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HR under more pressure as businesses shift to remote work

Two-thirds (64%) of HR specialists are expecting heightened work pressures as their organisations introduce more homeworking.

This is according to a Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing survey, which found 18% of those asked were expecting a significant increase to their workload in the coming months.

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Gemma Dale, co-founder of The Work Consultancy and lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University Business School, said the initial change to ways of working may lead to a short-term focus on HR work such as developing new policies and training managers to lead in new ways.

What will happen next though, she said, is much more uncertain and she cautioned against making a judgement on HR’s workload based on an abnormal 18 months.

Speaking to HR magazine, Dale said: “We should use caution in making an assessment about potential increased HR work using the pandemic enforced remote working period as evidence.

“This has been far from normal and has for many people in many job types led to work intensification as a result of the pandemic itself, and factors like having to deal with furlough, reskilling people and communication.”

Though Dale argued there was nothing to suggest key activities like recruitment and L&D will become more complicated or time consuming due to remote or hybrid work, she said that the change in work does call for a rethink of how things were done before.

If any activities did create more work in the long run though, she added: “This may well be indicative that systems and processes themselves need to be redesigned.”

The majority (88%) of HR specialists responding to Howden’s survey said they expect to facilitate homeworking post-pandemic, with 39% offering a hybrid option for all workers, and almost half (46%) set to introduce it for select employees.

Just 3% of respondents said they plan to move to an entirely home-based remote workforce.

To cope with a larger remote workforce, Howden’s head of benefits strategy Steve Herbert advised HR to create policies that cover the breadth of remote challenges: “Everything from data security to health and safety provisions might have to be reconsidered and redesigned to better fit a more remote and flexible workforce. 

"And just as importantly HR will have to ensure that support and employee benefits offerings are also available and applicable to those working away from office-based locations too.”  

For HR consultant and coach Gemma Bullivant, managing any change is a question of HR being clear about its strategy.

She told HR magazine: “There will certainly be more pressure and a higher workload on HR while this transition is being navigated. All change is hard work.

“In organisations that sit on the fence about how they want to operate, this increased workload could go on indefinitely.'

Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach to working models, Bullivant advised practitioners to be pragmatic about the pros and cons of each approach.

She added: “Focus on a strategic decision on the approach to adopt, and the investment of time and resource to support the transition to the new approach.”

Howden’s survey is based on the views of 200 senior HR and finance professionals from private, public and third sector organisations and was conducted in March 2021.