“At home in a pandemic, trying to work”
It is tempting to think that the past 12 months has reshaped the way we work forever. But according to some of the experts and leaders we spoke to, companies would be wrong to regard all their new pandemic-inspired working practices as permanent.
“I think that the mistake a lot of organisations are making is taking decisions based on this period,” says Claire Harvey, founder of organisational consultancy Anatta. “This period is not ‘working from home’; this period was at home in a pandemic, trying to work. And those things are entirely different.”
Harvey has identified some of the biggest missteps that companies she works with have made during the pandemic. The first, she says, is to try to replicate the way they worked pre-COVID-19 by moving it “into a remote setting”.
“They try and do the same things in the same way but with everyone attached to a laptop rather than them being physically in a room, and of course that doesn't work because of the limitations of technology [and] because of the way people work.”
New ways to work
A second common mistake is employers expecting their employees to all respond to their new situation in a uniform way: “And of course they don't,” explains Harvey. “There's a pandemic going on so there's a whole level of anxiety and uncertainty and change in people’s lives before you even talk about work.”
What this means is that leaders and those in organisations’ people functions have had to learn and deploy a new set of skills over a very short time period.
For Thomas Davies, who left Google to found data-driven organisational intelligence and analytics firm Temporall, this period has shown leaders the importance of having an HR or people function at the heart of their businesses.
As he explains: “A vast majority of people within the HR function [of companies] are non strategic - they have no budget, they have no authority, they have no voice or buying power within a company.
“A lot of people I think, would love to see the function of HR and HR practitioners move up the value chain.”
“We have seen in the last nine to 12 months, a lot of HR directors being thrust onto the board in trying to help a company manage and muddle their way through the pandemic. A lot of people, I think, would love to see the function of HR and HR practitioners move up the value chain [to offer] strategic insight.”
HR on the board
Harvey agrees that making the HR function central to an organisation’s strategic thinking is a long overdue move that the pandemic has helped bring about. She says: “I think of that move for HR as more of a part of the wider governance of the organisation: central to decisions, enabling thinking about how to embed the values and how to how to actually make the organisation thrive.
“It was already well in train but I think it’s more important than ever now, because when you think about a hybrid environment, you think about that kind of future-ready organisation that’s much more agile, much more geographically dispersed, much more fluid in how it works.
“The devil of that is in the everyday behaviours. It is not in the policies, it’s not in the structures, it’s in the everyday experience of people and how that plays out and that’s where I think HR needs to move much further away from policies and processes.”
Claire Harvey Founder, Anatta, and global inclusion lead, Vodafone