The coronavirus pandemic has impacted senior management teams globally and in particular has brought greater focus on the role of the CHRO. COVID has greatly impacted organsation structures and ways of working which in turn has demanded new capabilities and responsibilities

CEO’s have turned to the CHRO and wanted solutions immediately – it was now more like a line management role. Line Managers were already in panic mode – restructuring production and revising supply chains, stores were closing, online was the new sales channel.  Leaders needed to create a new work culture, restructure jobs and lay people off while at the same time maintain morale.

Some larger companies had disaster plans to refer to, modify and implement. But many companies did not have them. CHROs needed to focus on rapid results, be resourceful and devise and implement action plans. Few were prepared for this as the HR role was traditionally advisory and not implementing major change, especially at short notice.

One of the biggest people impacts has been working from home. Remote working was more prevalent in US with approx. 40% already working from home but for the rest of the world it was a much more dramatic change. In Europe, Indian Sub Continent and Asia Pacific homes were much smaller, staff lived in tall blocks in 500sq ft flats with their family and grandparents. Kids were at home not at school, mothers (your employees!) needed to look after them. The kids needed the fast internet for Zoom lessons (and games!), but many homes did not have hi-speed internet connections or printers at home. Working from home became a sudden necessity without the time to think through and manage the consequences

Leaders suddenly needed to create revised organization models. Working from home revealed that many duties could be carried out from home without harming quality or efficiency. However others needed contact with numerous colleagues and the resources in the office. Important information was retained in peoples heads and not on line!

Now in early 2021 companies are starting to see the shape of a new normal and are planning changes. The CHRO is expected to play a key role in this. New policies and protocols need to be devised. Some staff are planning to leave their company as the new normal does not work for them or because it is a blend of job change and home change which clash.

CHR0’s now need to work with managers to define the new set of customs and practice, revise existing work rules and protocols and devise communications strategies to embrace the new reality.  Who will pay for remote workers’ connectivity and any required equipment as many roles need terminals not IPads to connect to complex company systems.  Data access and data security will need a major rework

Managers themselves may well be finding the new normal stressful as they cannot cope without their team being in the office or that having 20 faces on screen all day does not work either! Finally the role of the coffee machine is better understood!

Managing the new normal

Many roles will need redefining as they will be carried out in different ways. Staff who were based in a Head Office or Regional Office may find their role has significantly changed, or, perhaps is no longer needed. Offices may have been transformed into workspace. Leases have not been renewed and offices relocated to smaller premises in a different less expensive district. CHROs need to ensure that changes are carefully communicated especially those working from home! Not all line managers are good communicators!

Not only talent acquisition but also retention will remain a critical task. Employees need to be recognized and engaged, no matter if they are working remotely or waiting to return to the office in a changed role. New recruits joining a company may be nervous about new roles and how to meet subordinates and colleagues online in post-pandemic company structures they are not familiar with.

Control needs to give way to trust. Staff will need help to learn how to work remotely and with far less oversight. They may find they have a new boss and need to learn about what works and what does not work when based at home.

The pandemic and lockdowns have put pressure on employees in ways that not only test their wellbeing and private lives, but also that of our society. Caring for the workers’ well-being is one of the most important challenges for the CHRO and senior leadership.

CHROs will need to be creative, decisive, empathetic and leading these changes and communicating to the staff affected. The corporate culture will need to be rebuilt as soon as possible. A well-defined organizational culture is critical for long-term success. Culture is vulnerable in times of crisis. With financial problems on the one hand and structural changes on the other, it is easy to put organizational values, mission and identity aside

Looking at the positive side COVID has forced leaders to operate in a more agile way, which will probably benefit them in the future. Business leaders now have a better idea of what can be done outside of their traditional processes. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate. The pace and scale of workplace innovation is growing rapidly

The CHROs who are effectively dealing with it while avoiding harming staff performance have gained a new sets of skills and responsibilities There will be new normswhich will promote and value human communication and feedback, adaptation to change and producing working results. The status quo ante has gone.