7 March 2022

How has coronavirus changed how we work?

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world, with far-reaching implications for the workplace — HR leaders, in turn, have shifted their mindset towards a more flexible, people-first approach for business continuity


David Kelly

David Kelly


Future of Work HR transformation Leadership and management Technology


The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the world, with far-reaching implications for the workplace — HR leaders, in turn, have shifted their mindset towards a more flexible, people-first approach for business continuity

In 2020, the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the globe like wildfire. Countries were forced into a lockdown to slow down the progression of the virus, which led organisations to re-think the way they do business. To adapt, workplace and workforce management practices rapidly evolved towards a more flexible approach.

Sadly, as the world faces the second wave of the pandemic, uncertainty is rampant. Now, more than ever before, HR leaders must apply everything they have learned from the first Covid-19 wave, to maximise business continuity. Those who fail to take their workforce management to the next level will be at risk of being left behind and potentially expose their organisation and workers to financial distress.

We look at several workforce management takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis.

1. Remote work is doable

Before the Covid-19 crisis, organisations were reluctant to consider remote work options. Employers and HR leaders were concerned about how they would manage their workers and were unsure if they would be able to maintain their productivity level. Added to that were the technological implications to manage a workforce remotely. Some organisations were simply not aware of the number of collaboration tools that were already available to the market.

The pandemic has pushed organisations to take the leap of faith and, rightfully-so, they now report very positive results – HP reported their real estate use dropped by 62% when they turned to remote work. On a similar note, Microsoft shared that they were able to onboard 30% more staff using the same office space. Best Buy found that their workforce is 35% more productive when working remotely. Following the positive returns, Twitter and Square now allow all their employees to permanently work from home if they want to.

2. Communication is key

As the Covid-19 virus spread and organisations turned to remote work, organisations realised that their communication practices were ineffective. Communicating exclusively by email is not necessarily the most efficient way to reach out to employees, especially in a large enterprise organisation, or you need an immediate response. This has prompted organisations to look for more dynamic tools – Microsoft Teams recently reported 115 million daily active users – a massive jump from their 75 million daily users only six months ago.

Fine-tuning your workforce communication strategy is essential, regardless of the pandemic’s situation. While there is no one-size-fits-all plan, with the technology currently available, there will be a solution that works best for your organisation. According to your needs, test different tools, review what has worked and discard what has not.

3. Employee wellbeing is important

Mental health and wellbeing are paramount. The coronavirus outbreak has placed enormous pressure on employers and employees alike. With the uncertainty faced by many, the wellbeing of individuals and society as a whole has been greatly affected. For instance, a recent study by the World Health Organization has found that 45% of health workers in China are suffering from anxiety and 50% of them show signs of depression.

To ensure that the overall business operations face less disruption, an HR leader must do their best to ease down the pressure on their workers. Having an employee wellness program in place could make your workers more apt to deal with stressful situations. Additionally, many organisations will need to re-assess their objectives and adjust employees’ workload accordingly to avoid overworking and burnouts.

4. Using the right technology for the new normal

Having the right technology in place is more important than ever and may be the difference between organisations that have seamlessly transitioned to remote work and those lagging. As an HR leader, you need to assess your business needs and look for the technology options that can smooth down the process. For example, if the human resource department is finding it hard to manage remote workers, staff shifts and sick leave, using an app that helps with employee scheduling can considerably ease off the pressure.

It is never too late to invest in technology. If you were previously unprepared, now is the time to assess how your operations were affected by the coronavirus crisis and tap into technology to fix these loopholes. This can help your organisation be ready to meet upcoming challenges and adapt accordingly. Still, keep in mind that whenever you are introducing new tools or software, you must ensure that your workforce is properly trained to use them efficiently.

5. Having a plan B is crucial

The Covid-19 outbreak has shown that many organisations do not have a plan B – a survey by People Management reports that two out of five organisations have no contingency plan. Similarly, many retailers and restaurants were completely caught off-guard and were unable to cater to the demand as lockdowns eased down. Those who had a contingency plan were able to take orders online and provide delivery or curbside pickup services.

Having a backup plan is an investment in the future of your organisation. If you do not have a plan B, your organisation will most likely experience major downtime when facing unexpected scenarios. Making your organisation future-proof starts with having a solid battle plan to meet the demand, regardless of the situation.

6. Sick employees must stay home

A survey by Robert Half reveals some alarming trends concerning sick employees – nine out of ten employees have gone to work while sick at least once, while 33% of employees always go to work even if they are ill. The main reason to go to work when sick was having too much work to do, according to the same survey. The Covid-19 pandemic emphasises how dangerous this practice really is.

The need for sick workers to stay at home and avoid infecting the public or their colleagues has never been greater. Gradually, many countries are adopting new laws to encourage sick workers to take their time off. While these policies will greatly vary from country to country, your organisation must anticipate that more of these mandates will follow suit, such as paid sick leave. Specialist HR software will help you manage sick leave more efficiently.

7. Trust and transparency are essential

Historically, an organisation’s human resource department is considered as the ‘watchdog’ of the organisation. Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic has very likely altered this statement. Given the uncertainty we are all facing, this crisis period has required all of us to be supportive of one another and consequently changed the workforce management approach.

Rigid control over workers has gradually given way to trust, as all staff members are learning how to go about their work with far less oversight. At a time where social distancing is a norm, enabling teams to collaborate remotely has become a top priority. Ironically, this situation has encouraged employees from different departments to hold regular meetings and get closer. Transparency at all levels could well be the special ingredient that keeps the ball moving in a productive direction.

Looking ahead

All the lessons we learned from the coronavirus episode show that we have the innate ability to evolve and adapt. The Covid-19 pandemic is very likely one of the most unexpected business scenarios of the past decade. Yet, it has been a catalyst to the business world and accelerated the future of work. The situation has created opportunities for organisations looking to do things differently and has encouraged us to proactively anticipate everything that can go wrong. The information and limitations we faced during the pandemic will help us better plan for the future and ensure we have business continuity.

David Kelly is the General Manager for EMEA at Deputy, a software company that provides cloud-based workforce management and scheduling platform to more than 200,000 workplaces globally. David is proud to lead an ambitious and enthusiastic team that supports a rising number of new customers across the EMEA region.