Coronavirus presents historic shift to new era of HR

On the first day of the CIPD’s 2021 Festival of Work thought leaders discussed how 2020 hit the reset button for HR and leadership.

Although coronavirus has put a great deal of pressure on HR for over a year now, a panel yesterday (15 June) discussed the new opportunities it has also created.

Clare Chapman, chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Council, said though pandemic has been a harsh teacher for HR teams around the world, people teams have been able to experiment with how they manage their teams.

She said she is pleased to see new ways of working have been pushed to the top of everybody’s agendas.

“People are already more involved in an element of their work that for many, has been previously out of reach,” Chapman said.

Though part of a much bigger mind shift that’s been going on for the past five to 10 years, she added this year in particular has presented HR with real opportunity.

“I think this is a reset moment for all workers, almost a historical moment, that provides people professionals with an opportunity for a new era of HR," she said.

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Peck Kem Low, chief human resources officer and advisor at Singapore’s Public Service Division, said new opportunities are now available to business leaders as well as HR.

Low said: “People who still think we’re going to revert back to how we work pre-pandemic, need to think again.

“A lot of investments into tech and people were made in 2020, and now HR must see how they can take full advantage and utilise this going forward.”

Apart from physical infrastructure, Low said there has been investment into creating cultures that facilitate hybrid work, and HR Needs to keep hold of it.

“It took COVID-19 to make working from home and mass investments into technology possible.

“HR has worked hard to create a culture of trust, by using progressive people practices that some people have not seen before and this cannot be thrown out of the window.

“People teams now need to push forward, using these investments, and carve out a new way of working,” said Low.

Rick Lee, chief people officer at Willmott Dixon, agreed with Low and added that organisations will have no choice but to think differently post-pandemic.

He said: “Businesses will have to experiment and innovate and people professionals will have to take the lead in this and show business leaders they way.

“We [HR] will have to stand up and say ‘I think we need to change how we’re working’ and to explain that the world will not be the same after everything that’s happened over the past year."


HR magazine is reporting from the CIPD's 2021 Festival of Work all week. To stay up to date with any of the discussions you miss, follow us on Twitter for real-time updates and reports.

You can find more of our coverage of this and prior years' conferences here.