Focusing on tomorrow – Is HR planning for what the world will look like post Covid-19?

post covid-19

One of the major learnings for many Execs and CEOs has been the fact that remote working ‘does actually work’ and this will now become the new norm in the way we will work moving forward. It will also cause a reset by CEOs in re-examining why they actually need so much office space and create a new problem for their real estate leaders ie: reducing the physical property footprint, writes  

Like many of you, I’m already over the thousands of articles about Covid-19 and ‘How to work from home’ or the ‘Five things you need to do in a pandemic.’

Many of us as CHROs have been through this type of crisis planning during the GFC which was the Black Swan moment for all companies globally. The work and planning done then got many organisations and the CEO/CHROs through that period and the smart ones continued to have a continuously updated their crisis management plan. They have done a far better job looking after their people & business through Covid-19 than others who left this on the shelf.

It’s time to make work easier, bring people together in a digital way, and refocus our priorities on trust, compassion, and action. It’s time for HR to shine.

Our current pandemic has seen lots of employees stood down or laid off and research shows that when these periods occur, companies that go through deep layoffs always underperform in the future (many go out of business).

Why? Well, Josh Bersin in his research suggests that there are many things that work against you. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you lose valued skills, and next you lose customer relationships. But he also suggests that worst of all, the people who remain go through “survivor syndrome,” asking themselves “am I going to be next?”

“These are the kinds of times that define the character of a company,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview. “People want to work for an employer that cares about the bottom line and the well-being of its employees.”

Now there are two key strategies that CHROs and HR functions should be doing at the moment. Firstly, planning, communication, and managing the issues associated with Covid-19 and the impact on their employees for today.

However, the second strategy in my observations seems to be missing for many companies and that is ‘developing strategy of how we will work’ when we come out of the pandemic. Diane Gherson the Global CHRO for IBM, in a recent webinar, talked about splitting her teams into two groups; one looking after today’s Covid-19 impacts on employees and the other looking and planning of how IBM will work post the pandemic. To date, I haven’t heard too many other organisations thinking along the same lines.

So, what are the five key things HR needs to be looking at as they move towards life post the pandemic?

  1. Change the way we work & make it digital

One of the major learnings for many Execs and CEOs has been the fact that remote working ‘does actually work’ and this will now become the new norm in the way we will work moving forward. It will also cause a reset by CEOs in re-examining why they actually need so much office space and create a new problem for their real estate leaders ie: reducing the physical property footprint.

Over the last decade, all of us have been through various digital transformations – but somehow, they didn’t make work life better. Employees spend the day wrestling with emails, meetings, conference calls, and projects yet many organisations have failed to de-clutter their work environment so employee productivity, health, and wellbeing has suffered.

Again, through this pandemic, many digital transformation projects have been fast-forwarded including comms tools like Slack, e-learning platforms and programs, etc. So, we have no choice – we will have to make digital work thrive. New tools, rules, and norms will be established, and these will be with us for decades.

HR needs to build a set of rules, practices, and cultural norms that let people work remotely. When people are interrupted at home can they skip a meeting? When are cameras on and when are they off? What should people wear? How long in the day are we expected to be ‘on’?

The key question HR needs to ask itself is ‘are we planning for the new world of work post Covid-19 and if not, then why not? You don’t want to be hit by a bus when your leaders come to you as HR and ask, ‘how will we now do this differently’ and you are left to scramble for answers let alone present a strategy.

  1. Simplify & make work easier.

You don’t have to be Einstein to know that the fact that economies around the world are taking a nosedive. Therefore HR, amongst many other functions, will have their budgets cut and this may mean a smaller HR team, but it definitely means redefining what you do

But there is a much bigger opportunity here and that is one of simplification. We now have an opportunity to clean up our mess. Again, Josh Bersin talks about the fact that during the last ten years of growth, we have created bureaucracy, complexity, and lots of overhead. Every time you hire a new manager, launch a new product, or grow into a new geography you layer on more “stuff.” Nobody ever takes anything away.

In Bersin’s research on employee experience, he found companies with 52 steps to order a credit card, $24 million a year wasted on talent reviews, and dozens of leaders telling him “It’s just too hard to get things done.”

HR now has the right (and mandate) to fix this. We call it “doing better with less.”

  1. Leadership refocus

The third opportunity in our new world of work is a radical shift in management culture. A shift toward empathy, compassion, and understanding.

High performing leaders of today are clearly different to the Jack Welch GE approaches in the 70s and 80s.. They’re empathetic, they think about people and society, and they really listen. There will always be financially driven executives but in today’s world and tomorrow they won’t be effective (Boeing and Wells Fargo are prime examples).

Why? This crisis is teaching us an important human lesson. It’s a health and safety crisis first, and economic and business problems second.

Right now, the CEO is the Chief Empathy Officer along with the focused direction from the CHRO. If your CEO doesn’t think “people first” your company is going to have a tough time responding to this crisis.

  1. Trust: What does this mean in the new world of work.

Edelman’s research shows we don’t trust politics, we don’t trust the media, and we barely trust capitalism (56% of people think capitalism does not solve the world’s problem).

Our companies are the “most trusted institutions” in people’s lives. So we have to live up to this trust especially right now.  Trust is a complicated thing Bersin suggests it is made of three fundamental things: ethics, competence, and voice

Ethics: Tell the truth. Give people the good and the bad news. Make decisions that feel good for everyone. Take care of people, customers, society, and the environment. Don’t lie.

Competence: Do not accept mediocrity. Fix every problem as it comes up. Learn to be “great” at what you do. Hold yourself accountable for excellence. Give people a sense that “this company really cares.”

Voice: Listen to everyone. Pour money into your employee listening strategy. Create teams that search for stories. Share what you learn. And take action on every single piece of advice.

As we enter a new world of trust-centric business these three things will need to organisations through change and trust will be the measure.

HR needs to build a set of rules, practices, and cultural norms that let people work remotely.

  1. Re-invention of HR.

It has already been said but HR really are the heroes now. HR is the front-line leaders in our organisations and we need to come together, get aligned and excited, and reprioritise

Josh Bersin states that really the long-term programs (reskilling, employee experience, HCM platforms, etc.) have not gone away. In fact, they are more important than ever. But right now, HR have to reprioritize these programs, make them simpler and more relevant, and make sure you use them to help people immediately.

Almost every HR department I have talked to in the past 6-8 weeks is in the process of transforming. But they tell me there is a real sense of urgency “get on with it – and fast.” We have to get rid of our administrative focus and automate ourselves faster; reskill our own internal teams; and reorganize ourselves into an agile set of experts – and this will in fact be our new world of work in HR.

So, the key question HR needs to ask itself is ‘are we planning for the new world of work post Covid-19 and if not, then why not? You don’t want to be hit by a bus when your leaders come to you as HR and ask, ‘how will we now do this differently’ and you are left to scramble for answers let alone present a strategy. It’s time to make work easier, bring people together in a digital way, and refocus our priorities on trust, compassion, and action. It’s time for HR to shine.