COVID-19: HR & the rise of our ‘new normal’

As we move further into 2020, the COVID-19 crisis continues to dominate our personal and professional lives

COVID-19: HR & the rise of our ‘new normal’

As we move further into 2020, the COVID-19 crisis continues to dominate our personal and professional lives. Our preparedness to return to normality differs not only from nation to nation, but company to company – leaving many employees scratching their heads.

One phrase which has gained momentum in the past few weeks is the ‘new normal’. Though we’ve accepted that our old way of working may never return, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this new model will be a diminishment. In fact, it’s high time HR spun this crisis into an opportunity to drive change.

After all, don’t we just love a bit of healthy disruption?

HRD spoke to Robert Stone, chief talent officer at McCANN, who talked us through his perception of the ‘new normal’ – and revealed what the talent market could look like post COVID-19.

“Working life as we knew it, will never return to the ‘normal’ which we all remember,” prefaced Stone.

“However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that businesses will not return to their levels of productivity, creativity or profitability pre COVID-19. Human beings tend to resist change and the ‘new normal’ presents an opportunity for businesses across the world to reimagine the impossible and shift to new ways of working and collaboration.

“Everyone has been impacted in different ways and businesses are currently navigating through significant change and transitioning through a period that has pushed leaders to evolve and redesign their business operations. This has resulted in accelerating ‘non-traditional’, agile, and flexible workforces.

“The ‘new normal’ means something different across different industries and there will be a range of changes to embrace as we ‘return to work’. Let me rephrase that, the term ‘return to work’ is a misleading phrase which implies that we’ve all been on a break during this period. In reality, COVID-19 remote working implications has not resulted in a break, in fact in most instances, people have taken on additional responsibilities and we have seen a real sense of solidarity across teams.”

If nothing else, COVID-19 will dramatically change companies’ policies and procedures – both in the short and long term. Stone detailed how he believes these initiatives will play out.

Short-term changes

  • In positions and industries that are able to work from home, offices will be considered a workspace, not a work environment! This will continue to be ‘normal’ until a widely accessible COVID-19 vaccination is developed
  • Employees need to remember that a lot of the things that they loved about being in the office will no longer be accessible, for example physical interactions, spontaneous conversations, much loved coffee breaks, heading out for lunch together, hot desking etc.
  • We still need to work in a virtual world meaning that meetings and workshops will continue to be delivered leveraging digital tools and channels – to adhere to government social distancing requirements
  • That everyone one is dealing with this in a different way and we need to respect that. Some people may be ready to return to work; however, others may have major concerns due to their own personal reasons

Long- term changes

  • Flexible working arrangements will be the ‘new normal’ in some industries. However, I think we also need to harvest the best ways of working from the pre COVID-19 world and the post COVID-19 world to create a blended approach fit for purpose to ensure commercial success 
  • We need to be honest with ourselves and truly assess the quality of work/output that has been produced during COVID-19. Even though we have been able to adapt and create, the question which needs to be asked is whether this output has been as good or better than previous work?
  • We have already seen some of the world’s largest businesses evolve and change their flexible arrangements. For example, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement that employees can keep working from home ‘forever’ if they wish

When we look back at 2020 from hindsight’s gaze, there’ll certainly be questions raised around company conduct. In short, organizations will be judged on how they not only managed the financial crisis, but how they supported their employees.

“The best leaders have been the ones that have adapted quickly to the impacts of COVID-19 and adapted instantly to survive later,” added Stone. “There are a number of lessons learned from this crisis.”

Mental wellbeing
“Acknowledging the importance of mental wellbeing across the workforce and the varied degree of impact it has on different people working from home.”

The office
“Reconsidering the need for large physical office spaces which incur high overheads, in light of certain industries encouraging more flexible and remote ways of working.”

“Emphasising the power of digital and the importance of investing in collaborative technology which connects the workforce, irrespective of their physical location – no business will rely purely on face to face meetings in the ‘new normal’.”

“Redefining the necessity of national and international travel – COVID-19 has proven across some industries that travel isn’t always required to produce high quality outputs and maintain relationships.”

“Instilling confidence and empowering senior management to make more key decisions on the behalf of senior leadership.”

“Maintaining a high performing culture and redefining organisational structures and performance management or coaching in a virtual world.

“To quote my fearless leader: ‘The greatest insight will be the importance of genuine human connections for creating genuinely human creative work…’ (Ben Lilley – Owner and Creative Chairman, McCANN Australia).”

Going forward, many employers are looking to the future of talent acquisition. What exactly will the market look like post COVID-19? Well, according to Stone, companies who choose not to invest in talent acquisition risk falling behind. 

“Businesses that learnt from other markets around the world and set themselves up for success will come out of this with a huge opportunity to hire great talent,” added Stone.

“Unfortunately, the workforce has been impacted meaning that amazing talent has been made redundant or stood down.”

As Stone explained, businesses that aren’t investing in talent acquisition during this period will be left behind for a number of reasons.

“Firstly,” Stone continued, “recruitment should never be reactional or transactional - people are the most important asset to a business and are not sourced by simply posting a job ad and waiting for the responses.

“Secondly, people are needing advice and guidance during these difficult times. Businesses that help, whether that’s advice with CV’s, or folios, or simply having a chat to ensure that people are considered when open positions open up, goes a long way and will be remembered.

“People will also remember how leadership and businesses dealt with COVID-19. People understand that it’s a difficult time for businesses and in most cases acknowledge that changes may be required due to changing business pressures.

“If these conversations are managed and handled in a human and authentic way, reputation and employer brand will be maintained and amplified.”

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