HomeLeadershipCOVID-19: HR’s role in creating the business of the future

COVID-19: HR's role in creating the business of the future

  • 4 Min Read

HR’s responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic is not only to support their business in the short term, but to use this opportunity to design the business of the future. Jon Ingham, HRD Thought Leader and author of ‘The Social Organization’, examines how the new future of work could unfold.

Featured Image

Many readers will currently be engaged in delivering urgent and essential if short-term and transactional responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Whilst it is important that these initiatives are undertaken effectively, just for their own sake, we should also be looking out for opportunities to take some short-term actions in ways which will build the type of organisation we want over the longer-term.

One example of this relates to the number of people suddenly remote who have been faced with the need to communicate largely or solely through digital technologies. Organisations which have been promoting use of digital and social communication tools for years with not that much success have now found adoption levels shooting up. The digital workplace has now become the organisation for many people.

Of course, organisational culture and behaviours are still lagging behind use of the digital tools. Not all managers are comfortable trusting their people without overseeing their work. For example, I have heard several examples of managers asking their team to connect on a 9am to 5pm Zoom meeting so the manager can still observe their progress.

Nevertheless, people are now using digital technologies to connect, interact and contribute in new and more flexible ways. For example, a number of my clients have seen a need for people to move more rapidly to implement short-term responses to the current crisis. This has often meant them connecting across the organisation to get new tasks done, or the same tasks performed in different ways. And in at least one case, people have found themselves able to act more quickly than they would have done when they were being supported, but perhaps also constrained, by being based in the same office.

Connections are starting to form across departments, business units, locations and geographies. However, most communication is still happening within traditional organisational units, especially functional departments. The digital tools allow much more distributed communication but we’re still mainly using the tools, and doing much of the communication, in largely centralised ways.

It has been clear for some time that organisations need to be more decentralised and / or distributed, and the tools people are now using has given them the ability to do this. However, making this change work needs some broader changes in the organisation, its culture and leadership behaviours.

This is largely about moving to a more distributed way of organising people and work. In particular, it is about looking at opportunities to shift the formal organisation architecture, building on the use of hierarchical functions with more use of horizontal teams, communities and distributed networks. And the simplest way of doing this, given the environment we’re in, is to encourage more distributed use of the digital tools people are now using, and seeking to organise around these new modes of working.

We don’t want to mandate the use of distributed networks in the way we have managed top-down hierarchies, but we can monitor digital communications and the formation of digital communities, and nudge and facilitate these as appropriate. As these groups develop, we can also begin to resource and support them as, but also differently to, the way we resource and support traditional organisational hierarchies.

This will mean that eventually, more work will be being performed through decentralised teams and communities and distributed networks, leading to a more innovative, flexible and resilient organisation. Our digital tools then become simply the mechanism that support these organisational groups rather than being the new organisation in themselves.

HR leaders need to take advantage of this opportunity, firstly to help ongoing communication during the pandemic, but also secondly, to build a more effective organisation which will be better aligned with the future of work.

Subscribe to HRD Connect for daily updates on the future of work, including thought leadership, video interviews, the HRD Live Podcast and more.

Was this article helpful?

Subscribe to get your daily business insights

Related Articles

Empowering HR leadership in the era of lean organizations

In a rapidly evolving business landscape, lean principles have emerged as a transformative force. While designed to maximize efficiency and customer...

  • Liam Joyce
  • Nov 14, 2023

Closing the HR-to-CEO gap: unlocking HR’S potential to enhance strategic impact

The last few years have seen a stream of problems for HR: the challenges of the pandemic, widespread quitting and layoffs, a move to hybrid work and...

  • Sergio Pieterse
  • Sep 21, 2023

Increasing HR's influence through social imitation and affiliation

Recent trends in working conditions and employment patterns have highlighted the importance of planning for employee needs in the overall...

  • Dr. Amanda Nimon-Peters
  • May 25, 2023

Creating a change agent network: Building a transformation powerhouse 

How adept is your company at change? The pace of change in today's world is like a speeding bullet train, moving quickly and relentlessly toward an...

  • Rishita Jones
  • Feb 21, 2023

Why improving HR can boost business performance

How much does HR’s work contribute to overall business results? This is a challenging question, given all the variables that impact business...

  • HRD Connect
  • Nov 15, 2021

Dave Ulrich on mental health imperatives for organisations and leaders

Millions have physically felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (tragically over 5 million lives have been lost, with 250 million cases reported...

  • Dave Ulrich
  • Nov 9, 2021

Dave Ulrich: The trade-offs between in-person and virtual work

A number of excellent research efforts (see the outstanding curation of this work by David Green and Sian Harrington) address emerging organisational...

  • Dave Ulrich
  • Oct 12, 2021

Why creativity belongs at the core of workplace culture

Across sectors, today's organisations require a level of flexibility, originality and responsiveness in all levels of the workforce, to help tackle...

  • Charlotte Sword
  • Oct 7, 2021

Events

HRD Roundtable: Combating 'Quiet Quitting'…

08 June 2023
  • E-Book
  • May 12, 2023

HRD Network Roundtable: The Retention…

15 June 2023
  • E-Book
  • May 12, 2023

Manage change and drive value…

01 June 2023
  • E-Book
  • May 12, 2023
Sign up to our Newsletter