Preparing for the New Normal

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Over the last couple of weeks, as part of the “Preparing for The New Normal” online networking sessions with Maureen Brown of Sullivan Brown and Julia Smith from People Science Consulting, we’ve had the privilege to talk to (and to see into the homes and to even meet the pets of!) over 60 senior HR professionals.

We’ve shared:

  • how we’ve all had to react to the COVID-19 pandemic and the different challenges that it has presented to us;
  • what it has meant for our organisations and the people within them;
  • what it has meant in terms of our roles as practitioners; and
  • the focus which will be needed on the future challenges in relation to the world of work.


It has been fascinating and inspirational to see how different organisations are meeting the unprecedented situations that the pandemic presents. It is also clear that we can all gain in strength from sharing our good and bad experiences, the uncertainties and challenges that we face, the solutions we have each come up with and our hopes (and fears) for the future.

Everybody who has taken part in the discussions so far has been happy for us to share our learnings more widely. This is the first in a series of blog posts that we will produce over the coming weeks and months to do so. If you enjoy it or find it of any use at all, please do share it with your networks. Please also feel free to comment and to add to the pool of ideas and views that we hope to create.

We’ve also committed to facilitating and keeping the dialogue going for as long as there is felt to be a benefit.

So, what are the common themes that have come from our discussions so far?

Experiences in relation to the move to remote and/or flexible working:

  • Lots of organisations have been trying to implement remote or flexible working strategies for a long time and the response needed to the pandemic has proven that it can be done quickly and for most the technology works well. Meetings have become more productive and have dragged on for less time, with many valuing the time gained from not having to travel to meetings.
  • One contributor referred to the huge changes within their organisation meaning the need for them to challenge what “good” looks like and to articulate that (and how it will change over time) to their workforce.
  • While we heard that many leadership teams are seeing an opportunity to do things differently, others are keen to ‘return to normal’ and get people ‘back to work’, physically in the workplace. This is a source of concern for some of our participants as they consider how to balance the expectations of their CEOs and the needs and concerns of their employees. HR has an important influencing role here, and not always an easy one.
  • Trust has been a barrier to remote working in the past, but organisations have had no choice other than to trust and rely on employees to get the job done. For some, this remains an ongoing area of uncertainty, particularly where there has been less of a culture of employees working remotely and an expectation from senior management that things will just revert to the way they were before the crisis. For many, a huge positive to come out of the situation is that their Chief Executives and senior managers can see that people can be trusted and are being productive. There has been a lot of optimism in our discussions that this will be an ongoing and positive factor for the future. We loved one contributor’s anecdote: “It’s working so well. Staff productivity is up and it’s achieved a change in 3 weeks that would have taken 2 years under normal circumstances. My Chief Executive has said that we cannot go back to the way we were and need to harness this for the future.”
  • Flexibility is also a commonly used word, with the wish to preserve that spirit going forwards. This has been shown in the response to the pandemic and needs to be maintained in terms of communication, process/automation and roles.
  • One contributor referred to their role as having been that of creating a “connected community” which links the business, the people, the wellbeing, the social and communication threads that would otherwise be available in the workplace.

The importance of listening to the employee and customer/client voices:

  • In terms of employee voice, the consensus has been that listening to our people has been more important than ever. It is a core aspect of taking care of physical and psychological safety. The swift moves needed to fundamentally change many working arrangements have meant that consulting, listening and feedback gathering have been (and remain a core focus) for formulating and implementing plans and decisions.
  • Some organisations have been using targeted, pulse surveys to supplement “face to face”/telephone contact – with great insights and ideas for immediate and future change coming back from their teams. One contributor referred to their approach of needing to remove any assumptions as to how your people think and through being transparent with them about the challenges the organisation faces.
  • Others are already considering the future in terms of the re-shaping of their organisations based on both customer/client and colleague behaviours changing. In some organisations HR Directors are being involved by colleagues in discussions with customers/clients, sharing ideas and also thinking about how both organisations will have a relationship in future and how those customers/clients will then need to be serviced.
  • A number of employers felt that they had achieved a substantial amount with pragmatic and practical support from the trade unions that they recognise. Hope was expressed by some that this could be the catalyst for a new type of relationship with trade unions. There has been a common enemy and Unions/Companies are collaborating more and in different ways. It will be interesting for the future employee relations landscape if this is possible, particularly if employers have to reorganise their businesses as we emerge from the pandemic.

Planning for “the return” and the holistic need for strategic workforce planning:

  • When and how to get people back to work is a consistent challenge for people. The consistent words that we heard about employees current feelings across all sectors were that a large number are scared and fearful of returning to work.
  • It is likely that the Government will provide a “freedom within a framework” approach for organisations to manage their activities over the course of the pandemic. The need for multi-disciplinary teams in this area, with a high level of HR voice, is of great importance in planning the next stages for all contributors.
  • More/better strategic workforce planning is required as resource needs have and will continue to be volatile/unpredictable but also based on changes in customer/client behaviour. Can we assume that the high levels of productivity many have experienced from people working from home will continue after the lockdown is relaxed? What do we know and what can we use to plan for the future – do we need a range of plans based on a range of staged exits from lockdown, say 3, 6 or 9 months?
  • The idea of building back better is a common consideration. Using the experience of the pandemic and considering the amount that any organisation collectively “consumes” will and must be used help in the planning that will be needed to deal with the environmental challenges that we still need to face globally. A concern is that we cannot and must not just let people go back to the way things were before without questioning the value to the organisation.

Providing employees and their managers with support:

  • People’s psychological needs have changed over the course of lockdown, vary greatly and will continue to need to be a point of focus for many months. A common question was how do organisation’s go about fulfilling them?
  • On this basis wellbeing will be a massive topic. One contributor expressed the dilemma as “How do we continue to understand and support wellbeing needs (which will be different for frontline carers vs people who have been furloughed or who are working but their roles are diminished currently)?” Many contributors are also helping with financial wellbeing support, with many commenting that the EAP uptake from colleagues and their family is significantly increased and with positive feedback on the help provided from those accessing the services.
  • We particularly loved one contributor’s reference to the need to move into a phase of digital fluency. If trust and technology is no longer a barrier, the next thing to tackle is digital fluency and making sure that parts of the workforce are not left behind.
  • Several contributors have used virtual inductions in order to on-board new colleagues during the lockdown. The technology has worked well, but the colleague interactions appear to have been more mixed, with it being difficult for relationships to be quickly established and it being easy for new colleagues to become forgotten.

Planning for the future:

  • Some contributors said that the pandemic has made them start to question what role their workplaces serve and even the notion of what is work and its role in people’s lives. As well as environmental concerns, many felt that the shared experience of their workforces means that they will be able to ask and receive genuine feedback on what it is their people value, what motivates them and what they want from their work and careers.
  • Being authentic and maintaining the culture of the organisation remains key to maintaining employee engagement. People having long memories, with fairness being a key consideration not just in relation to the way in which they are treated, but also how their colleagues are treated.


Maureen Brown, MD of HR Recruitment Specialists Sullivan Brown Resourcing Partners welcomes Julia Smith of People Science Consulting and Chris Maddock of Muckle LLP to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented when planning during the Covid 19 pandemic and beyond.

Click here to listen.


If you would like help or advice on any  legal issues when preparing for the new normal then please contact Chris Maddock on 0191 211 7919 or email [email protected]

The Power of Collaboration

The sessions have, so far, been an opportunity to share experience, ideas, challenges, and hopes. One thing is certain, no-one has been in this position before, and as the situation constantly changes, sharing of expertise will be key to leading people through these unprecedented times. Whilst the details vary from organisation to organisation, may of the key themes and challenges are consistent so collaboration, at this time, will be a key enabler.

So what’s next?

It’s vital to move the conversation forward in order to keep pace with the changing political, social and business position. We’ve identified the key themes during the initial session and are now pleased to open the following sessions for registration:

  1. Tuesday 12th May People Focus – The importance of Engagement, Communication and creating Psychological Safety in an evolving, virtual world.
    Ryan Tahmassebi, Director of People Science at Hive, David Barber, Owner of Spark Consultants (experts in helping organisations communicate with their people) and Julia Smith, Owner of People Science Consulting will lead this interactive session
  2. Thursday 14th May Planning Focus – Planning for the ‘Comeback’ and the Importance of Strategic Workforce Planning. Practitioner Insight.
    Sharon Findlay, Global Talent Anticipation & Future of Work Leader and Margo Slattery, Global Diversity & Inclusion Officer for Sodexo will share their experience of ‘back to work planning’, expertise in strategic workforce planning, and how to maintain inclusion when managing the important process to help predict an unpredictable future
  3. Tuesday 19th May Project Focus – Leading Toward a New Future. Practitioner Insight.
    Lindi Teate, Corporate Services Director for NBS shares a robust, and collaborative project management approach to preparing the organisation and their people for the post-pandemic world.
  4. Thursday 21st May Legal FocusConsidering the legal structures around managing change.
    Chris Maddock and Lisa Kelly from our employment team will share their views and answer questions on the next phase of challenges employers are likely to face in relation to the management of change within their businesses. (Attendees will be able to submit any questions in advance for this session if they wish)
  5. Tuesday 26th May Leadership Focus – The importance of culture, working collaboratively with Leaders and supporting the development of Managers in an evolving, virtual world.Emma Cotton, MD of Innovation Central will share her experience of developing Managers to be successful in a virtual world, and how to use this experience to shape future people & business plans.

All sessions are 10am – 11am, other than Thursday the 14th of May, which starts at 10.30am. We may arrange more sessions due to demand.

Please contact [email protected] to register your interest.