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As part of HRMAC’s members-only Summer Series, virtual gatherings during which HRMAC members and HR leaders come together to discuss issues affecting HR in Chicago, HRMAC Board of Directors member Carolyn Lind (Global Head of Organizational Effectiveness Consulting, Northern Trust Company) and Chris Root (Partner, Root, Inc.) hosted “Organizational Effectiveness: How the World is Changing the Way We Work”. The event focused on how HR plays an important role in helping to create meaning out of all the chaotic and rapid changes organizations have recently faced, as well as how HR leaders are planning to move their companies forward.

Organized into eight topics, virtual attendees shared their reactions, noted observations, and exchanged questions during the event. Here, we’ve recapped key insight from the community on ways organizations can continue to grow.

It’s important to really think about the future and whether your organization’s purpose actually holds up in the in this new environment – it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Challenging Time for Business

To no one’s surprise, this has been an incredibly challenging time for businesses, with some large, prestigious companies having to file for bankruptcy. However, there have also been companies that were able to adapt to the rapidly changing external environment, such as distilleries making hand sanitizer or clothing manufacturers making face masks. In moderating the discussion Root encouraged participants to share examples of how they’ve been able to successfully pivot after the COVID-19 shut down in March.

One such example came from Chief People Officer at Farmer’s Fridge Lisa Bomrad, who noted, “Our business of selling fresh food in vending machines was hit hard by COVID-19…. so we pivoted and started a direct-to-consumer business. Now that we have actually launched that in our markets, it seems to be doing pretty well.”

Feelings Around Remote Work

With jobs changing based on how people work remotely, Lind shared a report from Zapier that indicates 72% of people are not checking in with their team more than usual, even though 27% say they are working longer hours). With these statistics in mind, HRMAC members discussed how their companies are shifting the approach to remote work.

“Trying to get traction on work-from-home programs [before COVID-19] was impossible. My team and I gave up about three years ago; however, we have now put in a huge amount of time and it’s developing into a full-blown program rollout. It will be impossible for managers to ever walk away from work-from-home policies and programs,” shared Chief Human Resources Officer at Elkay Manufacturing Company Larry Brand.

Adapting Physical Offices

HR experts and architects alike have been visualizing and rendering what returns to the office will look like for employees, including seeing unfamiliar items such as destination controllers, hygiene stations, health screening points, standing room and even reducing amount of bathroom occupants. When asking the group for an example of how they’ve started this process, one participant shared the following considerations:

  • Having employees come in shifts
  • Setting up assigned workstations that rotate based on a cleaning schedule
  • Considering new ways of providing food and basic necessities for associates
  • Implementing temperature checks

We Know We Need to Change … But Can We?

No organization, no matter how profitable, has been safe from having to change. Whether that change is setting up new digital capabilities, pivoting the business structure and plan, or re-structuring the leadership team, event participants posited what ways local organizations have not only changed, but any roadblocks that have or may potentially arise that would hinder the ability to change moving forward.

One organization that is heavily reliant on travel, noted that the biggest pivot wasn’t so much taking people “off the road” but trying to figure out how to actually do business during the pandemic. With more and more clients returning to the office, they now need to restructure once more and are doing so on a case-by-case basis with clients.

Ways to Rapidly Reconfigure Your Workforce

With physical offices and stores being temporarily shut down, there have certainly been creative ways of re-adjusting, and even re-distributing, various employees who had never worked remotely before. While re-deployment is ideal rather than letting an employee go or furloughing, are there effective and efficient ways to reconfigure employee work, or are there long-term consequences that outweigh the benefits?

“As an architecture and design firm, a major sector of focus for us is the workplace, so our teams have been among the experts companies look to as they navigate the eventual return to the office. During this time, our practitioners have been able to leverage existing design and strategy skillsets to create solutions that shape the future of the office, rethinking things like density and physical interactions with space. It’s exciting work that expands their thinking and stretches their talents in ways that will continue to be applicable to future work,” shared Nick Allen, regional HR partner, talent development, at Gensler.

The Shifting Role of the Corporation

Over the past couple of years, there has been a shift in the role and purpose of the organization, and whether the company doesn’t just make a profit but has an overall goal that goes beyond money. Event attendees were asked to share if 2020 has forced a shift in the purpose of the companies represented, or if organizations are now expanding their sense of stakeholders to include the employees and the communities they are in?

One participant commented, positing that doubling down on purpose in any industry is crucial. It’s important to really think about the future and whether your organization’s purpose actually holds up in the in this new environment – it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Creating and Marketing Meaningful Change

The year 2020 has brought about a global movement of racial equality, and many organizations have made public statements which express solidarity with the Black community. However, while press releases condemn racism, many do not allude to any further organizational change and can be seen as “window dressing.” How can HR leaders devise plans that will create concrete and meaningful change?

Some suggestions from the discussion include:

  • Evaluate HR infrastructure policies, procedures, benefits, succession planning practices, talent acquisition practices, and so forth.
  • Do a full-scope, internal audit to discover where there may be things that are not intentionally inclusive enough, and therefore accidentally exclusive.
  • Benchmarking – use an external company or vendor to identify other ideas and best practices.

Can This Crisis Be a Gift?

For the last discussion point, the moderators mentioned a quote from Josh Bersin, which argues that the pandemic has given leaders the opportunity to stand out and organizations a reminder that people are at the center of all business. While not all will see this pandemic as a “gift” in the ways that Bersin describes, what have been the positives local leaders are celebrating amid all of the struggle and hardship?

Here are some positives the group shared:

  • Talent shows up differently.
  • Virtual interactions and Zoom meetings are bringing about different kinds of innovation
  • The workforce is showing a readiness to handle any situation
  • The virtual environment has created an opportunity for us to grow as individuals and professionals.
  • Leading through difficult times has required us to rethink how we deliver our programs and find creative and innovative solutions and workarounds

HRMAC thanks all participating members for their openness, honesty, respect, and insightful conversation during this and all Summer Series events. To check out an upcoming event, click here.