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The big refreeze: HR’s role in helping organisations adapt post-pandemic, part two


The pandemic has created an extraordinary and shared ‘unfreeze’ as companies grapple with the implications of a health crisis, lockdown and the impact on the economy. The experiments and new ways of working that ensued have provided fertile ground for research in action.

During the pandemic, the research team at the Future of Work Research Consortium used in-depth case studies to track emerging actions from more than 30 companies.

It also analysed quantitative and qualitative data from a series of webinars attended by up to 300 executives from 90 companies. This piece reveals the change journey that executive teams have been engaging with and highlights the four crucial capabilities that HR teams require to support this transition.

The social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has inspired widespread change for many business. Lynda Gratton studies how HR can help organisation consolidate new ways of working

Catch up on part one of this feature here.

Model and test

As executive teams begin to understand the company more deeply and to create greater clarity of what is possible, they embarked on modelling and testing these ideas against several factors.

For example, is the possible model of work future-proofed in terms of demography, technology and social trends? And is the model fair and just? Crucial when there are different employee groups.

Some, like the technology group Sage team, approached this modelling and testing by creating four guiding principles:

  • That any model of work had to be customer-centric in the sense that it enhanced the interface with the customer
  • That any model had to be fair to everyone, from office workers to people out meeting customers
  • That it should build and strengthen human connection
  • And that the redesign of work had to be approached in a spirit of experimentation, being prepared to take risks, make mistakes and learn from their experiences.

Third HR capability -

Experimentation mindset. The capacity to future proof the models of work through the use of insights of the longterm trends (demographic, technological and social) that will shape work and working lives. And the capacity to be open to ideas and to engage with executives on deciding the guiding principles.


Act and create

Finally, I have observed how executives’ teams are engaging with a broad range of stakeholders in processes that gain commitment.

For the team at Sage, this meant setting up a series of workshops across the organisation to engage with employees about the guiding principles and how the new models of work would play out.

Fourth HR capability –
Change management. Supporting leaders to create a narrative, working with team leaders on issues of team agreements and reaching out to employees to gain their insights and buy-in.


From research to reality

This is an extraordinary time in the redesign of work as the pandemic has created the space for new habits, behaviours and assumptions to emerge. Action research will be crucial in plotting the journey organisations are on – the experiments they are launching, the models of work they are engaging with and the emerging challenges and trade-offs they are confronted with.

We have known for decades that the opportunity to work flexibly creates the space for employees to become more autonomous and to develop their sense of personal agency.

There is no doubt that over the coming years some of these experiments will fail and there will be learning in action as executive teams become more adept at designing work which boosts productivity and enhances engagement.


The full article of the above first appeared in the July/August 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.