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What HR Leaders Can Do Now to Prepare for a Post-COVID-19 World

It’s never too early to plan for the inevitable. While it might feel hard to imagine re-entry into our new normal if you are closely following public health officials’ guidelines, it will undoubtedly happen sooner or later. 


To prepare for recovery and adapt for the future, companies need to start with their strategy, namely revisiting the corporate strategy, operating plans, product strategy and approach to talent and culture. Do these align to the new realities of the business environment? Simultaneously, ensure that resources are allocated to the highest value work and service you can provide your customers or stakeholders and remove what is no longer needed.

It’s unclear what type of impact this experience will have on the overall psychology of the workforce — being nimble will be key. Engaging your company and adapting to employees’ feedback may be useful. Consider doing this early and often. I’m definitely not a psychologist, but you could imagine people may want to:

  • Maintain the safety, security and quality of life with work from home (WFH) or limiting their time in the office;
  • Stay connected to the company culture but not attend company meetings or large events in-person;
  • Grow their career while avoiding in-person training classes; and/or
  • Work in customer-facing roles while reducing their travel schedule significantly.

Reflect on the Company Culture and Operating Practices
What’s working now and what will work in the future? Consider following a more traditional re-engineering process to answer this question; every activity (and corresponding investment) can and should be reevaluated. Is X the best way to accomplish Y objective(s)?

Whether it is sales/customer success, marketing, events, product development or recruiting and onboarding, each of these activities can be revisited to get the best result. Even the staunchest naysayers to WFH would acknowledge that many teams have proven they can operate in a largely remote format, with limited impact on productivity or performance. 

Begin the Re-Entry Planning Now
From a business continuity perspective, and until a vaccine or cure is found, having a large percent of your workforce remote is a very likely scenario. If it’s important to your operations, you can begin re-entry planning by reevaluating large capital investments like real estate and IT with the objective of maintaining employee safety while being productive and providing the service or solutions your customers expect. Here are a few steps you could take as part of that reevaluation process: 

  • Acquire less overall square feet and treat the office like a flexible workspace.
  • Rotate staff so that you can get 100% more capacity from your existing real estate investment.
  • Implement rotating “in-location” schedules.
  • Address the technology infrastructure that had cracks and gaps that became very apparent during the pandemic.

You can also consider:

  • Establishing new employment policies that adapt to a new way of working. 
  • Provide access to virtual care for everyone. 
  • Hire or train leaders to ensure the leadership team is equipped with sound remote leadership experience. 

Refine and Strengthen Business Continuity Plans 
Our business continuity plans were tested and, for the most part, they likely worked and we’ve learned a lot during this process. Now, how can we improve it? 

Access to health care will change. The pandemic has exposed the weakest points and where the system has failed us when we needed it most. On the flip side, we’ve also seen glimmers of hope, such as the exponential increase in the use of telemedicine and virtual care. Businesses will almost certainly take this into consideration when it comes to their health plan and benefits design.

The employee's role in how and where they want to work has a new dimension. The war for talent has been alive and well for years. This next phase will include policies and practices that will address new concerns people have about their health and safety.

Finally, capital investments like large footprints for real estate will change. Companies have proven that they can effectively operate in the WFH environment for an extended period of time, for a majority of their workforce. It may not be what they chose for cultural reasons, but now they know they can WFH. If businesses resist changing their flexible working policies, and it was well-received by employees, they may face retention and recruitment issues.

Wherever you may be with re-entry planning, be sure to take pause and make very mindful, data-driven decisions, taking the tough lessons learned during this transition. Many companies and leaders will be judged not just in how they responded to the pandemic, but they will also be remembered by how they evolved (or didn’t evolve) from this unique moment.

About the Author

Peter Navin is the chief human resources officer for Grand Rounds.

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