In a world where working from home has become the new norm and everyday life has changed drastically, the role of HR has been one that has had to continue to adapt over the months. We interviewed our HR administrator, Emma Harvey, to get a feel for how the role of HR has changed as a result of the pandemic and to get some best practices on how to support your team during these turbulent times.

How do you feel the role of HR has changed since the start of Covid-19?

The responsibilities of the role have definitely expanded and it has become more demanding. As we all made the shift to home-working, which was uncharted territory for most people, HR has had to support managers and their teams with the ‘new normal’ by keeping employees engaged and productive and navigating new health and safety requirements (for example; making sure people aren’t working whilst sat on the floor, hunched over a coffee table… or working with their laptop balanced on top of the washing machine!).

It has also certainly been interesting learning to understand how to effectively recruit and onboard people remotely. This is something that most HR professionals hadn’t had to experience before and trying to provide a new starter with a great onboarding experience without being able to meet them face-to-face does come with its challenges.

What have you found the most challenging in your role as a result of the pandemic?

With continued lockdowns and remote working, employees’ physical and mental wellbeing has continued to be highly important for HR. There were (and still are) many issues I have had to address which coincide with people sitting at home all day, every day such as; online fatigue, depression, stress and anxiety/worry.

It has been most challenging (but equally, rewarding) creating a working environment where there is an even stronger focus on the importance of wellbeing and work-life balance.

In my role, we have done this through coaching managers on how to have those crucial conversations and ensuring that they are continuously communicating and checking in with their people (more so than they would have done pre-pandemic), conducting regular employee surveys as well as building wellbeing and mental health awareness into the flow of work by having it be ok to talk about it in team meetings.

What positives have you experienced within HR during the pandemic?

Most businesses are now incorporating a permanent hybrid/remote working culture. Being able to continue to work from home has led to many positive outcomes in my experience.

One of the most significant is that it allows people to have a much better work/life balance and has an overall positive impact on their wellbeing. This has led them to have less time off work due to mental-health-related issues and managers have said that they have seen an increase in productivity.

Coinciding with the above, I think there is also a climate of trust that has been built now that people are able to work from home. I have had feedback from many employees that they feel happier that they are trusted to get on with their work and do a good job. This increases job satisfaction and performance which is a win-win for both the employer and the employee!

These changes have meant that HR can focus their attention on bigger projects.

Do you have any top tips/advice on how to maintain a positive environment during these challenging times?

Staying connected - We all miss the non-work-related conversations whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, so I think encouraging people to have virtual meetings via Google Meet is a good place to start. It is also important to be conducting regular check-ins and ask people how they are doing/ask for their opinions on things and then follow up on it. These small actions can strengthen productivity and morale across a business as it makes them feel valued.

Morale boosting activities - It is crucial that we are all having some fun at work, especially during trying times. The easiest way to inject a little fun into working life is by doing things such as quizzes, challenges and team-bonding activities.

What are the best ways for maintaining communication with the team when WFH?

As mentioned previously, having catch-ups via Google Meet is a great way to communicate whilst working remotely - these could be 1-2-1’s or with your team. It’s good to have at least one recurring team meeting in the diary on a set day to make sure everyone is on the same page and clear with what they are doing (even having a 10-minute team meeting each morning would be a great way to keep the communication flowing).

However, it is also important to be mindful of video-calling, and only call when it’s necessary to ensure that people are getting the right breaks throughout the day and don’t experience video-call fatigue.

When it comes to more informal day-to-day communication, Slack is a great way to chat to people - at AYKO we have a number of different slack channels which we use to drop messages in, which is a great way to keep the whole business up to date and informed in a quick and efficient manner.