Virtual RoundTable “The Learnings & Developments during COVID-19”

Virtual RoundTable “The Learnings & Developments during COVID-19”

Denise Harmer Virtual RoundTable, Market Insight

“The Learnings & Developments during COVID-19”

Adaptation is necessary for our survival.

When COVID-19 started sweeping the world, organisations began creating initiatives to help stop the spread of the disease, addressing the need for social distancing, staggering work shifts, downsizing operations, forced work-from-home (WFH), delivering services remotely and lots of other exposure-reducing measures.

The role of HR has changed dramatically as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has suddenly become a mix of HR and sustainability. From a sustainable business perspective, the priorities have changed and more urgent issues such as digital adaptation, remote working, and crudely, trying to stay afloat. As the pressure mounts to make painful decisions in light of prolonged lockdowns, the one person whose role is central in keeping the company’s key assets, ‘employees’, intact, is the head of human resources.

Speaking to many of our clients over the past 12 weeks, we noticed a commonality in pressure points and issues that had arisen due to the pandemic and the role that HR and HSE professionals were required to take in order to establish BAU for their businesses and their workforces.

Continuing our series of virtual roundtables, Charlotte Perkins, Manager Contracts & Interim - Melbourne and Denise Harmer, Associate Director Melbourne were delighted to host a group of Generalist HR professionals from Government, Legal Services and Financial Services industry sectors. The topic for the virtual roundtable was “The Learnings & Developments during COVID-19”.

Here are the key takeaways:-

Engaging employees in learning and development, as many of us, will continue to WFH.

Globally, many companies had to shift from face-to-face professional interactions to remote work, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And with that, remote workplace learning and development became the new reality. This presented a whole new set of challenges for HR, to create solutions and strategies that leverage technology to meet the learning and development needs, to ensure that employees continued to grow.

  • HR is busier than it has ever been. The change management that is required to manage all these issues places a lot of pressure on the HR team to come up with ‘magical solutions’
  • Businesses agree that COVID-19 is not the time to press the pause button on learning and development programs for your employees so many have switched to technology-enabled learning. Virtual classrooms, webcasts, audio- and videoconferencing, rapid eLearning, or any other form of digital learning, let your remote workforce continue to learn… and be productive!
  • Introduction of an employee assistance provider has proven useful as they provide bite-sized learning (5-10 minutes) and weekly webinars via a mobile app
  • To help with employee engagement, create a chat room after a remote training session, when using teams or ZOOM - ask questions and get everyone involved, making it an open forum.

Impacts of Remote Working on mental health and wellbeing

Even though this may only be temporary, remote work and flexible arrangements have now become the new norm around the world, giving many businesses and employees the opportunity to experience the pros and cons for themselves. Whilst remote work has undeniable benefits for both the employer and the employee, what we couldn’t foresee is that when extended over long periods of time, as well as when it is perceived as “forced upon” rather than as a benefit, remote working can have the opposite effect.

  • Psychological safety. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a base level of anxiety, and this has still not disappeared. And now that the second wave is upon us, we need to be prepared for an increased level of anxiety and fear. We are likely to see heightened levels of behaviour that will impact the workforce. A measure to combat this in organisations is to build a buddy program that we businesses can implement immediately.
  • Create awareness and understanding of the issue of domestic violence. Making sure resources are available as well as providing training for managers and staff.
  • Create awareness and understanding of mental health and well-being. Creating an understanding that if an employee volunteers that they have a mental health issue that it will NOT block their career progression. It is important to address this with employees and illustrate that asking for help is OK, and that they will be supported NOT vilified.
  • Creating a platform for change. Businesses are addressing issues and diving into areas that would not have been done so pre COVID – including mental health, domestic violence, and isolation.

Creating an environment of connectedness – How to ensure new employees feel connected with colleagues they have never met in person.

Welcoming your new employees in person makes it easy to answer questions, meet team members, and get a sense of how they’ll all interact with each other. But leaders and the new faces they bring in have a new normal, as the COVID-19 coronavirus has forced many employees to work at home. Having no opportunities to bond through in-person meetings isn’t the most ideal situation for a new hire. But there are ways to ensure new employees feel connected and to minimize disadvantages.

  • Make sure all equipment is couriered to a new starter prior to their start date
  • Group orientation for new starters within the very first hour to give them some connectivity with the business. Soft launch into their team – an area to provide a much greater level of focus on
  • Utilise enterprise social networking services such as Yammer, WhatsApp and Teams
  • Check-in with new hires every couple of days to see how they are going, who they have connected with, and who do they need to talk to? Ensure that new hires do not feel isolated
  • Send out an onboarding survey to new hires on the 2-week mark to see how the process went and how it could be improved
  • Connectedness really contributes to overall job satisfaction. It’s the water cooler chats, the office banter, and the lunch convos in the kitchen that are intellectually stimulating.  When you take that away our lines of communication are very transactional which is not the most fulfilling.

Re-thinking the best benefits we can offer employees in this new world.

Employee benefits offered previously will look very different from what will be needed in post COVID19 environment. HR Leaders need to be innovative and think of how to best support employees. Reshaping the employee benefits program in order to better serve the needs of both employees and the company itself.

  • Flexibility has disappeared as a benefit and it is now expected
  • Robust wellbeing programs run through external providers. Programs that go beyond just focusing on employees’ physical health that include critical components to support workers’ mental, financial and social health have been the best approach
  • Full access to LinkedIn learning has been very useful as employees can access this in their own time in their own home.
  • Introducing ‘5 for 4’ where if an employee takes 4 weeks' annual leave, the company will give an extra week for free. A great incentive and successful way to manage people with a high amount of banked up leave.

Increased Flexibility –the new normal.

Employers will continue to look to government health advisories for guidance as workplaces open up but part of making their employees feel safe will involve their needing to be flexible as well; providing more options to employees, including continuing to work from home, to ensure they feel comfortable in the ‘new normal.

  • Where workplaces have had a culture based on office connectivity, some organisations have opted to facilitate an environment to empower employees so that they can make the decision about returning to work when they are comfortable in doing so
  • Surveys show the overall preference is to work remotely and there is an increase in productivity in doing so for many roles. Organisations in this situation also take the view that unless there is a specific need to be in the office then there is no need to be there
  • Many organisations will be reviewing their physical office space and potentially downsizing which gives HR an opportunity to really look at ways or working longer term


If you are interested in being part of the conversation and would like to join one of our Virtual Round Tables, please get in touch with one of the Frazer Jones team here.