background in business, law, and non-profit sectors. She practiced law for fifteen years and now heads the human relations department for PRINTING United Alliance and is based in Warrendale, PA. Adriane holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago.