People Matters asked Ann Marr, Executive Vice President of Global Human Resources for World Wide Technology, for her thoughts on what 2021 will look like from a HR perspective and what might be most important in the year to come. Ann has been with WWT for over two decades and in her present role oversees all human resources functions, which include talent management, policy development, benefits administration, training, leadership development and employee relations as well as managing the company’s supplier diversity program.
Here's what she shared.
What role do you see HR playing in 2021?
I think we're going to become much more of an enabler. We are already enablers now, but I think our role is going to be even more critical in the coming year because of the remote nature of work. We're going to find ways to enable people to stay connected—through communication, through pushing out updates, through information that we're giving to our leaders, through ideas for how we should invest in technology to make that connection happen.
In times like this, HR needs to step up to the plate. We need to pivot and build on whatever we did before that worked, but in a world that's digitized. And this is something that's in the DNA of our profession, because everything we do is about enabling and orchestrating change. Think about how many times something gets dropped in our lap, how often we are needed to help resolve an issue. We are always prepared for the unknown. And so this is our time.
We want to make sure that the leaders know we're here. We are here to partner with you. We are here to help you get to the next level.
Where do you see HR's priorities in the coming year?
Upskilling individuals is definitely going to be required, because of the rate at which we are leveraging the power of technology. People need skills to deal with the new tools, and that's something we should invest in.
Flexibility will be very important. You have to lead with a sense of empathy and compassion for what people are going through—you can't expect people to just not tend to their families because they're working. So, if people need to spend time with their children during the day, we have encouraged them to do that; and then they can catch up on their work for a couple of hours in the evening. We need to give them that flexibility.
Another thing that has really come to light is the whole idea of mental health and mental well being. Because going remote is stressful. You don't have the same ability to connect with people. And so we have to find ways to continue to conduct fun activities and we've tried to do some of those things, worldwide.
And communication is critical. Our CEO has been very diligent about having regular company updates with our employees, and all of us on the executive team have pushed that as well: the message that the responsibility is for us to make sure we are staying connected with our teams, in whatever way works for the teams. It could be calls, or emails, or sending words of encouragement, but you need to make sure you have that connection, and that employees are still as engaged with the company as they were when they were physically in the workplace.
Could you share a bit more about the support you've been able to provide the business leaders in the past year?
I think leaders always look to HR for a different perspective. Because when you have a situation with your team, it's your issue—it's personal. But because we are not that close to the situation, we can take a higher-level view and be very objective. This is something HR professionals can do even in the midst of the challenges we are facing right now: helping the business leaders work through their problem, finding alternative solutions.
In the US, when we had racial issues this past summer—what happened to George Floyd, the demonstrations that followed—a lot of people looked to HR for advice. Although the leaders had been tracking the situation, when it really happened, they couldn't be sure what to do. Sometimes, people won't know what to say; they don't know how to start the conversation, they're afraid of saying the wrong thing.
And so our response was:
“I don't know what to say, but I'm sympathetic or empathetic to what you're going through. I don't have all the answers, but I just want you to know that I'm here.”
And people appreciated that insight, because it's authentic, and it's genuine. That's one way we can offer support.
What's the biggest lesson you've carried away from 2020, that you'd like to put to use in 2021?
Sometimes the very best plans just don't work out. You always have to be able to be creative and pivot, because who would have predicted the situation we're seeing now? That's really driven the lesson home that you have to be open minded. You have to be empathetic. You have to be creative, and you have to really listen to what's going on. You have to keep your mind open to what employees have to say. That's the only way you will be able to make the best changes for your organization. Thinking about it, we as an organization have been fortunate to be in a position where our company has done well and a lot of companies were not so lucky. I think about that every day—the industries that have really suffered, airlines, hotels, restaurants. We are one of the lucky ones, and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we have. We have to take advantage of the disruption to make a change for the better.
What's the number one thing you would like to do to make 2021 better for everyone?
Over the past year, we've brought out so many different and creative ways of trying to keep things upbeat. But the one thing that sticks with me is how to find new or innovative ways to stay connected. Of course we have access to tools and technology, and some teams manage it better than others, but I wish there was a silver bullet that I can use for everyone, so that all employees feel connected.
And that's my biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity I have going into 2021, because I really do want people to stay engaged.
I want them to feel that even though they're not physically together as a team, there's still a heightened level of collaboration and support.