How the World of People Ops Has Transformed Since March 2020

The Hubble Team
The Hubble Team|

With 2020 came ‘the new way of working’, and it turned the world of People Ops upside down (to put it lightly). 

Literally, within the space of a few weeks, these roles transformed completely. But in true People Ops style, they rose to the challenge and adapted. Now that the dust is finally starting to settle, what has changed?

Here, we share our own thoughts and spoke with both Marie Krebs from Learnerbly and Katherine Jack from Nude Finance about how their roles have differed since lockdown began.

Want to hear more about the role of People Ops and how 2020 shook it up like a Bond-ready martini? On Wednesday 1st of Dec, we’ll be speaking with Marie and 2 other fantastic People Ops pros about how their role has changed. Sign up here!

Workplace logistics are a whole new ball game

A recent study found that 41% of companies will embrace hybrid working by 2023. And that’s all because of what happened in 2020. 

Gone are the days where the workplace existed within four walls. Today, those in People Ops are managing workplaces across multiple offices, homes, coworking spaces and even borders. 

With this comes some new challenges that never existed before. Like, managing distributed teams, understanding the legal side of ‘Working from Anywhere’ and finding new tools that make communication, accounts and employee engagement feel, well, like you’re all working together in the same room. 

“Personally, having a lean startup/design thinking mindset has been salvatory—it’s impossible to have the answers, and iterative approaches are a fabulous methodology for both change management and innovation”, says Marie Krebs, People Operations Manager at Learnerbly.

Employers have a duty to address mental health

During lockdown, 59% of people felt that their employer didn’t check in with them regularly enough and 76% would’ve liked their manager to check in with them more, according to a study by MHR

There’s no denying that WFH, furlough, and you know, the impending doom of a global pandemic, had a major impact on anxiety, stress and burnout. But we can’t pretend that mental health issues in the workplace didn’t exist in a pre-2020 world. Just look at this stat from 2018:

​“A survey of more than 44,000 employees revealed that only half of those who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it, suggesting that as many as 25% of UK workers are struggling in silence.”—Time to Change / Mind.

Thankfully, after lockdown, companies are now feeling a stronger sense of duty to check in on their team. This has allowed People Ops to dedicate more time and resources to wellbeing in the workplace, without having to fight for it.

You collaborate in different ways


People Ops is all about collaboration and relationships. But what happens when you can’t just turn around and ask the leadership team for their thoughts on a new learning and development policy? Or when you can’t see how the team is doing day-to-day?

“Anyone in Operations will tell you that some of the best ideas come from casual conversations that people have in the office.” says Katherine Jack, Operations Manager at Nude Finance

“Someone could be making a coffee, and they say ‘the traffic is so bad at this time of the day, I wish I could start earlier’. That’s an opportunity to introduce flexible working to the team. Since we all started working from home, that avenue of communication suddenly closed”, says Katherine.

“We’ve had to come up with new, innovative ways to get feedback from our team and support them in the best way we can. At Nude, we have a weekly ‘show and tell’ meeting where the whole team comes together to show what they’ve been working on and give kudos to each other.”

“It’s an open space where anyone can ask questions about the company and has been a great way for us to support each other and collaborate.”

There are new roles within ops

Did you ever imagine ‘Head of Remote’ being a possible career path pre-2020? 

While People Ops roles could move away from traditional office management, there are new, exciting roles that have sprung up in the last year or so. This has created a whole new wave of opportunities for current and future generations of Ops people. 

Company culture is too important to leave to chance

Company culture lives and breathes through its people. And when your teams are working together under the same roof every day, that culture happens quite organically (with some help from a brilliant People team, of course). 

When you take those daily interactions, weekly get-togethers and face-to-face contact away, that culture can evaporate in a puff of smoke. 

Now People Ops teams have to be even more deliberate and intentional with company culture and make sure it extends to every single member of the team, whether they’re regularly in the same office, or hardly in the same country. With this, we see ‘team retreats’ becoming more popular than ever before. 

Great talent won’t settle

Over a year in lockdown and the global #BlackLivesMatter movement has made people realise what they really want from their employers. 

In order to attract and retain great talent, companies have to walk the walk and genuinely live by their values. That means true inclusion, better benefits, flexible working and more. Marie from Learnerbly said:

 “Think about your People Experience like it’s a subscription service. If people are happy with the quality of service you’re offering (the service being the People Experience), then they will want to stay. If they are not, they will leave. 

So how do you know what great quality People Experience looks like? 

  1. Hire People Experience experts. You need a team to do the work; it’s not just something that can be done when your People team is stretched. A good ratio is 8% of your business should be People people.  

Put your people at the centre of their own experience. Give them a voice, listen to them and act on what they have to say. You don’t need to know it all, the answers are so close—you just gotta ask.”

Documentation is everything


Lockdown was also a humbling experience for People Ops teams. Those little gaps in processes and documentation that were once covered by a quick conversation or email were suddenly giant chasms that needed to be filled, immediately. 

With more and more teams going hybrid, documentation has to be priority #1. Although it can be a time-consuming task, proper processes are the backbone of businesses—and that has never been clearer.

The value of People Ops can’t be ignored

Speaking of backbones of businesses, let’s hear it for the People teams themselves. Ops have always worn a lot of hats—logistics, HR, legal: All the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that keeps a company running smoothly. 

Lockdown was like that moment in Singin’ in the Rain when the curtain goes up and Debbie Reynolds’ singing her heart out. People Ops teams were in the spotlight and everyone could see just how much they do. 

With new roles emerging and a stronger focus on culture, wellbeing and logistics, this feels like a new age for People Ops: An age that truly values how much they bring to a business (about time too).

Psst: In our next webinar, we’ll be speaking with Marie and two other fantastic People Ops pros about The Changing Role of People Ops’—and the expert advice you need to embrace it to your and your teams’ advantage. Sign up here!

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