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How HR Is Using People Analytics to Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has forced businesses to quickly rethink many of their work policies and procedures. The economic fallout has affected countless workplaces, and human resources and people teams have been at the forefront of keeping employees informed and engaged amidst rapidly changing circumstances — while most likely also helping their team move to a remote working model. 

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All of this has shown the need for HR teams to not only be an important voice in an employers’ response to the current crisis, but to also have the capabilities and data on hand to provide informed and actionable insights into resource planning discussions. As organizations continue to operate and plan within the current environment, HR teams are collaborating even more closely with finance, IT and other departments to develop new plans and assist with strategizing for the new normal.

What is becoming evident, however, is that many older human capital management (HCM) systems are simply not up to the task at hand. A study by talent acquisition firm Capita Resourcing found that 76% of HR leaders believe their department’s value has been overlooked in digital transformation initiatives. Sage research found that over half (51%) of HR leaders feel a lack of vision and leadership in their organization is also preventing much-needed HR change.

Yet following the immediate reaction to the pandemic and subsequent adaption to new and fast changing operating conditions, businesses are seeing just how crucial HR teams and contemporary systems are to manage new, often remote and online ways of working. This includes managing communications, workforce well-being and keeping management appraised of employee needs and concerns, ensuring people are aligned on their goals (which may change at short notice as the business reacts to ongoing changes, trying to keep people motivated and engaged through delivering great experiences, and even onboarding new hires for those fortunate to be able to do so.

The Importance of Agility

In order to deal with fast changing, challenging situations today, HR teams have to be quick, flexible and responsive in decision making and communicating. In order to be able to meet these demands, they need access to reliable, accurate and current employee data.

One of the immediate requirements is to ensure that employee records are complete and that any missing fields are filled; e.g. key contact data. Employees need self-service access to their personal details so they can make changes as they happen such as new mobile phone numbers or current addresses if employees are caught up in shelter-in-place restrictions and are not at their usual residence. 

Workforce visibility remains essential especially when staff are remote and no longer in their normal place of work. There are a range of key metrics and analytics that HR will want to track. These include the percentage of the workforce that fall into the different OHSA exposure levels (e.g. frontline staff such as health-care workers, first responders or check-out staff), the number of employees per location, and the percentage of employees on sick leave.  Being able to track absences, sick leave, and paid time off is essential, especially if key roles or functions are adversely impacted, with back-up staff available to manage unplanned absences when local sickness hotspots breakout. 

For businesses having to implement furloughs and salary/hour cuts it’s important for them to stay connected with all employees (both those that are adversely impacted and those that are retained) to let them know that they are valued and to offer support where possible. Maintaining continued communications with employees is essential and companies that don’t stay in touch with furloughed employees risk losing them to another organization, stripping the organization of a loyal and experienced talent base that may be subsequently and quickly needed.

Using analytics to understand employee sentiment can be helpful in understanding concerns, stress or well-being challenges and help managers quickly address problems early, rather than these festering and creating bigger problems. For example, Sage uses an “Always Listening” survey to keep a continuous open line of communication between HR, senior management and work colleagues. Tailored, personalized, targeted and authentic communication is also vital in delivering experiences which help engage remote workforces effectively. Using data and analytics to understand and leverage ongoing feedback helps businesses determine how to adjust, improve and adapt to change.

With much of the immediate future remaining uncertain, companies may need to use scenario thinking and be prepared to flex as they try to manage potential expansion or contraction at speed. For example, employers may be able to bring back furloughed workers but then have to release them again later should additional lockdowns be necessary. These types of situations will play into resource planning and modern HR and people software that can integrate with financial, budgeting and planning applications are powerful tools that can support the business through challenging times. Trying to be responsive and manage change at velocity will be difficult for businesses relying on spreadsheets and disparate systems; these simply won’t cut it for HR and People teams who need to be agile in order to ensure a business resilience through an adaptive workforce.   

Stress Testing HR Systems

This is a time when HR teams will be able to assess whether their HCM systems have been an invaluable or a serious hindrance to their operations. A modern HR and people system, which provides a single source of truth for all your employees’ information, is essential for businesses any time, but even more so in times of uncertainty. This is especially important as businesses start to consider reopening scenarios.

An end to end, cloud HR and people system with comprehensive analytics capabilities can enable organizations pull pertinent data that may impact individual’s reactions to a potential physical return to work — information such as where they live, how they feel generally about returning to the office, if they’re concerned about their commute — or traveling for work, if they have children or pets that they need to care for due to certain services being closed for the time being. There will be different employee concerns and expectations that will require proactive management. These should be captured and analyzed, providing learnings that companies can leverage so that employee well-being can remain central in any reopening plans.

Businesses can also use such data explore different scenarios and determine the best approach to take that works for the company and its employees. This is going to accelerate both the use of people analytics and digital transformation.

Paradoxically, “The changing face of HR report from Sage revealed that just 42% of HR leaders say HR and people decisions are data-driven today, although a further 51% of HR leaders are planning to access data in real time within the next year. This suggests that many companies may struggle to manage this rapidly changing operating environment effectively. It will be ironic if organizations are successfully able to reopen their physical workplaces only to find that employees fail to return to work when this could be predicted through people analytics.

As companies work to navigate through the ongoing and unpredictable public health crisis, successful organizations will be leveraging data and analytics to help guide decision making. HCM systems are going to be tested as never before and many are likely to be found wanting. This is likely to force organizations to re-evaluate and reprioritize software purchasing decisions with HR no longer being at the end of the line, especially if the current operating environment becomes protracted.

A contemporary, flexible HR and people system is the foundation for enabling an adaptive workforce and ensuring business resilience.

About the Author

Paul Burrin is the vice president of Sage People.


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