The COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly have an enduring impact on the working patterns of people worldwide. With the rise of flexible and remote working, and many businesses choosing to scale down office spaces in favor of a more hybrid approach, the adjustment to the ‘new norm’ is well underway.

But the adoption of a new working structure in the long-term presents US businesses with a number of short-term challenges to overcome. And it’ll fall to human resources (HR) departments to facilitate, regulate and monitor procedures in light of these changes to preserve business’ most vital asset: their workforce.

Transitioning to permanent remote working

Before the pandemic, less than 50% of businesses had a remote working program. In fact, the notion of remote working was actively discouraged by many industries. Now, in a matter of months, companies have had to scramble to accommodate an effective hybrid working structure. For employers and employees alike, this has proved to be a highly beneficial and cost-effective solution.

However, there are many procedures that must be reinforced and certified before the new working model can match up to existing expectations. HR departments now face the challenge of ensuring every process used in the physical office space can translate just as smoothly to the virtual one. Flexibility, clear communication, and streamlined procedures will be key for uninterrupted productivity and enhanced job satisfaction.

Ongoing training will also be essential to allow businesses to keep up with new developments and retain the best industry talent. As a result, HR teams must ensure the resources are available to let this happen. For example, training may rely on new technologies or software.

Hiring and onboarding remotely

Hiring is one of HR’s primary responsibilities, and as the economy begins to recover and businesses look towards growth, successfully hiring the right talent is all the more important.

Companies are now taking a more global view with their business strategies and hiring approaches, with many planning expansions into new countries as part of their long-term growth strategies. The new way of working has opened up the playing field to more candidates, who can now apply for remote positions regardless of location.

Although technology can aid in the process of recruiting new staff, HR now faces the challenge of managing the needs of the workforce on a global scale.

Successful onboarding procedures have been proven to boost employee retention, demonstrating just how vital first impressions are. As such, HR teams must provide the appropriate resources — such as detailed employee handbooks in all relevant languages — to be accessed and utilized seamlessly by employees working across various locations.

Demand for modified employee benefits

With the revolutionization of the traditional work model comes new expectations of employers. As working circumstances are changing, so must the benefits for employees. Offering free office coffee or discounted travel perks is no longer useful or relevant for those working from home. Instead, HR professionals must listen to the feedback from employees and place more emphasis on provisions for benefits like home offices, healthcare, and childcare.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to ensure staff are still recognized for their hard work and compensated when necessary. At a time when budgets are tight, this can be achieved with rewards schemes, along with a continual and deliberate effort to acknowledge and communicate positive feedback that may not be raised as naturally outside of an office setting. This is vital to boost company morale and, in turn, increase levels of productivity and staff retention.

Maintaining company culture and wellbeing

Another challenge facing HR professionals is coming up with fresh and engaging ways to exemplify company culture from remote settings.

With many employees experiencing so-called “Zoom fatigue,” HR teams are having to come up with creative ways to keep staff engaged in the new age of remote working. And burnout is not the only mental health issue here; COVID has necessitated a regenerated focus on employee wellbeing, with the ongoing stress and trauma experienced by many as a result of the pandemic giving unprecedented cause for concern.

Increased communication, surveys, workshops based on core values, and opportunities to socialize can all be initiated by the HR department to avoid employees feeling disconnected from the company and their colleagues around the world. 

Changing laws and regulations

As COVID continues to present numerous legislative changes for businesses, HR professionals must continue to check in with the US Department of Labor for updated regulations and adhere to various compliance requirements. This is highly significant for businesses, which may face financial or legal consequences if they fail to incorporate new guidance under labor laws.

And for HR departments managing staff across multiple jurisdictions, there are even more laws and regulations to keep track of, as each country has its own employment rules. For example, many European countries are adopting a new “right to disconnect” law, which aims to improve work-life balance and ensure staff aren’t burning themselves out by working all hours.

From rewriting employee handbooks to include new rules about remote working to dealing with COVID work absence and employee vaccination guidance, HR professionals must adapt at a rapid pace to accommodate all the necessary regulations in the wake of the pandemic.

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