What a year has it been for us as HR professionals. Within our areas, it has been chaotic. Some of us plunged to the bottom and could not quite figure the way up, while others though shocked, were nimble and creative enough to ride this wild pandemic bull that was tearing apart our organizations. We fiercely tried to maintain sanity and consistency within our operations.

As we finish the year and continue to tell the stories of what our organizations have been through, it only seems appropriate to reflect and review the lessons learned to ensure our continued success in the years beyond. These lessons should not be taken lightly, though the smoke that this pandemic created, there is quite a bit of value in what we experienced that should be memorialized somewhere in our operations.


Here are 10 lessons that will be memorialized for us based on what we experienced in these pandemic times.

  1. Creating psychological safety is mandatory

Employees were worried about their jobs and/or reduced wages, confused with the uncertainty and ambiguity that loomed over organizations, and some had to make difficult choices, which left organizations struggling to staff critical areas. We were not only our employee’s HR department, but also were their friend, therapist, and shoulder to cry on as they dealt with the impact of COVID on their professional and personal lives. Many times, we ask employees to leave their baggage at the door, but many employees do not have the skills to separate their personal and professional lives and often require additional support at the workplace to help them navigate through their personal crisis.  COVID-19 reminded us of the need to look at the employee through a holistic lens. We had to focus on the employee both as a professional and as a person. The pandemic supported the tremendous benefit of creating a safe psychological space for employees to discuss concerns about their employment and the challenges adjustments of their work had on their personal lives without the fear of repercussions and judgements.


  1. Honesty and transparency is the best policy

As part of providing this safe space was the critical piece of honesty and transparency, not hiding anything from our employees but being open and honest to include letting staff know we may not have the answers, or that we may lose employees due to the uncertainty of the future. A key aspect in not having the answers as HR professionals is to engage employees to brainstorm with us to help develop potential solutions to support continuity of operations. Brene Brown would be proud as this pandemic unleashed the need for HR leaders to be authentic and vulnerable as they managed their employees through such difficult times.


  1. Loyalty and care go hand in hand

When we put employees first, care for them as not just an employee but as a person, there is an increased probability that they will remain loyal to our organizations. Organizations that put purpose and employees before profits tend to weather storms with greater grit and resiliency. Organizations that worked together with their employees to determine how circumstances would allow a win-win for employees as well as the sustenance of the organization, maintained continuity of operations more easily.


  1. Automation needs to be accelerated

As organizations looked for ways to squeeze every penny to maintain their financial viability, many recognized that they are paying workers to do many manual and tedious tasks that could be automated. These employees can be better positioned in the organization for tasks that add substantial value while other tasks should be automated sooner rather than later.


  1. Hire employees with shareable and diverse skills

As we faced employee shortages but needed to maintain critical functions, we saw how important it is to hire employees with shareable skills, cross train employees into at least one other area, as well as maintain a log of shareable skills that we can strategically reposition employees to maximize productivity and ensure continuity of operations.


  1. Agility and adaptability are now the modus operandi

The concept has been floating around for some time now, but the pandemic showed us that it is the businesses that can be nimble and pivot quickly that ensures survivability. Not just in pandemic times but the speed of technology, changing workforce demographics, and the ebbs and flows of the economy require any organization to adapt, adjust, and make drastic changes rapidly to ensure survivability. We cannot become too comfortable with certainty, but as an organization be able to move quickly in response to any situation.


  1. Technological infrastructure is required to support HR structure

Every business turned to the use of technology and digital tools to support continuity of operations and services during the pandemic. Organizations can no longer afford to put their technology infrastructure redesign on hold or wait until they can “afford” it. Funds need to be allocated now to support the new normal of remote work, new requirements customers may want for contactless services, and the use of other digital services. Workers need to be technological savvy and HR departments need to position employees to be versatile and train them accordingly.


  1. Becoming comfortable with the unknown

It is natural human behavior to prefer certainty and predictability because it is exhausting and emotionally terrifying when there are no known knowns. This pandemic showed us more than ever the need to develop resilient employees who are comfortable with the unknown and able to adapt and be flexible when needed. Comfort reduces our capacity to increase our grit. HR needs to support the development of our employees’ mindset to be accepting of pivoting when the unknown hits us. Other skills we need to develop in our employees are stress management, emotional intelligence, and crisis management.


  1. Changing work environment

Many employees are concerned by the new normal, but these circumstances are what breeds creativity, efficiency, and innovations. Necessity is the mother of survival. Do some things need to come back?  If you answer yes, ensure that you are not holding onto old practices just because, but that they are indeed valuable. Review the work and make logical rather than emotional decisions as we determine which practices we will keep and which we would adapt and/or change.


  1. Asking not telling

Whether we need to adjust and pivot business in pandemic or usual operations, instead of telling employees what to do, we should engage with them on their ideas, take time to understand the impact of changes to them, and include them in the final decision making. For example, those that transitioned to remote work, did we expect them to work the same hours? Alternatively, did we ask what would be ideal for them to ensure maximum productivity?

Similarly, instead of just pivoting the business and unsure in which direction we will end, ask customers what they want right now, determine what is meaningful to customers and use their ideas to help you pivot more successfully.

What are some of your lessons learned and how will you ensure you use these for your continued success? Share them with us. mbj


— Nicole Dhanraj is training and development consultant for the HND Consultancy. She is also the certification director for the Guam Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management and can be reached at [email protected].