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HR leaders bridge gap between business, employee needs

During the Workday Rising event, business leaders shared their struggles with finding a way to balance business and employee needs for returning to the office.

ORLANDO -- More than two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, business and HR leaders are still adjusting to changes in operations and employee needs.

The Coca-Cola Co. struggled with a significant business process challenge during the pandemic, as consumers stopped attending sporting events, visiting movie theaters and shopping at locations where Coca-Cola products were widely distributed. At the same time, the company's employees began working from home, which created a new challenge of how to establish a hybrid workplace.

Coca-Cola, a beverage manufacturer headquartered in Atlanta, has had to rethink its business strategy and go "offline to online" for sales, including exploring direct-to-consumer options and ways to be more involved in food delivery orders, said Lisa Chang, senior vice president and global chief people officer at Coca-Cola. Chang spoke during a keynote panel discussion Wednesday at Workday Rising, the HR and finance software vendor's annual user conference.

The company is also finding ways to meet the needs of both business leaders and employees when it comes to working.

Finding the right balance

While some leaders may view working in the office as better for the business, Chang said employees' rights when it comes to where to work has allowed a shift in focus on what's best for both the business and employee.

It's become a very personalized question because we have gained all this freedom to make choices.
Lisa ChangGlobal chief people office, The Coca-Cola Co.

"It's become a very personalized question because we have gained all this freedom to make choices," Chang said, pointing to her own ability to work from home during the pandemic and be with her mother, who was going through cancer treatments.

"It's hard to give that up," she said.

Chang said she views herself as a "mediator," helping Coca-Cola and its employees come to an understanding of "what it means to co-create a workplace."

She said it requires compromise on both sides, with employees recognizing that some businesses aren't equipped to enable 100% work-from-home capabilities, and executives understanding that employees won't be staffing offices the way they did before the pandemic.

"It is really trying to understand what's good for the business, what's good for employees and how do we make the two work together," she said.

It's a challenge that Bobbie Byrne, CIO at Advocate Aurora Health headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., faces as well. Byrne participated in the Workday Rising panel alongside Chang.

Byrne said for her IT team, some everyday business items can't be accomplished via video. Additionally, Byrne said side conversations while going to get coffee or taking a break "can make a difference" in communication and energy among teammates.

For Byrne, it's about finding the right format for employee workdays -- how often they should come into the office and how long employees should stay at the office.

Byrne said the challenge with getting employees to stay in the office is that when office tasks are finished, no one stays.

"The one thing that we have done more than I realized that has surprised me is we'll all come together in an office for a period of time, but people go back to their homes to finish their work for the day," she said.

HR leaders' role takes on new meaning

Five years ago, HR leaders' jobs were vastly different compared with today, Chang said.

HR's role is not only taking care of core processes such as payroll for employees, but since the pandemic, HR has also been tasked with becoming the "heart of the organization," she said.

She said her role has shifted from back office tasks to creating an environment that attracts talent, something that takes up more of her day-to-day than basic HR functions.

"I really see myself as a steward of that culture and to make sure everything we do through our business, through our employees, through our customers, leads back to that purpose," Chang said.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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