Covid-19 changed the world in an unprecedented way. Regardless of the demographics we belong to, including geography, nationality, race, gender, and age, we all switched to survival mode. There are times that we feel like being trapped in a sci-fi movie where only the strongest will be able to survive. Naturally, fighting against a highly resistant virus that infected 12 million people and killed more than half a million people from 215 countries and territories around the world, human life and safety became central to all our personal and business decisions. 

In the corporate world, Human Resources is invited to the big boys table to manage the crisis by formulating strategies on how to protect its employees and customers at the heart, and securing business continuity and moving forward as a sustainable business, with minimum impact to productivity and growth. 

Human Resources Departments need to step up in order to redefine their company’s business needs from a human-centric perspective in order to come up with suitable strategies dealing with work, workforce, and workplace.     

It all starts with work. First, how has work changed? Will it be business as usual with certain safety measures in place? Or will it need to be done differently, i.e. in a new environment, with less employees, remotely or online? Or on a more radical level, will the work change all together? Besides HR, these strategic questions need to be addressed by a central management authority, involving business executives in production, sales, marketing, finance and general management, who will determine the strategy of the company in the next 12 to 24 months. This central management body will need to plan, strategize and implement in an agile manner as priorities and goals need constant review and adjustment in a fragile and uncertain near future. 

Businesses that are hit the hardest with Covid-19 have been the ones to reinvent their core businesses. Among commercial airlines that could not fly passengers due to travel restrictions and flight cancellations, Lufthansa, Virgin Airlines, American and United Airlines have started to fly cargo-only flights to transport grocery and healthcare items. Amazon-owned Whole Foods uses its grocery stores as fulfillment centers to increase the volume of its online groceries. Fitness companies such as gyms and sportswear companies Lulemon and Under Armour have been promoting online home fitness challenges for their customer base.

Next, focus is on the workforce. Most companies are asking themselves “who do I want to go to war with?” Who should be in my army to fight this crisis and prevail? Just like in any war, the army of corporate talent needs to triumph with limited resources. Noone wants to spare a bullet for a missed target. In other words, there is only room for the right skills, the best of the best. 

HR needs to come up with a methodical assessment to retain talents and plan a smooth transition for the ones that need to depart. There should also be programmes to hone the skill sets of the workforce who are staying. Lifelong learning will be applicable more than ever as everyone will compete with one another in the company as well as outside of the company with an army of ex-employees, laid-off professionals and remote workers from different parts of the world.

Workplace will inevitably stretch its physical space as no one knows when operations, sales and marketing will be back to normal. No “9 to 5 work hours”, no regional meetings, no travel, no client visits, no face-to-face staff meetings. Technology lets us work remotely; wherever our computer is where our workplace is. As a result, time and space become blurry. From the time we start the day till we go to bed, we are hooked to our computers and devices. Most of the time trying to reach out to colleagues and clients, and getting things done is a hassle as everyone has different deadlines and priorities. 

Redefine work and how it will be done efficiently in the Covid-19 era. Then comes the performers: Who will be your essential workforce to get the “new work” done? And the space: where will the workforce work? Mostly from home? Remotely? With less physical presence and interactions with travel restrictions and lockdowns yet a wide open talent pool who can work from any place around the world.

HR will be the moderator and enabler in this rather complex transformation impacting employees in all levels. Communication is key to be resilient as one force and thrive towards the same goal. Good luck to all fellow HR teams!

Ela EROZAN GÜRSEL