How a Crisis Unleashes the Human Power to Do the Extraordinary

Coronavirus (COVID-19) employee Future of work office Talent

The pandemic has changed the world of work as we know it—from interactions to decision-making to getting through our day to day. Organizations have had to nurture adaptability and resilience rapidly among their workforces to help maintain business while supporting their employees and maintaining trust.


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Organizations have responded to these challenges in several ways. But a common theme is emerging among those who appear to be thriving where others are simply surviving: Their response is anchored in their purpose and organizational values and how leaders live these values, even in times of crisis, creating a culture that puts humans at the center.

Adapting to a Future of Work That Is Forever Changed

Pre-crisis, most organizations had been on a path to a future of work that was more agile, digital, and people-centered, with an evolving skill need. COVID-19 has accelerated that journey. People services that were once considered “nice to have” are quickly being adopted and implemented. At the same time, organizations have recognized gaps in their people systems, rewards programs, and organizational silos.

In response, they are introducing new initiatives, such as launching mindfulness programs, initiating workforce scenario planning that considers skeleton crews, employee leasing, and collective cooperation with competitors.

The extent to which the future of work changes directly correlates with how long the pandemic lasts. There is every indication it will persist for more than a “storm-type cycle” and that current working conditions will remain for an additional 4 to 6 months or more. This will likely result in a new round of changes as organizations adapt performance review cycles, counseling cycles, rating and pay cycles, training programs, and hiring to a virtual setting.

With the crisis shocking our collective people, process, structure, culture, and technology into new ways of working, there are three areas in which the future of work will likely change forever and for which organizations need to prepare.

1. Protecting and Empowering People

An organization’s ability to pivot is tied to its purpose—the “North Star” that guides difficult decision-making. Leaders need to communicate with clarity and demonstrate a clear, well-defined, and thoughtful approach to stabilize, transition, and emerge. The key to success is to demonstrate true empathy, information, and agility. Leaders need to understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

If leaders are paying attention, if they use change as a catalyst and inspire their people to act, this time of crisis can offer significant opportunities. To do so, leaders need to recognize teams for their hard work, encourage connection and collaboration, and provide insights that are relevant and timely to support the evolving waves of the COVID-19 journey. Mindfulness will become a required attribute for leaders and become an automatic add to change management programs.

2. Maintaining Capability and Capacity

Organizations will reexamine their business strategy and operating models and change what, where, and how work gets done. They will rationalize geographies and office space and reimagine compensation and rewards, spans of control, and work processes. They will also reconsider outsourcing.

To make these shifts, organizations will have to develop new approaches for strategic and operational workforce planning and rethink employee and contingent labor. At the same time, they will have to galvanize their culture and employee experience in both physical and remote work environments.

3. Reimagining the Digital Workforce Experience

Remote work and agile teaming happened at lightning speed in response to the crisis. Companies will have to fortify their capabilities to enable virtual teaming, document sharing, and simultaneous video and chat communications with a history function for teams to refer to.

They will have to shift to digital processes to close the books, recruit and hire talent, and innovate on new products and services. Technology will also be at the heart of ensuring ongoing employee health/safety to support the return to work.

There are daily solutions emerging, including new knowledge-base tools for policies, apps to support tracking health certifications, contact tracing to notify employees of any new exposure, and learning modules to create interactive learning experiences.

Cross-functional collaboration (especially HR and IT) will need to continue to enable these new ways of working to support the reimagined workforce and customer and business experiences.

The Pandemic Is a Catalyst, But Unleashing the Human Power to Do the Extraordinary Is Timeless

Before COVID-19 had entered anyone’s consciousness, EY had designed a new framework: the “Great Eight” traits that make humans extraordinary. These eight human capabilities, when activated in combination, will unleash the best of individuals and teams and therefore unleash organizations.

  1. Trust
  2. Meaningful purpose
  3. Collective cooperation
  4. Imagination
  5. Resilience
  6. Compassion
  7. Happiness
  8. Transformative practice

Throughout the crisis, we have witnessed organizations unconsciously fostering these traits as they contend with the enormity of the pandemic’s impact. Around the world, humans are collaborating with humans and using their imagination to create new solutions to save and improve lives.

A pandemic may have served as the catalyst, but the human power to do the extraordinary is timeless. When we emerge from this crisis, we will find ourselves operating in a very different world of work. We will have to recalibrate everything we do to unleash the full power of humans.

How do we unleash the power of trust and enhance human connections and psychological safety in a physically distanced world? How do we unleash the power of purpose to create a sense of belonging among colleagues who may only occasionally or even never physically meet? How do we unleash the power of collective cooperation through inclusive teaming in a much more distributed organizational construct? How do we unleash the power of imagination in an increasingly distracting work environment?

Organizations that keep employees at the center of these decisions while balancing financial and human capital will not only survive the crisis but also accelerate their recovery and achieve a work environment that unleashes the full potential of their workforce well into the future.

George Brooks leads a team of over 3,000 professionals serving clients across the Americas. With over 30 years of consulting experience, he has sought to innovate the Human Resources service sector.

He led the transformation of EY’s former Human Capital business model into a vastly modernized, more robust, and technologically savvy Americas People Advisory Services (PAS). With a passion for exceptional client service, he and the PAS team deliver leading-edge capabilities and offerings to organizations across the globe. His specialty areas within PAS are Future Work Now and Global People M&A.

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