• Key HR opportunities and challenges to focus on in 2021

    Published: February 19 2021

    The opening weeks of 2021 have proved to be challenging for many businesses, but there are still plenty of opportunities ahead this year.

    Some organisations will feel equipped to make the most of this, but for others, substantial changes may be needed to keep up with the increasing demanding and competitive climate.

    Here we’ve looked at the key HR areas you should focus on and the steps you can take to overcome the challenges.

    Supporting employees through the pandemic

    The pandemic continues to pose a challenge for organisations. Even with the government’s financial assistance schemes, coronavirus has had a negative financial impact on many businesses, leading some to make difficult decisions such as complete closures or staff redundancies.

    Organisations have also had to adapt very quickly to the ongoing changes in areas such as health and safety, working arrangements and travel.

    Businesses should consider employee wellbeing, in particular mental health. With a degree of uncertainty ahead, there may be staff that are anxious about their job security and returning to work. In addition, some employees may be struggling to cope with the ongoing changes and work-life balance. Therefore, it is important that organisations consider making their employees aware of resources such as an employee assistance programme or equivalent.

    One of our key recommendations for managing change is to be as transparent as possible, therefore ongoing clear communication is important. This will ensure that employees are not only kept up to date with any changes within an organisation but also to maintain the trust and confidence in your employees. Having an ongoing dialogue may also highlight any issues that employee may be experiencing.

    Considering and managing remote working

    Prior to the pandemic, organisations may have had some form of flexible working arrangements already in place. The pandemic has seen organisations adopt flexible working practices such as remote working at an unprecedented rate, not only to protect the workforce but also to provide business continuity.

    Our key advice for remote working is:

    • When making decisions about working from home, you should communicate regularly with your staff and address any concerns.
    • Consider having a homeworking policy in place. This should inform employees how they will be set up to work from home, including how the employer will carry out risk assessments and how homeworkers will be managed.
    • Ensure that employees have the right equipment and technology to work from home effectively. You should regularly check with employees to assess how technology and equipment is working and make any improvements, if needed.
    • Check with employees that working from home is permitted by their home insurer, mortgage provider or landlord. Organisations should also ensure that their insurance covers employees working from home.
    • Focus on health and wellbeing, as home or remote working can result in people over-working and feeling isolated. In addition, many employees will have the stress of juggling caring responsibilities with work.
    • Be flexible, where possible, with working patterns, deadlines, time off for caring responsibilities and so on. Any arrangements should be agreed with the employee and put in writing. If an employee wants a permanent change, then they can make a formal flexible working request.
    • When managing performance, bear in mind that employees can be just as productive when working from home, so it is important to have some level of trust in them and to be clear on expectations. This can help improve performance and reduce stress and anxiety.

    What does the return to work look like for you?

    Organisations should ensure that any return to work plans are in accordance with current government guidance. In some cases, it might be possible to combine elements of remote and office/site-based working.

    Plans should be discussed with staff as soon as possible and consideration should be given to any views or concerns employees may have prior to a return to work. Discussions should include a proposed return to work date, any planned adjustments to the workplace and how health and safety is being reviewed and managed.

    Some people might be anxious about returning to the workplace, therefore, you should try and resolve any concerns together. Organisations should also check any agreement that they may have with trade unions or employee representatives.

    Businesses should ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible and should consider carrying out regular risk assessments and ensure that government guidance is followed.

    The impact of Brexit on employment processes

    Finally, let’s not forget about Brexit. On 1 January 2021, the UK exited the European Union, following end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

    Immigration rules changed on 1 January, with Home Secretary Priti Patel’s points-based system applying for all new arrivals. EU/EEA/Swiss citizens (excluding Irish citizens) are subject to the same restrictions as non-EU citizens.

    This has an impact on organisations with employees in the EU/EEA/Switzerland or EU/EEA/Swiss employees working in the UK.

    Changes to recruitment

    Businesses should also be aware of changes to recruitment for non-Irish EU/EEA/Swiss citizens. The recruitment process will now take longer as there’s a requirement to apply for a visa for these employees.

    There may also be associated costs with the process, such as acquiring a sponsorship licence, an immigration skills charge and an immigration health surcharge. As a result, organisations may need to review and update their budget.

    In addition, the UK may no longer be considered an attractive option for prospective candidates which may pose an issue with recruitment and potentially cause a gap in skills and knowledge within organisations.

    Organisations should put a workforce planning strategy in place that is based on current and projected make-up of the workforce. This may involve carrying out a training needs analysis, which would help highlight any training needs and bridge the gap.

    Get in touch

    If you would like help reviewing your current policies or procedures or advice on restructuring your existing workforce, please contact the Kent HR team.

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