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Using HR as Strategic Business Partner in Times of Crisis

Using HR as Strategic Business Partner in Times of Crisis

By Alissa Penney, HR Consultant

Out of all the roles that Human Resources professionals play, none is more important than that of Business Partner. Especially in times of crisis. HR traditionally has taken the role of data input or regulation management department. But, if we’re being honest, this mindset has shifted exponentially in the last few decades to place HR at the forefront of risk mitigation and critical decision making.

So, during times of crisis, why are HR staff typically included in reductions in force? If your company has laid off HR staff in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic, I hope that you read on and reconsider this business decision.

If your company is laying off employees, you’re likely thinking that HR probably won’t have a lot to do. You can save a bit of money (which you might be strapped for, with the change in consumer purchasing strategies) and bring your HR team back on just before you anticipate needing to bring the rest of your employees back on board. After all, somebody needs to send out all those notices and fill out paperwork, right?

Although your HR team will be the ones bringing staff back on, there are plenty of other things your team can do to add value to your organization in times of crisis. And they don’t necessarily need to be on-site to get work done either, in case remote work is a possibility for your organization. 

A few things I recommend are:

Cross Training

A major concern for employers is lost time and work gaps due to low manning or lack of employee access to key tools to complete work. One of the most effective ways to remove these workplace obstacles is to cross train your employees. Payroll should still be able to run because you’ve got a solid backup plan. All HR employees should be able to assist in filling out FMLA paperwork and directing employees to where they need to go for ADA information - especially in times such as these when you can feel the influx of claims waiting to come through the office.

Even better, make sure that all of the HR staff have the same information and are on the same page as leadership so they can effectively direct employees in a consistent manner. While it may be tempting to keep information on a “need to know” basis, it can also cause communication problems that will have to be addressed alongside the fires that you’re already putting out. Staff need to understand that they are critical to the company’s success and the best way to achieve success is empowerment through shared knowledge.

A great side effect of cross training is having staff learn new things that they love about work and different jobs that they might want to strive for one day. When the flames of crisis have died down, you may have an opportunity to rethink your succession plan!

Team Development

I’m sure this has already come up for you and your organization but, just in case it hasn’t, I’ll say it anyway. Take advantage of this rare down time opportunity and invest in developing yourself and your staff. Are they behind on certification requirements? Do you have annual training that has been behind for weeks (months) that you could get caught up on? Go for it! That goes for everyone at your company, not just your HR team, too.

If your company is set up to have staff work remotely, there should be few to no barriers to getting this set up. Resources are plentiful right now and a lot of training is being offered at lower cost than it has been previously and you should find ways to leverage your company to best take advantage of those offerings. The hardest part may be helping employees find the motivation to sit in front of a computer/book with everything else going on at home; it shouldn’t be hard to help your employees grow.

Time spent growing and developing employees now is absolutely time well spent. It’s time that they won’t have to be pulled off of projects later and is an investment I believe is well worth making.

Workplace Improvements & Refining Processes

This ties right into team development but with a direct focus on how/what workplace improvements your team can make now that will have a positive impact on the work environment when you return to the office. Maybe your filing system needs revamping or your internal HR processes need to be reviewed. Now is the time to buckle down and dig deep into the how and why you do things the way you do. 

This doesn’t mean that you should implement everything right away. That would be incredibly overwhelming for everyone. Instead, use this time to conduct solid analyses, think through all of the moving pieces, shore up any loose details, and develop implementation plans for down the road. It’ll take that much more off of your plate later on when you’re ready to change how things are done and will give you a solid foundation for getting buy in from key stakeholders too. After all, you’ll already have a solid plan laid out!

Risk & Safety Assessments

It’s probably safe to assume that your employees working from home are not in ergonomic or ‘body healthy’ workspaces right now. There will be a lot of physical adjustment needed when they return to work which could potentially cause workplace safety issues, particularly in the first few months after coming back. Get information and healthy habit guides put together now to prepare for possible strain related injuries at work - this will save you time later on and will help reduce the number of workers compensation claims filed.

If your team is doing work in the office right now, you might also consider having them do walk around assessments of different work areas to ensure that employees' workspaces are configured in the most ergonomic way possible. It might be something that you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had the time to dedicate to actually doing. Take full advantage of all similar tasks right now!

You may have noticed that I have a little bit of a theme going here, and I absolutely do. Search for the positives in even the worst situations and be creative in how you go about reconciling the positives aspects with the negatives. Maintaining a positive and creative worldview goes a long way in keeping you agile and mentally ready to tackle whatever life throws your way. Things may be hard, but you’ve got a handle on it!