There is no doubt about it that as HR professionals, the benefits of the digital era have helped us all to continue to deliver services during Covid-19. The big question of course is, will the change in our working practices become embedded forever, or will we revert to traditional ways of delivering HR services?
When we moved into our new office in 2018, its design was heavily focused on enabling us to provide our HR support services through state-of-the-art technology. Our meeting rooms were equipped with high-quality audio-visual equipment and telephony capabilities: we implemented “white noise” technology to reduce the risk of confidential conversations being overheard, and everything went into the cloud.
The audio-visual kit would soon pay for itself. Meetings that traditionally were done face to face could now be done virtually – with excellent benefits.
Firstly, it would be good for the environment. We wouldn’t be burning fossil fuel travelling around the country by car, train, or plane. Secondly, it was good for our clients who wouldn’t be incurring travel costs. Thirdly, it was good for our team who weren’t leaving client sites late in the day to travel home.
Finally, it would be good for our business as more efficient ways of working would yield more productive time. There were only so many calls you could make on a journey to a client.
But despite the obvious benefits, getting everyone to use it took more effort than expected – until of course Covid-19 hit us all.
Using multiple audio-conferencing platforms has become a new skillset we have all embraced. Holding meetings by Teams, Zoom and similar platforms has become embedded overnight in the way we work and as each day goes by, we’ve found more and more technical features in the software to help us.
Using audio visual links to undertake interviews, redundancy meetings, disciplinary hearings, grievance meetings has been extraordinarily easy, with people worrying far less now about seeing themselves on camera or that a meeting must be done face to face.
But are these new working practices really here to stay or, when Covid-19 is finally behind us, will we revert to the old ways of face-to-face for everything?
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. We faced many issues: Internet connections dropping out partway through calls, the ability to record meetings, people sitting in on meetings out of sight of the camera, cats walking across keyboards and for some, the perceived intrusion into home environments – but these are relatively minor when compared to the benefits technology has brought us during the pandemic.
Of course, it’s not all about what we think as HR professionals. We’ve needed the cooperation of line managers, employee representatives and employees too and it’s been pleasantly surprising how quickly managers and employees have adapted, often in the context of difficult conversations.
There has no doubt been a good acceptance of using technology in place of face to face meetings – but the speed at which we have all adapted has been unprecedented.
Nevertheless, we must always maintain a balance between the benefits of modern technology and real face-to-face contact. For some meetings, it simply won’t feel right for the person on the other end of the call and we must respect that too. In other instances, more lengthy meetings are better done in a room (when safe to do so) as the intensity of video calls can draw down more mental energy.
But overall, now we have made the breakthrough in HR, we must continue to leverage the benefits of meetings held remotely and of course lead by example in our organisations too.