Asking the question 'what is workplace culture in the time of COVID-19?' opens up a whole can of very interesting worms - big ones, small ones, mean ones that munch on your proverbial roses and quirky ones that are waiting to turn into rather wonderful butterflies when given the chance.
In short - if there ever was a more interesting time to be in human resources, we've yet to encounter it.
Well, we assume it was pretty interesting to be in HR during the Mad Men era when casual sexism and day-to-day racism were still a thing, but when it comes to rapid shifts and changing employee needs, the COVID-19 era wins hands down.
In fact, things were already looking very interesting even before the pandemic hit, as was evident by the findings presented in the SAGE Changing Faces of HR research report.
There has been a notable shift towards tailoring employee-focussed cultures that place people first, and the impact of the pandemic and the related shutdown measures that were put in place by global governments to curb the spread thereof has accelerated this to a great degree.This is good news for both employers and employees.
In fact, Gallup has found that employee engagement has hit historic highs during the coronavirus outbreak.
At the start of Gallup's measurements of engagement levels in 2000, 26% of American workers were engaged, while 18% were actively disengaged. Numbers from May this year show that 38% of employees were engaged and 13% actively disengaged.
Those are lovely numbers.
What is workplace culture in the COVID-19 era?
Well, when you get right down to brass tax, it’s the difference between companies that will survive the pandemic and go on to thrive despite, or even because of it, and businesses that will fold because they are unwilling or incapable of change.
Here are a few of the workplace culture trends we look forward to seeing more of throughout 2020 and years to come:
A focus on ‘people teams’ to drive company growth
'People teams' is a term we use to refer to companies who have the foresight to realise that investing in their people is the quickest and most effective way to drive business growth.
These wonderful enterprises are early adopters of exciting HR tech and new ways of working, as well as a variety of internal processes that are geared to improve the wellbeing and security of their workforce.
By turning the spotlight on employees' physical, emotional and financial wellbeing, as well as their resilience and personal productivity these businesses are able to accelerate transformation based on a relationship of trust, empathy and flexibility.
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Employee-centric HR practices
Happily, for all human resources professionals, the days when the HR department spent the larger part of their time at the office policing company policies and manually handling processes like payroll are behind us.
The role of the modern-day HR is to generate business value by streamlining the employee experience and ensuring that the workforce in their care has everything they need to stay productive, motivated and engaged.
This is why you'll notice that forward-thinking businesses are guided by the HR team to adopt innovative cloud- and mobile technologies, leverage people analytics and invest in employee recognition and reward platforms that integrate with existing processes seamlessly.
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The rise of AI and data-driven human resource management
Can you imagine how well your company would perform if you spent as much time finding out and understanding the things that make your employees tick as you do on getting to grips with your customer demographics?
As we progress, data-informed HR decisions will mean the difference between companies that attract and retain top talent, and those who battle expensive employee churn.
Emerging tech like artificial intelligence will also play a role.
In fact, nearly half (46%) of South African companies say they are already actively piloting AI within their organisations. This ranges from chatbots to advanced analytics, as well as machine learning.
From an HR point of view, AI can be a bit of a double-edged sword - there are many benefits to integrating it with existing people systems, but it also has to be introduced carefully in order to avoid kickback and confusion, and to understand the consequences of these technologies.
The flipside of the ‘help, call Sarah Connor, the machines are starting to take over the world’ coin is the fact that the introduction of AI will give rise to the identification of brand new skills gaps with the help of intuitive HR teams. As repetitive tasks are outsourced to machines, skills-based hiring for positions that require critical thinking and creativity will increase. As such, non-traditional learning and on-the-job reskilling opportunities are likely to become the norm for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
So, to wrap it all up - what is workplace culture in the COVID 19 era? Something that cannot and should not be ignored.
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