It’s not every organization that launches a university-wide integrated information system in the middle of a pandemic, points out Carolina Willsher, associate vice-president of Human Resources. But in November 2021, that’s exactly what Concordia successfully undertook with the unveiling of Project UNITY.
“It was asking a lot of the community and the community stepped up,” she says.
After years of preparation, Concordia replaced its decades-old payroll system with a new human resources information system (HRIS), which features highly improved capabilities and greater capacity and makes up a major component of UNITY. The move is just one of the many ways HR elevated the employee experience at the university in 2021-22. Other initiatives included trainings on hybrid work, a streamlined job recruitment system, mental-health programming and more.
Leading up to the implementation of UNITY, the HR team in collaboration with colleagues in Finance and IITS worked hard to prepare the community for the transition. HR offered several information sessions with employees, change agents and super users to make sure people were ready the moment things went live.
“With any large implementation of an HRIS, there are bound to be some challenges,” Willsher acknowledges. “But I have to say that working with the community and the HR team, we’ve been able to overcome a lot of those and our proficiency is growing daily, partly because of the feedback we are receiving.”
In the spring, HR launched three additional modules on UNITY: recruitment, onboarding and training. The recruitment module allows potential candidates to not only apply for jobs but to create a profile and set up an automatic feed and alerts that will simplify and expedite their job search, Willsher explains.
“In a challenging job market, this contributes to reducing the overall time it takes to hire someone as well as increasing our talent pool for future hires.”
The self-serve onboarding module is geared toward non-academic staff. It includes a welcome message from the president and the provost, as well as valuable information like digital acknowledgement of key HR policies. Staff can also update their personal information to kick off their employee file. This allows newcomers to access information about Concordia in a timely and efficient manner, to help them orient themselves to working at Concordia.
The final module is focused on learning management. It’s a portal with access to all HR training courses as well as courses offered elsewhere within the university related to learning and professional development. “It allows our employees to register for courses. Managers can also assign or recommend courses to their employees,” Willsher shares. “And it provides a platform for employees to be able to consider taking courses and workshops to support their growth.”
With the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions, many staff at Concordia shifted to a hybrid work model. HR supported this transition through a series of recommendations and preparatory workshops. Course topics ranged from leadership strategies to foster resilience and well-being (for managers) to developing an ability to respond with agility in the face of ambiguity (for employees).
These trainings were part of broader discussions at the university about what the future of work could look like. HR was represented on the Work, Workforce and Workplace working group of Future Concordia, which recommended a flexible hybrid work model based on the unit’s mission, staff complement, strategic objectives and academic cycle.
Willsher and her team also prioritized the importance of wellness and work-life balance, something she says was front of mind for many people throughout the pandemic. To that end, HR continued to distribute mental-health newsletters and offered wellness programming through its EAP provider to staff and faculty. The programing included videos on how to take charge of stress, understand the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, and on what is languishing and why is it important. “These proved to be really popular with the community,” she says. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback.”
During the year, the university’s senior leadership, supported by HR, hosted information sessions for managers, directors, chairs and research directors, and meetings with union leadership. These information sessions were opportunities to provide updates on university affairs as well as to keep the community informed on COVID-19-related procedures. Importantly, they also served to gather feedback from the community and inform decision-making and planning.
“In 2021-22, we were still in the pandemic,” Willsher says. “And the fact that the university was able to not only continue to operate but thrive during that period was as a result of employees being committed and making sure that the university continued to offer services to students and to each other.”
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