How HR leaders can help foster employee collaboration and create a united workforce, even during a pandemic

By Mark Baggs, Head of Global

employee collaboration

Covid-19 has completely changed the business landscape. For many companies, their office has gone from being a busy, collaborative environment to an almost (or completely) empty space. For some businesses, this change will be permanent.

What the pandemic has done, unlike any other natural disaster to this point, is to highlight the disparity between organisations. There are those who operate in an increasingly communicative, collaborative, digital and trust-based manner and those who are reliant on cumbersome, traditional siloed operating structures.

For organisations like this, Covid-19 has reinforced the need for increased digital transformation, employee collaboration, and a new approach to talent acquisition and retention. Businesses that have these, and a clear People Strategy, have a significant competitive advantage moving into 2021.

So, how do organisations improve employee collaboration when many employees now work siloed?

We spoke to Anna Toiva, Outotec’s HR Director for the Middle East, and prior to the new post-merger organisation, Metso Outotec’s HR Director for Europe, North Africa & Middle East. Anna shed some light on steps she’s taken to drive internal change, cultural evolution, employee collaboration and communication in teams she’s worked with.

What has been the biggest challenge when it comes to transitioning workplaces from silos to collaborative working and what have the benefits looked like?

I think the challenge is accepting it takes time and continuous effort. You need to throw yourself in it and lead by example uniting people and teams. I believe HR can have a big role in this, as they are a neutral party and can work as a glue between teams that drive for their own team specific targets. By inclusive, transparent and appreciative communication, investing enough time in getting to know each other, raising issues immediately, challenging us vs them thinking and reviewing our processes and events with a critical eye, this can be achieved.

How important would you consider work culture is on the success of a business? What would you say is the key factor for improving corporate culture?

I’d say very important. I’ve seen people explaining very proudly what they do and which company they represent, and I’m sure this pride makes us do our best and shines all the way to the customers. A strong, healthy work culture also helps when times get tough, like now during the pandemic. Commitment, goals and inclusive communication are key: Who do we want to be and how does that show? How do we involve our people and truly show we are committed in this?

How would you say the pandemic has impacted HR business process & organisational change? 

In many ways. First, it forced us to fully evaluate our HR processes from a risk management perspective. Questions we had to answer include: How would we do everything remotely if someone has unreliable internet connection and in a different country? How would we maintain HR operations if someone or the whole team gets sick? It made us question our priorities for this year: where can HR really support the business and our people, and how to do we shift our priorities to accommodate this?

Another big topic is of course the highly discussed remote work and its future: who needs to be at the office, how much and how to do it all safely? Can we recruit well without seeing someone in person? How do we build and strengthen a company culture remotely? The pandemic has shown us the importance of agility in HR as we need to be ready to re-evaluate and modify our processes all the time, experiment, look for feedback and aim for continuous improvement.

How can HR leaders foster a sense of community amongst employees and help improve wellbeing?

We organized a  ”Best of Quarantine” virtual afterwork where colleagues shared quite personal experiences of the good things Corona had brought, be it more time with family or exploring personal hobbies. We also had very open discussions on how people were coping, bringing wellbeing topics and mental health as part of everyday chats as they should be. I believe many companies also started to invest in these topics in a new way. I want to keep this human touch in all HR processes.

What can be learned from this?

Key themes of trust, transparency, empathy, communication and teamwork are all areas Covid-19 has put pressure on this year, and businesses that are built to be agile and proactive with a culture of trust and accountability are significantly better placed to achieve their targets over the foreseeable future.

The importance of having a clear people strategy and empowering HR to build global teams knitted together by a shared corporate culture, mutual trust and the digital tools to succeed in role and communicate effectively, will be key to building high-performing remote teams.

If you need assistance mobilising your workforce, or perhaps managing the HR tasks of your already established global team, Procorre Global can help. Contact one of our global expansion experts today. 

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