The immediate impact of COVID-19 is forcing leaders to rapidly re-assess and transform their business models. The shock of the economic shutdown and inevitable financial impact, coupled with the need for social distancing means that most companies may never be able to operate in the “old” way again.

  • New world operating models will focus on cost optimisation (certainly in the short to medium term as the world economy strives to recover).
  • The external commercial landscape has changed forever, and businesses will need to re-evaluate their customers and market segments and how they serve them.
  • Working practices have changed and will continue to evolve.
  • The resources businesses require and they way they are acquired and managed will change.
peoproHR - Operating in the ‘new normal’​

All companies and sectors are different, but there are clear common themes and characteristics emerging in relation the way business will need to operate in order to flourish in the new world.

People practices will need to evolve to support new operating models …

Leaders, people managers and the HR profession are going to need to take bold and decisive steps to support businesses to operate successfully alongside COVID-19.

The graphic below provides examples of business and people management practices that will need focus to support new operating models:

peoproHR - Operating in the ‘new normal’​

The shape and design of organisations will change – fewer resources will need to be organised super efficiently with a laser focus on those activities that are identified as business critical. This may mean leaner, cross functional structures, with agile teams delivering key capabilities.

Culturally, the new world and the experiences gained as a result of managing through the crisis, will influence new workplace values. We have seen examples of businesses and people required and empowered to take decisive action with incredible speed. But, this has been underpinned with a supportive and empathetic environment. These are traits and values that have contributed to incredible achievements in the face of adversity and organisations will do well to embed them into their go forward culture.

One of the most tangible, but impactful changes will be on the working environment. Social distancing will provide significant challenges and require creativity and flexibility in the design of working practices. Of course we will see more remote working – but as this normalises there will be a need for more physical – including technology solutions – and mental support to optimise efficiency. And, there will undoubtedly be many area’s where on site working comes back to the fore – the safety and logistics of which will be extremely challenging.

The resourcing landscape will also significantly change – not least, in the first instance, when managing the transition from a furloughed workforce; which of course in many cases will lead to redundancies. And, for retained employees, the make up of their roles and the required skills and competencies may change as companies focus on business critical activities. Identification and development of top talent will be key to building organisational capability around these activities and to reduce and eliminate single points of failure.

Businesses may need to review their performance and reward programmes to align with new operating models. Remote and dispersed working will rely less on day to task management and more on deliverables and outcomes – performance management, learning interventions and reward structures may need to pivot to reflect this change. In the benefits arena, will we see a further acceleration of the already prevalent shift toward “pastoral” benefits such as wellbeing – mental, physical and financial – and away from on site perks? It will also be interesting to see how insurers are affected by the medical crisis and what impact it has on premiums and businesses ability to offer such benefits.

The importance of communication in times of uncertainty, change and turbulence cannot be over emphasised. It is essential now and during the transition to the new normal that organisations implement a transparent, structured and clear plan to not only communicate but also actively engage employees. The use of technology and multi media not only facilitates effective communication but can also cause confusion. Selecting a consistent and limited set of channels provides clarity. Businesses need to consider employee messaging across various dimensions – ranging from day to day manager / employee interaction; dissemination of company information, policy and procedural exchanges; social communication and how to address in-bound concerns and worries arising from new ways of operating.

Ensuring a positive employee experience in the context of the new working environment will have a direct impact on the performance of businesses going forward. Securing the commitment and engagement of a workforce that has been through trauma, may have seen friends and colleagues laid off and is now being asked to produce more, working in a new and challenging environment will be a game changer for those who are able to succeed. The impact of day to day people operations in supporting employees in their work, with their physical and mental wellbeing and in optimising their ability to contribute to the performance of the business cannot be over stressed

In the compliance area ensuring safe and healthy on site working conditions, in the context of infection control, will present a whole new set of challenges, ranging from floor plan design to the use of PPE in roles requiring close contact. But, also important will be the process and cost of ensuring remote workers are not exposing themselves to future musculoskeletal problems – for example – working at the kitchen table is not likely to be a safe sustainable option.

The role of People Management has never been more important.

This article is designed to highlight the shift that organisations will need to take as we transition to the new world of working and in turn how HR professionals will need to evolve, adapt and re-invent people practices and programmes to support business performance and guide organisations through a significant period of adjustment and change. Only though the contribution of its employees will businesses be able to succeed in the new world.