Article: HR playing a critical role in keeping the ship afloat amid this crisis: Workhuman’s Niamh Graham

Strategic HR

HR playing a critical role in keeping the ship afloat amid this crisis: Workhuman’s Niamh Graham

Those that had already invested in HR technology to maintain connections between employees and managers through recognition were better prepared to transition to remote work. Everyone else is now playing catch up, says Niamh Graham, Vice President, Global HR, at Workhuman.
HR playing a critical role in keeping the ship afloat amid this crisis: Workhuman’s Niamh Graham

As Vice President of Global HR, Niamh oversees all HR activities that focus on the recruitment, retention, and alignment of Workhuman’s international workforce. Chief among these responsibilities is driving Workhuman’s internal recognition program and managing its company culture and values.

During her 10-plus years with the company, Niamh has also held several leadership roles in operations, setting up a global operational infrastructure as the company scaled on a global basis. Prior to Workhuman, she worked with large multinational music companies and focused on international marketing and intellectual property.  

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses and people globally in a never before way. How can we minimize the impact of the epidemic on business, its performance results, and, most importantly, on employees?

For many companies, COVID-19 has been devastating and many people have had to wonder if their company could survive the pandemic, whilst others have performed extremely well in certain industries. For others, their businesses were forced to go remote and how they work will be changed forever. And many others have and continue to work around the clock in the frontline and medical/pharmaceutical industries.

As 2021 approaches, things will never completely go back to how it was before. Remote work is here to stay for now, until a vaccination becomes available. Hybrid cultures will become the norm for some companies. For others, culture and being together in person will be even more important to thrive in the future post-COVID-19. Humans miss human interaction and managers must connect with their team members now more than ever.

Being connected, being flexible, and understanding and respecting the current challenges of working from home is essential.

The novelty of working at home has eroded and now isolation, loneliness, and stress have taken over. Human connection using human-centered technology with human-centered strategies will enable companies, cultures, and their employees to thrive.

In some ways, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change in workplace practices, for business strategies, for elevating culture. Companies should embrace change and find a solution to overcome challenges – including COVID-19. Ask ‘’what is the problem to be solved’’? Then do it! Humanity will rise and overcome COVID-19 - and companies need to make work more human in return.

How does HR function globally look like amid this uncertainty? Are we on track to reimagine the role of talent leaders for the post-pandemic world?

Now, more than ever, HR plays a critical role in keeping the ship afloat. With fewer in-person connections, performance management needs to be ongoing and more collaborative. A culture of frequent check-ins and feedback is critical.

Employees need to feel appreciated, understood, and connected to a company’s values, goals, and mission. With the workplace becoming a fluid concept, it is up to talent and HR leaders to create these conversations and set the tone in the workplace.

Companies that keep a pulse on employees’ feelings are able to take responsive actions that strengthen core values and purpose, improve culture, and achieve a higher level of employee engagement. Especially in a remote world, employers can take advantage of social recognition platforms that mitigate isolation and encourage social and emotional connections during a time of crisis when people need it most. 

With the pandemic disrupting businesses in a never before way, do you think organizations are spending on new-gen HR technologies? Can you share some numbers?

Looking at the outset of the pandemic, Workhuman’s adoption grew 40 percent in comparing April 2019 to April 2020. It’s clear that when the world started to shift to a new way to work, this also meant gaining a deeper understanding of core human needs. The Workhuman Cloud provides organizations access to solutions that both measure and improve employee engagement, performance, and inclusion all in one solution. 

Workhuman expects to end 2020 up from our 2019 results for both revenue and profitability. This growth is a reflection that in today’s times, human connections are more important than ever.  

How is Workhuman gearing up to seize this moment given that the priorities of organizations are shifting? How are you helping companies build and deepen connections with their employees?

We started 2020 seeing an entirely new decade of potential at Workhuman. At the same time, we remain committed to our goal of making work more human. As this year has progressed, the importance of our movement has only grown. We have always believed in the power of recognition and, as COVID-19 has required many to work under the toughest conditions, the act of showing thanks proved to be critical. Our Social Recognition and Continuous Performance Management solutions help companies do this and energize their cultures, unlock their employees’ passion, and unite their workforce around a shared purpose.

We are witness to an unprecedented change in organizational culture and leadership in these uncertain times. What has this crisis revealed about leadership?

Fostering connections has been critical since the start of the pandemic. Companies are forced to see their employees as more than someone who is in the office from 9-to-5. We are in each other’s homes, sometimes seeing each other’s families. Work and personal life are intertwined. And while we are separated by a screen, we have stronger reminders that the person on the other side is human. 

As we see the bigger picture of many employees’ lives now, it is leadership who must take this chance to humanize the workplace. Companies who took steps towards being human-centered well before the crisis have had a strong advantage.

For example, those that had already invested in HR technology to maintain connections between employees and managers through recognition were better prepared to transition to remote work. Everyone else is now playing catch up.

As Bill Gates says, success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent. With workplace dynamics changing, how can HR demonstrate a whole new level of agility?

It’s important for leaders to be in tune with employees and listen to their concerns. Being attentive and adaptable shows not only that you care, but that you want to make a change in the work environment. 

What role can leaders play to ensure a better alignment of HR technology investment and business goals?

Between the pandemic, gender and racial inequality, and economic turmoil, leaders have more on their hands than ever. And while confronting these varying modern crises, leaders must at the same time continue to facilitate human connection, all digitally, for the time being. This is a tall order, yet I am not sure that it is a changing role, just a reinforcement of the role of a leader and why they exist during crisis. On that note, it is the responsibility of a leader to utilize everything at their disposal – in many ways, this means trying something new. An HR technology investment is a perfect example of this. At Workhuman, we have the privilege of seeing the payout every day when a new concept or idea is introduced to an organization. 

How do you see the adoption of HR tech two years down the line? What are your priorities and new focus areas as we come out of this pandemic?

Post-pandemic, millions of office denizens will regularly spend time working from home. Technology plays an essential component in daily business interactions. For employees to be successful working from home, they need to have direct access to performance goals, recognition, and feedback. 

New technologies have made it easier to recognize employees through Social Recognition and Continuous Performance Management platforms. COVID-19 has permanently impacted the traditional workplace. Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to keep humanity in the workplace and stay in tune with employees. We launched a free solution during the pandemic called Moodtracker to help employers do just that.  

In today's unprecedented work environment, employees are also demanding more of their employers than ever before: more equality, more opportunities for growth, and more work-life balance.

According to a new report from Workhuman, Progress Toward a More Human Workplace almost 90 percent of employees said they would prefer to work for a company that has a clear policy on employee rights.  

As we look to 2021, our goal of making the workplace more human is stronger than ever.

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Topics: Strategic HR, #HybridWorkplace

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