Vero HR has been providing comprehensive HR services to all sectors and multiple industries for over 16 years. Last week, we had a chat with Mike, the Managing Director, and a founder of Vero HR. We explored the current state of the HR market and Mike’s top advice for HR professionals leading their teams and businesses during these very trying times.
In conversation with Mike

What’s HR’s top concern right now?

Understandably, the topic that everyone is talking about is COVID-19. There’s no getting away from it; right now it’s HR’s primary focus. And the natural carry on from that conversation is homeworking. Working from home has just exploded over the last year.

When I talk to others in the HR industry, it’s clear that homeworking has affected businesses – and disciplines within organisations – differently. For sales teams used to being out of the office they’ve adapted quickly to the new arrangements. For line managers accustomed to ‘managing’ by seeing their staff, the transition has been a steep learning curve!

It’s not just different job roles and business types that have influenced how people are feeling about homeworking, I’ve also seen a real generational distinction in how people are taking it on board.

Without over generalising, because everyone’s experience is of course different, I am hearing that younger employees are really missing the social elements of office working … being able to nip down to the pub on a Friday afternoon with colleagues! And those learning to manage teams remotely for the first time are having to do so without the social cues you’d get from being sat across from people.

Older workers are perhaps finding it a bit easier. But then you have the parents struggling to do a Zoom call with young children in the background, or pets doing cameos halfway through meetings. For anyone working full time from home now, HR is very aware that it’s not without its challenges, both for managers as well as employees.

How has homeworking impacted performance management?

Lots of line managers have found it very challenging to measure performance without being able to ‘see’ their teams. They’re having to find new ways to monitor performance and how to give their team direction. I think that effective monitoring and having the right technology to do that is going to become more important as time goes on.

It’s easier to manage roles like call centre operators because managers have access to concrete data on output. But for those roles that are normally managed in an office where the manager is reliant on seeing how an employee engages with their role, it can be tricky if everyone is working from home.

My master’s degree actually focussed on how to manage teams remotely, and I recall from my research that having the right data and working to KPIs was very important in the remote working environment.

Just the other day I was speaking with an HR contact who said their company has decided to suspend performance reviews for now. They need to rethink their process in light of the changed working conditions. I won’t be surprised if others have made similar decisions. A lot of people are just trying to keep the wheels turning at the moment and might hold off on formal performance management until things feel more normal.

What changes have you seen in recruitment?

HR is definitely seeing people being more demanding about homeworking roles. If a candidate has a choice now between different offers, the one with homeworking seems to be winning out. This makes sense in the current COVID-19 environment, but it’ll be interesting to see if it continues if/when things get back to normal.

With people like the CIPD showing strong support for flexible working, it’s likely to stay high on the HR agenda. But I think that it needs to be approached on a business-by-business basis – flexibility is much easier for some organisations than others.

How has HR helped with urgent internal comms over the last year?

There have been a lot of messages that we’ve needed to get out quickly as the Government updated its guidance. We’ve used our HR system to help our clients get urgent messages out to their staff. Because a lot of the users have personal email addresses associated with their system profiles, users can see urgent comms quickly and directly on their mobile phones.

We’ve also been using our HR system when we need to send out furlough letters or other updates. Being able to send business critical communications out to the workforce is really important for HR’s credibility, and we’ve been pleased to be able to facilitate that.

What advice would you give HR and line managers to help with the challenges they’re currently facing?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay in regular contact with your staff. One of the biggest risks with a homeworking workforce is disengagement. We know that people aren’t designed to be isolated – we rely on human interaction. So, for the sake of your workforce’s wellbeing and engagement with your organisation, keep in touch.

I believe that face-to-face (albeit often via video call at the moment) interaction is crucial. It helps build a full sensory picture so we can relate to each other better.

I’d also challenge HR and line managers to be less black and white about homeworking down the track. It doesn’t have to be all one or the other. How we’re currently working is a crisis response; alongside our people, we can choose where to go next.

Thanks to Mike from Vero HR, HR outsourcing experts, for sharing his experiences and insights.

Shandel McAuliffe author image

Shandel McAuliffe

Now based in sunny Australia, Shandel is prolific writer and editor - particularly in the world of HR. She's worked for some big names, including the CIPD and the Adecco Group. And more recently, she's been the Editor for new HR publication HR Leader.