The silver lining of working under a cloud of Covid-19

Date: 29 Sep 2021

Author: Gabriella Barbara

While fully acknowledging that lockdown has impacted the mental health of many workers and the financial wellbeing of entire industries, it’s also true that some good has come out of it.

I’ve been impressed to see HR specialists use the time and challenging circumstances of lockdown to effect positive change in their organisations. So, it seems that having too much time on your hands can be a good thing. Here’s why.

1. Time to think and evolve

It’s been amazing the difference that the luxury of some ‘thinking time’ has made to many organisations. Being removed from a ‘normal’ working environment has given them the gift of time to sit back, evaluate, and refine their HR processes, projects and programmes.

And it’s been a gift which has been grabbed with both hands by most organisations. They’ve redesigned their HR strategies to tackle all the new workplace challenges forced on us so dramatically by the pandemic. As well as adapting workplace policies to manage almost entirely remote workplaces, some have had to find ways to handle mass retrenchments, while others have had to gear up to deal with high hire volumes. It’s not been easy for any employer. It’s been an incredibly busy and stressful time — but in many ways, it’s forced us to prepare for the future — and fast.

Many organisations have found managing work-from-home employees and ensuring their wellness a full-time job in itself. And to a certain extent, lockdowns have assisted businesses to mature their workplace communication and engagement strategies. Managers are interacting more regularly with their teams, often checking in with them daily. Video meeting tools like Teams and Zoom, and live chat are now finding their place in HR strategies that champion the virtues of connecting and caring for employees. The ability to see facial expressions in real-time helps managers and teammates recognise and resolve issues far more quickly than a poorly worded email.   

The increase in manager interactions with their teams and team members confirms my belief that annual employee satisfaction surveys have had their day. Instead, pulse surveys, short and regular sets of questions sent to employees to gain their perspective on various topics, will help drive the HR and management strategies of the future.

Many of the businesses I’ve talked to (including our own) now run virtual HR wellness and resilience initiatives during lockdown. These have been so well received that they will likely find a permanent place in most HR strategies. 

That’s an incredible evolution in how we look after our people. It just needed some time to happen.

2. Time to learn

We’ve been fortunate in the technology industry. Most of us have been busy — and as has been well documented in the media, our main struggle has been to find enough trained and qualified IT resources to deliver our customer projects.

But it’s been a lot more difficult for those who haven’t been able to operate in a ‘business as usual’ sense. However, rather than let their people feel unwanted and under-utilised, they’ve taken a proactive approach to using what would otherwise be dead or downtime to up-skill their employees. For example, they invested in learning programmes through the Learning Management System (LMS) in Jemini and actively encouraged their people to take up the offer to train.

In one instance, we saw a 70% increase in learning over ‘normal’ times!

The outcome? Coming out of lockdown, these companies will face the world with improved skills, knowledge, and compliance. All of which they wouldn’t have had time to do in a regular, busy week. 

Another benefit of investing in learning is that it’s a sound strategy for tackling the skilled resource shortages caused by border closures. It’s sensible to develop your own people to fill more skilled roles, and to have the ability to measure, monitor, and map out their progress. This approach also helps avoid the challenges and high costs of offshore recruitment.   

And a third silver lining is that these programmes of learning have helped ‘locked-down/unable-to-work’ employees feel relevant, valued — and busy! Both morale and skills improve!

Screenshot of Jemini's payroll pay calculation
Easy payroll pay calculation with Jemini

3. Time to align HR technology with lockdown

The last thing that has been very apparent to me is that thanks to Covid, our expectations of HR and Payroll platforms has changed considerably.

A case in point is leave management. When New Zealand headed into the strict Level 4 and Level 3 lockdowns, most of us were forced to rethink any leave that we’d booked. Going from Auckland to Wanaka (for most of us anyway) was no longer an option.

As a result, numerous employees cancelled their planned holidays. And many employers were faced with the mammoth effort required to reverse leave periods and payments had that leave period passed and the leave had not been canceled prior to payment.

Why? Well, where an employee had their leave paid for in the current paid period or in  advance (due to payroll schedules), and at the rate appropriate to the Holidays Act, it’s a complex transaction to unpick. As most HR and payroll applications can’t handle a leave reversal, it becomes a manual task. A payroll or HR staff member needs to log into the system, reverse the leave transaction, credit or negatively apply the correctly calculated payment in the next pay run, and allocate the unused leave back to the employee. It is a time consuming and error-prone process.

Luckily for our customers, Jemini fully automates the leave reversal process. It not only reallocates the leave but ensures the correctly applied payment deduction is applied to the next payroll run. (Just to note: The automated leave reversal feature has been much appreciated by Jemini customers! They commented on how easy and accurate it made the process and how the function saved them hours of work).

One last thought. In these trying times, the ability to track employees’ wellness – both physical and mental – is a highly desirable attribute of any HR and Payroll platform. For example, it helps the organisation understand who has had their Covid-19 vaccination or supports elderly or young dependents. It empowers employers to make better, more inclusive and supportive decision-making.  

In many ways, businesses now are using HR data to foster a ‘one team’ approach — I know we certainly are. HR data can deliver meaningful company-wide insights, reduce distances between diverse groups of people and promote a level of transparency that employees find engaging. It’s a far cry from traditional and closely guarded HR reporting.

By sharing that knowledge, employee wellness becomes everybody’s responsibility. And that’s got to be another silver lining.

If you’d like to solve your payroll problems, engage your people and align them to your business goals, or just talk about your HR journey, then we'd love to hear from you.

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