Vice President of HR at Appian, she is responsible for developing and retaining talent while enhancing the culture and talent brand.
As I’ve been writing about since the beginning of the lockdowns, Covid-19 has thrust HR into a more visible leadership position. In March, companies and employees looked to us to safely manage the transition to working from home, and now there’s another transition HR needs to manage: a hybrid onsite and remote workforce with strict health and safety requirements. The stakes have never been higher and many are feeling the pressures even more with people’s lives literally on the line.
This is where technology comes in. It is critical that we as leaders have a system in place that leaves minimal room for error and allows us to act quickly in order to minimize risk. This means investing in new systems. Hoping the crisis would pass quickly, our company has heard from many others that they’ve avoided investing in technology that would help manage the safe return to work and the monitoring of employee health.
Hesitation Around Technology
Even though my own company’s response to the pandemic included building a workforce readiness app, I can understand why other organizations and HR in particular have been slow to adopt new technologies. Everyone is tired. HR professionals have spent the last several months running from crisis to crisis, at home and at work. The task of building and integrating new employee health systems can be overwhelming even when you’re well-rested, and right now no one is.
But, at this point, I don’t know that there is any choice. States around the country are starting to draft mandates about office life. In July, Virginia became the first state to propose uniform workplace safety rules related to Covid-19. Some suggested rules include requiring employees to be notified within 24 hours if a co-worker tests positive for Covid-19, and employees who are known or suspected to have Covid-19 are barred from returning to the office for 10 days or until they receive two consecutive negative tests. Violations can be met with fines running up to $13,000 and repeated violations up to $130,000. This leaves minimal room for error, and Virginia is just one example.
With more workers returning to offices, companies worldwide may now legally have to figure out how to collect private health information about employees and quickly take action on that information. The good news is that some of the dust has settled and we can more clearly see the smart, sustainable, long-term solutions that are available.
How Technology Can Help
In these more complicated times, technology can give HR departments the thing they desperately need: time. Managing all these different processes consumes time that departments don’t have for tasks ranging from keeping particular people from the office, deactivating badges, ordering testing and quarantines, closing or cleaning facilities and communicating with employees about the evolving situation. Test results buried in inboxes and data dispersed throughout the organization is just not going to work and can result in company negligence if data is leaked — or worse, lawsuits. Technology is continuing to emerge, offering centralized platforms that can help departments better manage their time and resources.
Choosing Your Technology Tools
Picking the right technology for your department’s workplace safety management is essential. If you choose wrongly, maybe going with the product with the shiniest pitch and marketing materials, you may end up making your processes more complicated, not less. The key to making the right selection is not to stray too far from existing systems and relationships.
Many businesses are trying to take advantage of this new normal by developing their own new tools. That means that your IT team, communications or facilities management partners might now have software that can easily integrate into your existing processes and offer help in managing key areas like testing and tracing. Start the search for a new tool with people and products you already know and trust within your organization.
In terms of specifics, I’ve found that one of the biggest considerations during Covid-19 is not to add to employees’ stress. As an employee and HR leader, having a centralized, easy-to-manage and straight-forward platform has reduced my anxiety. We enhanced our internal wiki to streamline the employee experience, allowing them to toggle from various tools’ all-in-one interface. When there are fewer systems to juggle, there’s less to stress about.
Another important thing to keep in mind, for software and daily life, is that this crisis will eventually be over. Invest in software that not only helps now, but can grow with your business and business goals that aren’t pandemic-related.
Do Your Due Diligence
There is a reason HR departments are hesitant to adopt new technology. If done incorrectly, new software can just add to the headache. To avoid the pitfalls, leaders need to do their research and due diligence.
One of the main pitfalls I see is one-size-fits-all solutions. Each sub-department is different and needs the ability to customize to meet the needs of its stakeholders. If you go with a one-size-fits-all model, you may end up with yet another clunky system that doesn’t enable your processes but instead slows them down.
Compliance is another pitfall that is heightened during Covid-19. With laws changing and new sources of data flooding your system, it is vital you do your research and make sure you don’t end up with an expensive product that gets you in even more costly hot water.
Finally, it’s not just about plugging in new technology and being done with it. For software to work best, employees need to be trained. A new system is useless and even dangerous and detrimental if people do not know how to use it properly.
The scrambling response part of this crisis is over. HR is now tasked with creating a whole new workplace experience and the stakes are high. The time is now to carefully check all the safety and health boxes and help your people through the pandemic.
Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?