How HR Can Help Forge The “New Normal”

June 25, 2020

The coronavirus health crisis has affected many layers of society, such as how and where we work, exercise, shop, learn, and communicate. Miami Herbert’s Stephen Cerrone calls the widespread and lingering pandemic a catalyst for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. From a human resources lens, he gives his observations on the impending “new normal.”


 Macro Level Influences

Businesses that have traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions must find new ways to interact with customers in a socially distant world. These companies may have to change their manner of selling or servicing, and also revisit how many and what type of employees to hire. Human Resources teams should consider how to increase cross-training in the needed skills and how to best develop talent amid the changing environment. For example, how should sales managers call on new clients? How will management compensate them in the new environment? In addition, HR leaders must determine where to locate employees, how to keep remote workers engaged, which jobs should be done in-house and which ones to outsource, how to structure their organizations as either flat, a hierarchy, or a mix, and how all these changes will affect employee recognition, reward, and financial compensation. 

Organizational Level Influences

At the organizational level, resiliency may become the new buzzword as companies try to strengthen supply chains, revenue streams, and balance sheets. In addition, company culture will become more than just a set of posters or words on a wall. Great cultures have always been identified by employees who are united by a purpose, and resurging from a pandemic will only reinforce that type of mission. Organizations will likely demonstrate a more intentional focus on communities and helping the disadvantaged, such as providing more job opportunities at all levels that supports a society with a more level playing field. 

The idea of looking at organizations more broadly is not a new one. Last year, the Business Roundtable, a group of about 200 CEOs across the United States, issued a letter that redefined the purpose of a corporation as “an economy that serves all Americans,” emphasizing the need to focus beyond shareholders, to include customers, employees, communities, and suppliers. The current health crisis has intensified this cultural shift. Companies have already begun to prioritize employee wellbeing factors like stress management, work-life balance, and physical and emotional health. As examples, Starbucks is investing in employee mental health benefits and Microsoft is paying workers on a reduced workload.

Departmental Influences

Within individual departments, HR teams must increase their proficiency in data analytics and using data to drive talent decisions. They will need to analyze and understand the number of employees tested for the virus, how testing varies by location or job responsibility, and how that data relates to engagement and performance. Those HR leaders will also need to look at data related to what defines a ‘good’ remote worker and an effective leader of remote teams. 

Overall, HR leaders should be leading the conversations as organizations redesign and adjust processes in the face of the current workplace transformations. They have a critical role in enabling a more balanced relationship between people and shareholders and leading an organization’s revitalization from the economic downturn.

For additional COVID-19 Thought Leadership and business resources from Miami Herbert Business School faculty, click here.

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