Could rise in remote working transform the role of HR within the NHS?

Could rise in remote working transform the role of HR within the NHS?

Remote working has rocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, in the UK and worldwide. This increase has been seen across both public and private sectors, including the organisation at the heart of the UK’s coronavirus response – the NHS.

In the NHS, the number of remote meetings held has risen from around 13,500 to over 90,000 in the first eight weeks of lockdown. The public health body has also utilised Microsoft Teams to rollout instant messaging, direct audio and video calls to more than 1.3 million users, and the measures seem to be a major success.

But if remote and flexible working is here to stay permanently, what will this mean for HR teams within organisations like the NHS?

The crucial role of technology

By far the biggest change likely to affect HR is the increasingly critical role of digital technology. HR teams will need to embrace new tools and technologies, and do so very quickly. When utilised correctly, digital can make it easier for remote teams to share information and collaborate effectively.

Dawn Dawson, Director of Nursing, Therapies and Quality for Dorset HealthCare, explains the role technology has played in the NHS during the coronavirus crisis:

“Using a digital platform has been absolutely essential in helping us to respond to the pandemic effectively. It has allowed us to run our incident management remotely and safely share information quickly and be responsive at this challenging time.

“Importantly, it has also enabled our teams to stay connected – our staff rely on regular communication with each other, both for work purposes and for looking after each other and combating the isolation people can feel working remotely. Going digital has given us the ability to keep that vital contact going.”

The challenge for HR will be how to effectively engage remote workforces beyond lockdown. To deliver their best, employees need to feel valued and rewarded – but how can this be done outside of the office? It may mean an adjustment to benefits to improve the employee experience. For example, introducing a technology salary sacrifice scheme in place of perks such as an on-site gym or a company car.

Changes to policies and processes

HR departments in organisations such as the NHS will face many practical considerations if remote working becomes the new normal. For example:

  • How to monitor attendance, working hours and productivity
  • Whether or not to provide funding for remote workers’ connectivity and digital equipment
  • Ensuring employees have a healthy and safe working environment and habits
  • Scheduling of meetings, appraisals and disciplinary procedures
  • How training and professional development will be carried out.

HR professionals will also need to put measures in place to support employee wellbeing, especially in the wake of an unprecedented global health crisis. Needless to say, this has hit the NHS particularly hard, being as it is on the frontline of the UK’s pandemic response. Employees may be experiencing feelings of anxiety and worry about the future, which can impact motivation as well as staff retention levels. It’s clear that many HR functions will need to adapt, with changes to policies and procedures required across the board.

Written by Richard Haggarty