Human resources staff altering practices to keep business running smoothly amid the pandemic | INFORUM

Human resources staff altering practices to keep business running smoothly amid the pandemic | INFORUM

Despite the financial hardships posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have continued looking for employees. Job interviews, though, are now taking place over video conferencing software, taking traditionally important factors such as a firm handshake, eye contact and proper posture out of the equation.

Still, prospective employees of R.D. Offutt Company can expect virtual interviews to stay in place even beyond the pandemic, Vice President of Human Resources Ryan Johnson said.

Though the company seldom conducted virtual job interviews prior to the pandemic, they’ve proven to be effective and will remain in place going forward.

“We didn’t use video conferencing much at all in our interview process previous to COVID-19,” Johnson said. “The role video conferencing is going to play through the interview process long after COVID-19 will allow us to make a better connection with the candidates sooner in the process and make these types of conversations just more meaningful,” he added.

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Bell Bank’s executive Vice President Julie Peterson Klein agreed that virtual interviews have taken on an increasingly important role in the hiring process.

“It’s definitely changed from our typical hiring process,” she said. “We do as many virtual interviews as possible, at least for screening purposes.”

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The role of technology has also resulted in changes to RDO’s onboarding process, which Johnson said consists of two components: hiring-related paperwork and training.

Traditionally, onboarding paperwork would be completed on an employee’s first day, though that has gone digital in recent years.

Out of necessity, job training has been conducted virtually since the pandemic began, another area where pandemic-imposed changes are likely to stick around. A standard, in-person four-day training would likely be broken into two-days of digital work and two days in-person in the future.

“We’re pushing more and more of our training to that platform, both in onboarding and our learning strategy,” Johnson said. “While that was something we needed to do to stay relevant from a learning perspective, now we’re combining the relevance with the necessity and that’s going to be something that we absolutely stay committed to.”

Peterson Klein said that the onboarding process plays a key role in Bell Bank’s hiring, but that has also gone digital.

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“Onboarding our new employees is very important to us because we place a premium on our people-first culture, but with the pandemic, that’s normally offered virtually,” she said.

Though both firms have essential in-person employees, the majority shifted to remote work. In the Fargo-Moorhead area, 300 of RDO’s employees left the office in the span of a weekend. Nationwide, Bell Bank moved 1,100 of its 1,500 to remote work.

The move meant a change of scenery and workflow for many employees.

“Prior to COVID-19, we were not a culture that worked at home very often because we like being together,” RDO’s Vice President of Communications and External Affairs Tara May said. “There are a lot of long-tenured folks who like their job, like their colleagues and like coming into the office.”

To avoid what May called “seismic changes about how people felt about their work,” RDO human resources staff sent numerous surveys to gather employee feedback and implemented an informal “camera on” policy for video conference.

Bell Bank has emphasized video conference to maintain the personal touch as much as possible while employees are separated.

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“Our team is doing a lot more phone calls and virtual meetings rather than emails so we can have the human connection,” Peterson Klein said.

Companies have expanded other aspects of human resources to address employees’ needs amid the pandemic.

Both RDO and Bell Bank also offer an employee assistance program which allows employees to seek counseling for any reason.

“While there’s all sorts of reasons in life people look for those types of support services, during the pandemic, we’ve certainly made it available,” Johnson said.

RDO added COVID-19 to its covered sick leave for employees who tested positive for the virus, experiencing symptoms or were exposed.

While the sick leave has been a significant cost, May said it has been a worthwhile investment.

“The philosophical framework that we’ve used is what every business wants to do, which is keep their team members safe but at the same time keeping the business running,” she said. “We want to make sure we can continue to do both, but prioritizing safety even at a business cost.”

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