Without doubt, the vast majority of HR professionals will view the COVID-19 pandemic as a
seminal career measuring point. The challenges, mistakes, achievements and pressure to
deliver that have been experienced will inform the development of strategy and best practise
for decades to come.
But what are some of the enduring takeaways for HR, business leaders and the wider
workplace? How is lockdown affecting the corporate employer-employee mindset and to
what extent have these experiences reframed working environments in just a few short
1. Acknowledge the profound and permanent impact of lockdown
With no comparable experience to draw on, HR leaders and their teams had to innovate, think laterally and apply all their skills to navigate unprecedented circumstances. And tempting though it was to view the early period of lockdown as a transient challenge, we must acknowledge that its impact has been far reaching, and across some key areas of working life and culture — permanent. The concept of ‘new normal’ might be overused, but it certainly has credibility and organisations need to understand where long-term changes are emerging, how to integrate them, and even shape them into competitive advantage.
There’s growing evidence, for instance, that pre-COVID ‘emerging’ trends in the workplace,
such as remote and flexible working, are now mainstream. Organisations such as Fujitsu
have already made major announcements about permanent changes to ‘redefine working
styles’ for its 80,000 workers in Japan. From Adobe and Amazon to Salesforce and Twitter,
businesses are adjusting to circumstances and seeing the opportunities that emerge from
adversity to move their teams forward.
The concept of ‘new normal’ might be overused, but it certainly has credibility and organisations need to understand where long-term changes are emerging, how to integrate them, and even shape them into competitive advantage.
2. Embrace the collective capacity to innovate and change
The agility shown by organisations and their HR teams to adapt processes virtually overnight
to cope with remote working is well documented and deserving of recognition. Indeed, many
have gone much further than implementing new processes to facilitate home working,
focusing more than ever on employee wellbeing. Given the circumstances, this
demonstrates the kind of caring corporate culture that’s arguably long overdue, especially by
It also serves as a reminder that we all must nurture our capacity to innovate and embrace
change, even under the most difficult circumstances. Part of the workplace legacy left by the
pandemic is a unique opportunity to learn from challenges that had never before reached the
boardroom. Sustaining the momentum of adaptability and innovation forced on us by the
crisis is vital if we are to understand – and prosper from – the fundamental and subtle ways in
which businesses have changed.
3. Move away from HQ-centric recruitment
Thinking back to the beginning of 2020, job seekers were, in general, competing for roles
with people who lived within a sensible commute of the employer HQ. Even then, some
forward-thinking CEOs already required that their teams cast the net wider if talent did not
need to live/work near headquarters. However, most companies kept faith in policies that
required everyone to live/work within striking distance of HQ and did not even explore the
option of hiring talent in extended regions. This has contributed to extremely high business
costs, particularly in and around London, perpetuated the culture of long, exhausting
commutes and added to overcrowded transport networks.
Post-COVID, companies will need to consider more carefully if everyone is needed at the
physical office (branch or HQ), and if not, how hybrid and remote working will play a more
important role in talent acquisition and retention long term.
This could be transformational and lead to a whole range of cultural, financial and social improvements, in addition to the positive bottom-line business impacts.
4. Plan for a future based around the ‘hub’ office
By extension, as more organisations hire talent from wider afield, smaller office ‘hubs’ will
become more important for people who still need to meet in person, for training or for those
who welcome a return to the office environment when it is safe to do so. This could be
transformational and lead to a whole range of cultural, financial and social improvements, in
addition to the positive bottom-line business impacts.
This is likely to be a win-win for everyone involved. Employers get to reduce their reliance on
expensive large office space, while employees gain greater flexibility in choosing where they
can live, including locales where cost of living is lower.
HR professionals are central figures in securing a post-COVID dividend for businesses and their employees as part of a wider economic recovery.
5. Build workplaces that truly prioritise respect, health and happiness
If COVID teaches us anything, it’s about the fragility and importance of health and
happiness. The crisis also underlined why this applies just as much to the workplace as to
our home environments. Employers who have fostered a culture of wellbeing and respect
before and during this crisis will, no doubt, see their efforts reciprocated by employees in
terms of commitment and loyalty.
The main barrier to these developments lies not in the ability of businesses to deliver change
– that myth was dispelled within a few days of lockdown being imposed – but in ensuring
business leaders embrace a reframed workplace mindset. HR professionals are central
figures in securing a post-COVID dividend for businesses and their employees as part of a
wider economic recovery.