Getting Back to Business Post Pandemic
What HR and Other Executives Need to Know
The push for COVID-19 vaccination since January 2021 has businesses hopeful and eager to get back to pre-pandemic operations. But with all the changes since the beginning of 2020, it won’t be easy to return to business as usual, and that’s probably for the best. Smart decisions and new strategy about workplaces, workforces, and customers are what business leaders need to strengthen and grow their companies in a post-pandemic environment.
Look no further than experts like professional services network Deloitte, management magazine Harvard Business Review, and Harvard Business School for post-pandemic business recovery direction.
Take Short-Term Action with Long-Term Vision
In “Workforce Strategies for Post-Covid Recovery,” Deloitte authors and contributors discuss the need for leadership to take specific actions for the business to respond, recover, and thrive after pandemic conditions, including learning from others’ successes. The strategic and critical actions needed for businesses to thrive post pandemic are to reflect, recommit, re-engage, rethink, and reboot. These short-term actions should support the business’ long-term purpose, potential, and perspective.
They advise businesses to reflect on what everyone has been through during the pandemic, from as many perspectives as possible. Continuous reflection is needed to understand what worked and didn’t work to plan a successful path forward. In recovery, there is time to reflect and review what happened during crisis, but Deloitte cautions that leaders need to take deliberate action to ensure ongoing reflection happens.
Immediate and ongoing success is going to require recommitting to workforce wellbeing with a total focus on all concerns, workplace and home, emphasizing physical, psychological, and financial well-being. Health and safety for physical well-being will mean clean and hygienic workplaces with available testing and treatment. Psychological well-being will include attention to the need for support through crisis and recovery with flexible schedules, recognizing diversity in the workforce and workers’ well-being needs at work and at home. Performance will look and feel different now and leaders need to understand how to support their workforces to thrive rather than just meet goals.
Re-engaging in a post-pandemic economic and business environment will mean balancing workforce needs for flexibility with critical business needs. Workers, managers, and teams will need clear direction, new technology, and digital resources for working, including hybrid work activities and new routines.
Rethinking work, workplaces, and workforces means fully embracing what president of the New America Foundation Anne-Marie Slaughter calls the COVID-19 Moment, when distant future imagined and planned changes happened rapidly instead of over years.The rapid shifts in work, education, and society due to the pandemic, especially in digital technologies, AI, and automation to improve all aspects of work, have changed many aspects of work permanently. Thinking differently about work has to happen to shape the immediate and ongoing future of work.
The rapid shifts in work, education, and society due to the pandemic, especially in digital technologies, AI, and automation to improve all aspects of work, have changed many aspects of work permanently. Thinking differently about work has to happen to shape the immediate and ongoing future of work.
Deloitte cautions that many HR teams are not prepared for the realities of recovery. Rebooting for post-pandemic strategy will require HR and people operations priorities to realign with urgent business and workforce priorities. This may need a reassessment of rewards and HR programs with compensation and workforce development specific to the recovery period and adjusted going forward. HR will need a thorough understanding of and expertise in complex legal labor issues and tax rules, and government programs and subsidies.
Have a Plan to Bounce Back
Carsten Lund Pederson and Thomas Ritter, in Harvard Business Review’s “Preparing Your Business for a Post-Pandemic World,” discuss the need to have a plan for bouncing back, determining how business culture and identity will change, and considering new projects for pandemic-related problems.
Lund Pederson and Ritter, from the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, advise companies to act now to bounce back successfully post-pandemic. They say that the enormous business challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic require strategic planning for recovery, including an awareness and assessment of organizational position in the market. They tell of different post-pandemic business viability because of positioning, citing the more difficult options for businesses in the travel, hospitality, and events, versus businesses in home delivery, home office equipment, and digital services.
Having a plan for bouncing back is necessary, and understanding what is needed to do today to reach future objectives is required. It’s important to get through the pandemic, but knowing what to do and how to do it afterwards is equally important. Part of that plan to bounce back should include understating how the crisis affects and changes your company culture and identity. Lund Pederson and Ritter advise that knowing how the crisis either brought people together or drove them apart and how they view the organization because of it will impact what can be achieved post-pandemic. This understanding will help leaders know new projects are needed because of the pandemic impact, and the organization’s preparedness to plan and execute them.
Lead with Honesty and Sensitivity
Harvard Business School’s faculty members have a variety of advice for business leaders. In “COVID Killed the Traditional Workplace. What Should Companies Do Now?” they stress honesty, compassion and sensitivity, and flexibility with in-office and remote work. They caution that a return to the pre-pandemic world of work is not possible because of the way the crisis has changed conventional thinking about work.
Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus Michael Beers says leaders need to have an honest conversation with employees. An honest, collective, and internally public conversation about how employees want and need to work is important for improving trust and commitment. Surveying employees is not the answer.
Beers says what’s needed is asking what they want to learn, making it safe to share their whole truth, and then developing a plan of action with accountable leaders with nothing hidden. Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management Amy C. Edmundson adds that it’s also important to be honest about the company’s needs, and reminds leaders to realistically and honestly assess and balance the work requirements with workers’ preferences and needs.
Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration Linda A. Hill says leaders must understand and be sensitive to the fact that the workforce has been traumatized. A year of pandemic living has people recovering from turmoil, grief, burnout, and anxiety, and left them wanting the truth. Hill advises leaders to recognize the impacts of pandemic living and the “huge mindset shift” it’s created. She reminds everyone that employee expectations of work and employers are different now, and need human-centric work environments and sensitivity from business leaders.
Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration Rosabeth Moss Kanter agrees, and says the change in leadership expectations has created new organizational roles such as chief health officers, chief empathy officers, and inclusion czars. She says leading with empathy is expected in the post-pandemic world of work.
Successful business operations in the new normal require enhanced human connections, honest conversations, and commitment to a closer synergy of business needs and workforce needs. It’s clear that the way forward after the pandemic will not be a return to business as usual. The usual has been radically changed and many new pandemic business practices are permanent. The mindset about the workforce has also radically changed, and requires strategic planning with a commitment to honesty and sensitivity, not just hard business goals.