As businesses across sectors look to evolve and adapt to rapidly changing workplace trends, human resources (HR) teams and departments will undoubtedly play an integral role in shaping new team dynamics and structures.

By Kate Shead, HR executive at Telviva

And, as the recent (and dramatic) shift to remote working illustrated, technology tools – and particularly unified communication (UC) platforms – can support and complement the role of HR leaders in new and unexpected ways. Put simply, UC platforms integrate and connect different communication systems for an increasingly digital workforce, and incorporate various key functions including: voice and video calling, instant web chats, document sharing, shared information systems, and more.

This type of advanced platform is helping to drive a higher level of integration (and better quality conversations) between remote teams, and break down silos which have previously inhibited team collaboration and overall performance. For HR in particular, the prospect of better quality conversations among teams has major implications for key functions such as recruitment, onboarding, learning and development, performance management, wellbeing and much more.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that forward-looking companies and HR leaders are ensuring that every team touchpoint is integrated and coordinated – and are therefore boosting investment in new UC technology, or what is known as Communication Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS).

According to a recent IDC survey, businesses have been considering increased investments in UC & Collaboration tools, network management, and datacentre networking since the pandemic began – with almost half of respondents (48%) reporting they will be increasing investments in UC&C tools. In addition, the UC EXPO reported that in 2019, zero companies viewed UC&C as business-critical, but in the wake of Covid-19, that number increased dramatically.

Let’s take a closer look at how these investments are transforming the all-important HR function:

Bringing HR closer to the pulse of the business

As our teams shifted to remote work during the national lockdown, there was a major concern around losing touch with employees and a loss of ‘visibility’ around daily activities.

However, as soon as we embraced the company’s newly implemented UC platform, an interesting phenomenon took place: as an HR leader, I began to hear from individuals in the company whom I had never really had feedback from before.

Moreover, not only did I interact more with individuals across the organisation, but the quality of these interactions was of a far more authentic – and constructive nature than I have previously experienced.

Driven by the user-friendly and seamless nature of web chat functions (sometimes acting as virtual ‘watercooler’ moments), the HR function has been able to move closer to the heartbeat of the business – with more employees now feeling they have a voice and constructive input into key company functions.

In addition, through the use of the platform, employees have had direct virtual chats with the CEO and leadership team – providing critical input into evolving communication features, and in fact stimulating innovation from the ground up.

This element of company-wide digital interaction and input is, in many ways, flattening traditional hierarchical structures – and removing the regional or location-based dynamics that used to create silos that were difficult for certain employees to break down.

Ensuring continuity for vital learning & development initiatives

In South Africa, learnerships and internal development programmes are critical to boosting employment in a market whereby youth unemployment is dismally high. Within our company, we take on eight learnerships each year in a SETA-accredited learnership programme.

One of the requirements for these learners to graduate is a 12-month workplace experience guided by company mentors. When we moved to a remote setup, there was deep concern that this learnership would be interrupted.

Yet by leveraging our UC platform and collaboration tools, we were able to create a Virtual Lab through which these learners could work remotely under close supervision and guidance from their mentors. Although almost nine months of their learnership is likely to be remote, we are positive that in December, our Class of 2020 will be graduating from their learnership with us and entering formal employment.

Interweaving a dynamic, inclusive company culture from inception

As most HR professionals recognise, the onboarding process for new recruits is a critical part of their long term success and performance within the company.

Traditionally, this onboarding process has been a ‘high touch’ affair, with in-person meetings and training forming the backbone of the experience. Naturally, translating this physical experience into an engaging and meaningful virtual onboarding process can be a daunting prospect for HR teams – but as we discovered with our own new, ‘virtual’ recruit – it represents an opportunity to present our company culture and processes in innovative, creative ways.

During lockdown, we were able to onboard a new employee via our UC platform, with web chats, document collaboration and video conferencing allowing us to create a seamless and engaging virtual onboarding experience.

Such interactive experiences have been priceless in other areas of the business as well, including recognition of high performers and milestones in our annual awards ceremony – which took place virtually this year. By delivering fun physical party packs to individual home addresses, and then running the ceremony over our UC platform with live web chats and video conference, we were able to create an experience that brought teams even closer together and formed a highly memorable, celebratory, collective experience for all.

With most businesses now considering some form of hybrid or permanent remote working model, the ability of HR teams and professionals to stay close to the pulse of the organisation (its people!), will be a critical factor in achieving long term growth, innovation and sustainability. Yet by leveraging advanced UC platforms which, by design, nurture and drive high quality conversations, HR can create a more dynamic and inclusive company culture than ever before.