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Live today: Eugenio Pirri, chief culture and people officer at Dorchester Collection, gives tips, takeaways and thoughts to help you on your COVID-19 HR journey

What will return to work look like in hospitality? What should be in your COVID-19 employee toolkit? Join our webcast with Eugenio Pirri today at 16.00 today to get actionable insights that you can use today.

“The biggest role I have now is how to motivate the 80% of people that are at home at the moment,” Eugenio Pirri, chief culture and people officer at international luxury hotel group Dorchester Collection, told me ahead of a live webcast with The People Space today.

With nearly all the employee population furloughed in a sector that is likely to be one of the last to return to some ‘normality’, whatever that may mean going forward, engagement and safety are top of mind for Pirri.

Register to hear his insights, tips and techniques today on:

  • Making the right decision in a business that went from multi-million revenue to zero in a few weeks
  • Maintaining learning and development through difficult times
  • Engaging through volunteering
  • Tips for helping employees with mental health and wellbeing
  • What needs to be in your employee toolkit to help them through COVID-19
  • What return to work will look like in hospitality
  • Plus, get exclusive downloadable resources during the live webcast

Pirri is talking as governments across the world start to relax lockdowns, with mixed results. In the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson last night said people who could not work from home – including those in the manufacturing and construction industries – should return to the workplace but avoid public transport.

This led to professor Trish Greenhalgh, a health care expert from the University of Oxford, telling the BBC that we could find ourselves in the "worst of both words" by both trying to move forward and kickstart the economy) while maintaining the lockdown is effectively still in place. It’s the "have cake and eat it" approach, she says.

Employees appear to agree. According to research released on Saturday from the UK’s CIPD, 44% of employees feel anxious about returning to their workplace because of COVID-19. This comes hot on the heels of research from Ipsos Mori showing more than 60% of would be uncomfortable about going to bars and restaurants, or using public transport; some 40% would be reluctant to go shopping or send their children back to school; and more than 30% are worrying about going to work or meeting friends. It is clear that managing the next phase of the pandemic is going to be challenging.

Given this, how can HR start to prepare for return-to-work across different sectors? What techniques in terms of communication, remote working, health and wellbeing and leadership are working for them in this new environment – and which are not?

How is HR dealing with the accelerated nature of work change, and how are employers pivoting their businesses? How is HR helping furloughed workers use their time productively and keep their skills sharp? How can you protect your employer brand? And what are HR leaders’ own coping mechanisms during this challenging time?

These are all questions I will be putting to some of the best HR leaders in their sectors over a series of focused, daily webcasts we are running at The People Space this week in conjunction with management consultancy 10Eighty (11-15 May, 16.00 BST/11.00 ET). These are designed to give attendees practical, actionable tips and insights directly from those ‘doing the job’.

In advance of the sessions, I spoke to the participants to get their views on the impact COVID-19 is having on them, their HR functions and their organisations.

Nalin Miglani, EVP and CHRO of $1bn revenue New York-based operations management and analytics company EXL, says he suddenly realised that the crisis had resulted in the building of a whole new HR organisation. In fact, EXL has seen productivity increase over the period of the pandemic as it shifted some 25,000 people to remote working.

One key outcome of the crisis has been the widespread recognition of the value of those so called ‘low-skilled’ workers who have been so essential to enable society to function. Quite rightly we are visibly and volubly acknowledging NHS workers and, somewhat belatedly, carers, but there are also all those in retail, distribution and warehousing who enable us to continue to get food and other essentials. As organisational development director at one of the world’s largest fresh produce providers, €6bn revenue Total Produce, David Frost tells me, his role has become one of “communication conduit”. With many of its employees still working, health and safety is of upmost importance.

At the other extreme, award-winning UK pub and microbrewery chain Brewhouse and Kitchen has shut its doors entirely. Hayley Connor, head of people and learning, says keeping talent staff motivated is front of her mind, together with developing ways to help people prepare and plan for continued uncertainty.

What is clear is this pandemic has accelerated change in business and HR. What will the post-pandemic economy look like? Yes, many are calling for a return to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. But I would like to think we won’t just go back to the ‘old ways of doing things’.

We have an opportunity to use this situation for long-term transformation. Just as it is unlikely consumers will ditch new purchase behaviours (think online shopping and streaming), so employees are unlikely to want to go back to these old ways of working. And as we know, those companies that capitalise on these new trends faster than their competition will be the winners.

Michael Moran, CEO and founder of 10Eighty who I am interviewing on Friday 15 May, believes COVID-19 has unleashed the power of people. “If we try to go back to the old ways of working we’ll face a people revolution,” he says. Vive Le Revolution!

Siân Harrington is co-founder and editorial director of The People Space. To see more and register for the webcast series this week (11-15 May 2020) please click here.