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Dec 9, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

It seems as though many volumes have been written so far advising HR leaders on how best to adjust for a pandemic-driven new normal. Combined with internal knowledge, developing and implementing best practices should be easy.

It’s not, though. Executing a dramatic pivot is hard. And it’s astonishing that anyone’s progressing at all in the face of the irony that rests in the tired phrase “new normal.” We all know there’s nothing routine, ordinary, predictable, or remotely normal in what we’re dealing with. New or old.

If you and your organization are challenged to put HR best practices into play that reflect the major shifts reshaping our environments, there are reasons for it. There are also ways to work past this to get things done. Here’s how to look at it all.

Change Is Never Easy

Let’s start with the business of change management, which in old, normal times could be daunting — never mind today.

Typically, managing change effectively requires tackling many priorities simultaneously, using a variety of approaches often dictated by areas of responsibility. Pushing so many priorities through the process at once not only spreads resources and skills to manage the change processes thin; it also causes widespread disruption.

More disruption added to pandemic-induced disruption can lead even the most disciplined of organizations to function less smoothly. The ability to manage change is severely hampered in organizations that lack strong risk management functions or business continuity plans to help them get ahead of the curve. They may become overwhelmed into inaction.

And Then There’s Compliance

Managing the changing regulatory environment over leave entitlements and other issues triggered by Covid-19 is also challenging. As is making inflexible remote working policies flexible, especially for those balancing childcare or eldercare. As is ensuring equitable “work from anywhere” compensation policies. It’s a lot.

The pandemic is giving rise to more nuanced, complex problems. Often there are too many unknowns involved for traditional problem-solving to help. It may take a different, more collaborative mindset that draws on collective intelligence in your organization to find solutions and actually get down to making changes.

And finally, it’s not just the lack of financial resources that can hold you back. If you’re in a smaller organization, you may be wearing a lot of hats — finance, HR, compliance, and now pandemic safety monitor, too. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants and feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

What Works

Instead of trying to implement wholesale changes on a major scale, take manageable steps. And remember: Every department of your company has a stake in the policies and procedures that HR puts in place to ensure a healthy future in the (eventual) post-pandemic world. So, let them help you drive change.

Additionally, if you lack HR resources, consider looking to national or regional HR organizations, which do a great job helping professionals advance. Their bulletins, magazines, and webinars cater to the varied functions within HR, from benefits to human capital management.

And don’t underestimate the potential of employee assistance programs. Not only do they have good materials to share with workers on issues like dealing with work-life stress, but their counseling services can be invaluable as mental health issues escalate during the pandemic.

Generally, it’s important to focus on the notion of collective intelligence to solve the unprecedented challenges that have arisen. There’s a diversity of experiences and knowledge among employees throughout your organization. Why not flatten your hierarchy and tap into your workforce to brainstorm new and improved ways to get things done?

While you’re at it, why not assemble a cross-functional planning team? A lot of stakeholders have an interest in HR’s efforts to put the organization and employees in the best position possible for what’s ahead. HR would benefit by continuing to oversee planning efforts, but forming a cross functional team — which might include legal, finance, operations, IT, etc. — can add vital perspective to the decision-making process. This would also be one way of keeping lines of communications open among departments and on top of new developments. 

These are difficult times. Unprecedented times. We’re up against a once-in-a-lifetime (let’s hope) set of circumstances. Thankfully, here are ways to get past the barriers once you open yourself to the possibilities.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.