Brendan McCann is an expert HR consultant based in North London. Brendan provides small and medium-sized businesses in North London with experienced local and personal HR assistance and guidance. We thought there would be no one better to discuss the upcoming trends in HR, overlaps with Project Management, and the ‘Battle for Resources’.
Could you give me a brief background into your story in HR?
The last corporate role I had was working for the Independent newspaper as the HR director for the group for about ten years. I left the Independent in 2012 and decided to do something slightly different rather than another corporate HR role. I came across an organization called the HR dept. The HR dept is a network of HR businesses – a franchise operation. We all own companies, some small, some large, and work within regions. We provide HR advice and support – anything that a large company’s HR dept would do. The one good thing with HR is it doesn’t tend to be too industry-specific, so it’s possible to work with many different clients.
I went with the HR dept rather than try and do it on my own because the HR dept gives you the backup of marketing materials, legal support, and insurance. Suppose one of my clients is a retain client, and they get taken to an employment tribunal. In that case, all the employment, legal costs and any award are covered – provided you follow the advice. We are now one of the biggest companies of our kind.
How do you view the relationship between HR and Project Management? If there is one at all?
There are certainly elements of project management within HR. As a company, we’ll get involved in HR projects within organizations if they’re looking at restructuring the benefits package, for example. HR must be involved with project management exercises because most project management impacts staff. For example, if you’re looking at redesigning the organization, staff issues will come up. It’s something that I always argued about when I was in the corporate world. There must be an input for HR. You can’t do it in a vacuum away from the staff. I would always argue that HR must be involved early because it’s crucial to get buy-in from a team in any project an organization wants to implement. It’s got a far greater chance of success. So, while they are quite different disciplines, they must work together.
We’ve identified the key trends in our sector for the next year as adapting to long-term, flexible, remote working, and an increased focus on sustainability and social responsibility. Is this trend something you recognize as existing in your industry as well?
Certainly, the desire to work from home has become a key issue with my clients because people have gotten used to it. I think there’ll be a reluctance to go back to five days a week in the office. Even those who wouldn’t particularly want to work from home regularly would like the flexibility to do it as and when required.
From an employer point of view, it depends on the industry. Working from home makes it harder to manage things. If you’ve got teams just in an office together, you get to know what’s happening, and you can bounce ideas off each other. I think there’s going to be a disconnect because there are demands from employees that they want more home-working, or at least the opportunity to do so. I think employers will say their employees, well, we want at least X number of days in the office, and they’ve got to be around your teammates. From an HR point of view, remote working has issues and challenges around monitoring performance. It’s very easy to say that it doesn’t matter when or where people are working; let’s just monitor outputs, but it’s quite hard to do remotely. If somebody is sitting in the office and their managers in the office with them, they can see what’s happening more quickly. So I think there will be a tension between what employees want regarding the ability to work remotely and what their employers want. Some say – well – everybody’s working from home, which saves me office costs. Employees are all set up at home. You’re not spending a fortune commuting, and many people have more income at the end of the month because they do not have to go into the office. There are practical things to consider, however. Are they set up properly at home to work in an environment where they can work? Health and safety issues, are they sitting at the kitchen table with an inappropriate chair? Will that create RSI issues in the future? What happens when somebody trips over cable they’ve got across the floor because of their laptops? Is that an industrial injury because they’re working? I also think there’s a potential loss of efficiency with everybody working remotely, you that lack that exchange of ideas. On the positive side, you can’t get sexual harassment claims coming up if everybody’s remote. So, from a HR point of view, you win some, and you lose some.
Regarding social responsibility and sustainability, I think all companies are looking at that, to a greater or lesser extent. Most of my clients want to be more sustainable. In HR, we don’t know anything more about sustainability than the finance director, for example. Still – by nature – this can be forced to HR just because it reflects employees. Everyone desires to work for a company that they feel good about. Most of the companies I see do want to try and do something. I’ve got our clients who wish to be seen to be socially responsible and want to pay at least London living wage, even if they’re in a low wage sector. Companies want to do everything as ethically as possible and sustainably as possible. I’m seeing more of that coming through. Most companies want to be seen as being on the good side because of the reputational risk of doing something not sustainable. There are so many communication forums where employees can whistleblow. It can blow up quickly.
So, regarding HR, have you identified any trends that might grow in 2022?
Like Project Management, a shift in attitudes towards flexible/remote working. I’d say pre-pandemic, most employers were a bit reluctant to make the shift, but I think some now see that that can be a reasonable way of working. So there’s a lot more open-mindedness to that. The second trend would be called the ‘battle for resources.’ The labour market is very tight, and there are a lot of vacancies out there. There have been many people who have come out of the labour market for several reasons. Part of that’s Europeans going back to Europe. Part of that is pandemic related, people deciding they’re going to withdraw from the labour market, partly they don’t want to do full time anymore.
Rising inflation rates will put push demands on pay increases; I expect significant pushes for that. In response to this, employers will say, what can we do to keep staff if we can’t afford to pay big wage increases? Or attract staff? Let’s look at benefits; what keeps employees within a company? Pay is important, but it’s also about managing how much responsibility you get. Is it a fun company to work for? Is flexible working be available? Some people will stay with a company because they know that they can work from home, which helps them with family responsibilities.
Whether this is all long term or short term is hard to say. Still, I think people are withdrawing from the labour market earlier than if people have been in ‘normal’ employment. They know that they’ve saved money over the last two years, and that might be the point at which they say, I can retire now. I think there’s going to be pressure on that. There’s going to be increasing pressures on gender pay gaps. Currently, the legislation is focused on large companies, which will drip down to smaller companies.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens once we’re back to normal working, whether we revert quickly to everyone going back into offices. Particularly for young people where offices have been important parts of life… for your social life… a lot of people meet partners at work too. If you’re stuck indoors, working on your own, you can miss out on that. Working from home is not always ideal in your first and second jobs; you need to have contact with other people in the organization. You need that kind of unofficial mentor to see how seniors work. All these kinds of things will need to be considered as we go forward. There will be a trend to go back to the office, but not as much as previously.
So, what is the solution?
Flexibility, but within reason. Flexibility runs two ways. An employer could say, I can’t come to the offices in London as I’ve moved out to the sticks – I’ll come in once a month. The employer could say, everybody else in your team is in; we want you to be in three days a week. They’ve moved out there without consulting the employer, and the employer has every right to ask them to come back in again, just to have that team ethos build up again.
The ‘Battle for resources’ will require your ability to manage supply and resource effectively. Execview is one of the few with a solution to get ahead of the trend.
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