Nobody could have expected 2020 to unfold the way it has, just like no one can predict what 2021 will bring. There were warning signs, predictions, and plenty of if/then scenarios, but ultimately, the real world proved once again to be far too unpredictable. Regardless, there are countless lessons businesses can learn from the past several months that will help in the coming months as the pandemic continues. As the situation evolves in the short and long-term, businesses must continuously re-evaluate and adapt in order to remain in business. To survive, businesses and their leaders must learn from the past, take stock of the current situation, and prepare for the future. At our recent Netconnect conference (held virtually this year, for the first time ever), we gathered several industry experts from legal, HR, compliance, and technology for an in-depth discussion on the past, present, and future of the pandemic and its continued effect on businesses and their employees. Here are the key takeaways from their discussion, including lessons learned and advice for what is likely to come.
COVID Lessons Learned
The overwhelming consensus among our panel experts was the lack of preparedness on all levels. Aaron Kruger, the Compliance Coordinator at Netchex, stressed the importance, yet surprising lack, of a business continuity plan for many companies in the early days of the pandemic. A business continuity plan (BCP) is a strategic roadmap that outlines how a business will continue operation during an unplanned disruption in service or emergency situation. Without a business continuity plan in place, many companies were left unprepared and unprotected when COVID spread and caused the economy to largely shut down.
Similarly, HR departments should be equipped with a response plan of their own that support both the business and its most important asset—your employees. Several of our panelists touched on the mental health aspect of the pandemic and the shifting workplace. As something that has received more focus as of late, our panelists all stressed the importance of mental health awareness and resources during this time and beyond.
“I wish I had better understood what it meant to put the whole workforce into a remote situation—the implications it would have for compliance, productivity, and most importantly, for the employees’ overall well-being as they go through this.”
On the legal side of things, Michelle Anderson of Fisher Phillips, a labor and employment law firm, spoke about the difficulties of guiding and educating employers while the landscape was continually changing through legislation. In the early days of COVID, there was so much uncertainty for employers and employees alike. How do we stay open or reopen? How do we ensure our people are safe? How do we deal with remote work settings, school closings, health checks and testing? What is the difference between layoffs and furloughs? How do we get unemployment benefits? What do we need to know about paid leave?
“I look back to those 80-plus hour weeks back in March and April and I don’t know how many of us are still standing at this point because there was so much to do and everybody’s business model was different. There were so many concerns that you didn’t even know what to focus on,”
A big thing for many companies was the uncharted territory of remote work. Companies that had maybe never even entertained the idea of a remote workforce were now thrust into developing one on the spot—and many struggled to adapt quickly enough, according to In-Telecom’s CEO Shawn Torres. How do employees and managers adapt to working at home? Do they have the right equipment or even the technological capabilities to do so? How do you keep your company safe from cybersecurity threats in this new, less secure environment?
“Companies didn’t think about when they were sending employees home that their homes don’t have the infrastructure for them to work from home. I think a lot of companies are still facing that challenge right now. How do you do it and continue to operate as an organization?”
Preparing for What Lies Ahead
The conversation shifted to the current state of affairs and wrapped up with a look ahead at what is still to come for HR, compliance, legal, and technology—including the future of the workplace and what a “return to normalcy” will actually mean. Kruger warns of yet another wave of COVID infections and what that might mean for businesses—monitoring the situation closely, following established protocols, and clear communication from employers on what their expectations are for their employees.
“People tend to get lax the further we get into this so they have to be reminded of what is expected of them so they stay on target and safe.”
Further down the road, industry specifics will dictate long-term safety protocols. Following through with your company’s previously discussed business continuity plan will lay the groundwork for a “return to normalcy,” or rather help establish a new normal. Again, communication is absolutely essential for a successful transition.
On the HR side of things, flexibility, effective communication, and a people-focused approach to HR and compliance should remain top-of-mind. On the business side of things, policy updates and improvements to HR processes top the list. Anderson highlights the need for an updated remote work policy for all employees and a robust timekeeping solution in the future workplace, as remote work and flexible scheduling now demand it.
“You should have a good timekeeping policy that clearly identifies what is work time, how we track our time, what happens when we miss time or make need to make edits—when we are working remotely in particular.”
Anderson touches on several important additional topics, such as the need for a return to work plan, employee handbook updates, and revised paid leave policies—all crucial HR topics that must be addressed by your company sooner rather than later.
From a technology standpoint, infrastructure upgrades top the list. For many companies, remote work (at least in some form or another) is here to stay even after COVID. Businesses adapting to this new world must ensure that employees are not only capable of doing their job, but able to do it well. The demand for technology integrations and migrating to cloud-based systems has risen in recent years but reached new heights during the pandemic.
“It’s forcing a lot of companies that had outdated technology and probably should have made this move years ago, to finally do so. A lot of CEOs and CFOs are realizing that the investment will pay off in the long run.”
In addition to making smart business sense, integrated technology and improved communication encourage growth in employee engagement and company culture, as well as ensure HR compliance and legal certainty.
Netchex is the leading HCM partner helping you improve workforce management and optimizing benefits for your employees. Our powerful, yet user-friendly technology simplifies the business of HR and bring self-service features to your company to provide more independence for your team.
Talk to us to find out how to put Netchex to work for your company. Take a look at our full suite of HCM solutions that grow with your business, including payroll, HR, benefits administration, time & attendance, recruiting & onboarding, and performance management, backed by experts and the best technology in the industry.