The workplace is changing.

If you've never interacted directly with the HR, or human resources, office at your job, it can be easy to just think of them as the people who source sheet cake from the grocery store whenever there's a workplace birthday. There is a wide range of responsibilities that are handled by human resources specialists, however, and this means that HR can have a massive impact on how well a workplace functions. These responsibilities can include everything from hiring to managing healthcare benefits to mediating disagreements and everything in-between.

Put simply, just about any company will tell you that is important. 

The value of good HR became apparent to countless workers during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the initial chaos of March and April 2020. Rapidly evolving social distance policies and the temporary closure of many public-facing businesses meant that countless companies were forced to make difficult choices about their workplaces, and the statistics about these labor disruptions are sobering. 

At its highest point, the unemployment rate among American adults reached 14.7%, which is noticeably higher than the 10% unemployment rate observed at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. As these numbers are partially drawn from an overworked unemployment system, the actual number of unemployed Americans may be even higher, as explored by this article

Regardless of the actual numbers for unemployed Americans, it's important to note that everyone was affected in some capacity by these disruptions. Even if employees weren't affected by furloughs and layoffs directly, adapting to remote working and socially distanced offices required companies to completely rethink workplace dynamics. 

Concepts that once seemed novel and unique are now commonplace. Enter, HR: on demand. 

This service is exactly what it sounds like, and it's been a valuable lifeline for businesses as they navigate the shakeups of the pandemic. Companies across every industry felt squeezes that required HR solutions; larger companies that furloughed HR staff had to handle re-onboarding employees without them. Meanwhile, smaller businesses and restaurants that had previously deferred to shift leads or family members to manage HR functions found themselves navigating a whole host of new challenges. 

HR: on-demand services were popular among these restaurants because they allowed them to benefit from having a robust HR department without having to hire an actual HR employee–something that made a huge difference when many restaurants were operating with a skeleton staff. Whereas trusting shift leaders and family members with basic HR functions–such as hirings and discipline–might have been manageable in pre-COVID times, this was certainly not the case once social distancing restrictions went into place. 

In addition to handling the basic administrative functions like hirings and paperwork, these services were also able to help restaurants navigate trickier aspects like training and compliance. While the term "compliance" might not mean much to the layperson, being compliant with local regulations can mean the difference between smooth sailing and closing for many small businesses. 

We've written about how restaurants have had to uniquely adapt during COVID-19 before, and their embrace of HR: on-demand services have been especially noteworthy. Given how restaurants were some of the most immediately affected businesses during the early days of the pandemic, they inadvertently became the testing grounds for new businesses practices and safety measures–plenty of which have spread to other industries in the time since. Given how much services like iBranch–an HR: on-demand solution that specializes in restaurants were valued during the pandemic, it's not difficult to imagine other small businesses adopting these new practices in the future. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated all sorts of developing business practices and created the need for plenty of new ones. Whatever the workplaces of tomorrow look like, they'll undoubtedly be different from what they looked like before. 

Sometimes HR can feel like a thankless job. Share your love for HR in the comments.