How the Pandemic Changed the Role of Human Resources. Here’s What We Think.

Team Effectiveness

How has HR changed in the last two and a half years?

How has HR changed in the last two and a half years?

In our opinion, the answer is: a great deal. And, the news is positive. As a leader in HR, your star is in the ascendant. The look and feel of the Human Resources department in the wake of the pandemic has been transformed.

So, THIS is your moment to shine.

In this blog we take a look at our human and professional response to the deadly virus. And what lessons we learned for the workplace, going forwards?

The Pandemic – And How We Responded.

As HR transformation specialists, we saw first-hand the dramatic and rapid transformations forced on our professional and personal lives by the virus. It shook our world; took lives before their time, forced a re-evaluation of how we lived and worked and reset everything we had taken for granted. Shocked and stunned by events, the word “unprecedented”, whilst undoubtedly taking top billing as the cliché of 2020, defined that extraordinary time.

Unable to leave the house unless for limited periods, life as we knew it almost ground to a halt. Freeze-framed, we looked around us – and nothing was the same.

Suddenly, almost overnight, restaurants and cafes closed, roads and streets were deserted. Likewise, offices closed their doors. The world of work was just about to undergo a change unlike any other.

“You Must Stay at Home”

And so, we did.

In organisations up and down the land, and worldwide, there was hardly a single business function that wasn’t significantly impacted by Covid-19. But during this time, ONE function above all went through a seismic shift in its purpose, form, function - HR – and, how people perceived its relevance and importance.

Let’s briefly wind back.

It’s always hard to generalise. However, in our view, the pre-pandemic role of HR focused mainly on processes, productivity and efficiency.  

All fine, but not necessarily influential or strategic.

The Covid-19 pandemic threw employers and employees into chaos, and, let’s be honest, into panic.  

Plus, at the time it felt there was no end in sight. Everything was upended and within a brief period, it became abundantly clear: for a business to keep operating, it had to focus on its people – keeping them working effectively, but also officially – maybe even for the first time – becoming mindful of their wellbeing.

WFH …Is Here. Or Is it?

For those that could, working from their bedrooms, kitchens or dining rooms became the norm. Across the board, HR spearheaded their workforce’s digital working environment and the remote IT and technological functionality that made it possible.

The focus? Productivity, naturally, but now also on employees’ mental and physical health.

Without warning, being isolated and separated from your friends and a normal routine in the office was suddenly a big issue.

Equally, HR needed to consider people’s personal circumstances: childcare, vulnerable family members, staff members contracting the virus, physical impact from unsuitable working environment, mental health issues, long working hours and so on. Supportive health and wellbeing programmes were quickly made available for many employees.

The good news was that remote tools and apps enabled workers to “sign in”, thus assisting in scheduling needs, even factoring in personal circumstances. The result, greater visibility, transparency and a feeling of being trusted.


Nevertheless, things were far from easy for companies where home-based working was impossible. The role of HR became even more challenging.

During the pandemic, certain areas of the UK suffered more than others.  

How do you protect your valuable workforce in Covid-heavy regional hot spots?

Likewise, without robust data, how can you measure resource problems in one location in any meaningful way? How can you move your employees to other locations and sites to “fill the gaps”? Add to this, safety considerations, lockdown rules, and the sudden need to self-isolate for 10 days, it was clear to see that the role of HR became extremely difficult.

Having always held a vital role, HR departments who maximised their technology and data were, to a degree, able to re-imagine and re-design a brave new world. Multi-dimensional modelling around data allowed Human Resources to become key strategic players.

Now, they could be pro-active, supporting the C-Suite with essential information to keep an organisation on its toes.

How Else Did Covid Impact on HR? And, On Their End Users?

Instantaneous furlough. Or, so it appeared. HR’s involvement led the way. Those on furlough may have felt excluded, and isolated. Even expendable . Those picking up the slack – overworked and resentful. HR not only made furlough happen, it also put clear communication processes in place that focused on how people were feeling.

Managing remote teams and hybrid working. HR has played a key role in enabling our contemporary half-in, half-out office life.

Championing new learning. Technology lies at the heart of at-home working, and HR has been central to selecting and implementing it. Not to mention on the training required.

Understanding life experiences. HR is all about people, so recognising what employees went through has been highly effective, not only regarding their jobs, but also in their personal lives.

Now Is Your Time to Keep Shining

In many ways, the pandemic emphasised the people part into your role as an HR Director. You rose to the challenge and became the star. But, you need to keep shining.  

Whilst your department is still responsible for business as usual, as a leader, you now have a bigger role: to understand the challenges your employees face, perhaps even what their struggles are inside and outside of work.

Why? Because this acknowledgement gives managers a strong advantage: a people-first way of seeing things, and a way to demonstrate empathy. And empathy is one of the major hallmarks of a great leader.

The “great resignation” is now the challenge for HR as employees re-evaluate what they really want from work and life.

The Case for Investment

In our view, the right systems and processes helps to retain staff, deliver efficiencies and support growth.

In addition, to maintain your polar strategic position, we can help you make a business case for an investment into a data system that’s customised to your needs. Knowledge is power, and the employee experience is a large part of what digital transformation means.

You are where you are. Change was forced on your company, with no notice at all. In a crisis, you stepped up to the mark and made things better. Your responsibilities were put into crystal-clear focus. Your status – not to put too fine a point on it, elevated.

How would you like to stay there, or go even higher?

Get in touch with FiveRivers Consulting for more information.

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