The pandemic has changed the working world forever. One year in, all the critical components of effective workforce management — attracting and retaining talent, culture development, compliance, and diversity — still matter, but there’s a COVID-related twist. As you hire, manage, and develop talent to help your organization perform, you now need to do it with the added complexity of employee health and safety requirements and in the context of the new remote workplace.

Organizations and HR teams have spent a lot of time preparing for the future of work, but in many ways, that time is now. To build a workforce that thrives in the present and the post-pandemic future, you’ll need to leverage HR technology in novel ways and re-engineer existing programs to engage people and bring them together both virtually and in-person.

Here are some of the top changes that demonstrate how the pandemic has changed HR:

More reliance on HR technology
Technology has long been a valuable tool for automating talent management processes and driving better decision-making, but it holds even more importance in managing today’s dispersed workforce. When you have a mix of candidates and employees working in different geographies and time zones, technology for virtual recruiting, onboarding, and training are no longer nice-to-have, but are absolutely essential.

Recent McKinsey research revealed that organizations that improved their tech-related capabilities during the pandemic advanced their digital transformation agenda by several years. This is particularly evident in talent management. The latest HR tech solutions support the development of a positive company culture and help you support employees no matter where they are working.

Some of the solutions that have become more popular during the pandemic include:

• Virtual benefits support, including tools to help employees connect to telehealth providers
• Workspace management solutions that monitor how many people can be present at a worksite and help employees book meeting rooms without exceeding capacity limits
• Tools for workplace health screening and contact tracing
• Video interviewing and virtual onboarding platforms
• Virtual assistants and chatbots to answer employee and candidate inquiries on a range of topics

New HR compliance requirements
Even before the pandemic, there were dozens of federal and state laws governing how organizations hire and manage employees. However, the pandemic added another level of compliance, requiring organizations to keep pace with paid leave mandates and employee health and safety protocols. In fact, guidelines for how employers should approach COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and employee communication have become so plentiful that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has kept a running list of requirements since March 2020.

Employers must also follow new requirements for providing employee and family medical leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) federal paid leave program expired at the end of 2020. However, states such as California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have established their own paid leave programs, and employers must keep track of paid leave requirements in those locations.

Expanded employee benefits
The pandemic has ushered in a dramatic rise in the number of people reporting mental health concerns. According to Kaiser Family Foundation research, 40 percent of adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression due to the pandemic, up from only one in ten adults who reported those symptoms in 2019.

Many employees have battled feelings of stress and isolation during the pandemic, as well as challenges related to creating a dedicated workspace at home and managing childcare responsibilities. As a result, many organizations have begun to offer new benefits that support employee mental health and help employees stay productive while working remotely. Examples include:

• Stipends to cover home office setup
• Mental health support tools such as mindfulness app subscriptions
• Expanded critical illness insurance

A fresh approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
In addition to the alarming events of 2020 that exposed issues of social inequality, the last year has also highlighted the distinct experiences of women and underrepresented groups during the pandemic. For example, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) research has revealed that urban and diverse populations have had disproportionately higher COVID-19 death rates. Additionally, 2.4 million women have left the workforce during the pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men. These figures represent an opportunity for employers to play a role in driving more diversity and equity in the workplace.

In addition to taking deliberate steps to reduce bias in hiring, organizations are taking other actions in support of diversity. Some of the key HR programs and activities companies are pursuing include:

• Flexible schedules that offer employees opportunities to set their work hours and create on-site/remote hybrid schedules
• Childcare subsidies for working parents
• Activities that seek diverse voices and demonstrate company commitment to diversity

The work of HR is as critical to organizational success as it’s ever been. Organizations that leverage technology in new ways and implement creative benefits and other programs to support employees will find continued success in talent management as the pandemic comes to an eventual close.