The COVID-19 crisis heightened and amplified the prevalent need for HR to pivot in a profound way. “Shelter in place” mandates across the US challenged HR leaders to instantaneously address a myriad of complex issues across the talent pipeline. Following office closure communications, HR found solutions to support a wide variety of talent commitments. HR was able to honor start dates for new hires who that were eager to begin their employee journey, as well as support thousands of tenured employees, who became instant remote workers, requiring access to training and digital tools, to perform in this virtual odyssey. HR supported essential workers, who were physically reporting to work, by establishing new protocols and policies as well as significantly reconfigured the physical workspace to ensure a safe environment. The HR pivot required pace, a consistent and continuous speed to support all.

An entire workforce needed to quickly absorb new ways of doing their jobs and preserving personal well-being. COVID-19 was the catalyst for HR to embrace a more tech-enabled culture and a much more empathic approach to best support our people. Specifically, HR teams redesigned and relaunched talent management practices by creating enhanced virtual approaches to (1) Interviewing, (2) Onboarding, (3) Skill Training (4) Meeting Management, (5) Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. In just five “COVID- months,” from mid-March to Mid-August, five virtual and vital talent management practices were embraced, out of necessity, and in warp speed are becoming the new go-forward standard in talent management. With support and alignment between leaders and HR during this crisis, a new way of delivering a more empathic employee experience emerged.

COVID-19 was the catalyst for HR to embrace a more tech-enabled culture and a much more empathic approach to best support our people

Calculated in “COVID-months,” an incredibly fast rate of technology adoption was reached, as measured by the incredible pace at which new tools and platforms were acquired and used across the organization. It is this adoption rate (change in behavior) that quickly enabled and encouraged employees at every level of the organization to better self-navigate and increase both comfort and reliance on new tools and ways of getting stuff done. In many cases, technology was in place pre-COVID but was not fully embraced and leveraged. The COVID crisis was a catalyst for this tech-enabled culture and HR is on board with the digital transformation.

HR came to the virtual table with scalable solutions that put employee well -being as the top priority and resisted the outdated HR tendency to spoon-feed and hand-hold. The belief that we must have everyone physically in the same conference room every time we have an important announcement or activity has been effectively challenged. The practice of limiting options to interview a candidate or delaying the start of a new employee because the classroom for Day 1 orientation is at capacity, is no longer a constraint. With travel bans, and work from home directives, Learning and Development (L&D) teams cancelled classes and responded with rapid migration of classroom content online. A welcomed change that highlights the ongoing need for training that is flexible, immediately accessible, and enables employees to pick up skills in the context in which they are being used. Talent Review Meetings that were paper intensive half- day decision-making sessions have now been reimagined. Tech-enabled talent management practices now better leverage technology with interactive functionality including live video exchange, virtual hand raising, polling + reporting results, breakout groups, screen sharing, recording, and instant transcripts. During these “COVID-months” HR has moved faster, showed agility and demonstrated the empathy to support a virtual employee experience that drives engagement and inclusion.

HR is operating in a new context of enormous social and political change linked to the challenges of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. On Memorial Day, amid concerns of COVID-19 spread, an inexcusable social injustice was captured on video and shared across the internet highlighting a white police officer killing a black man, George Floyd by kneeling on his neck - inciting protests across the US almost immediately. The HR challenge of how to respond to the tragedy and profound societal inequity has no quick fix. There are no easy answers to systemic racism, police brutality and white privilege. HR would swiftly need to acknowledge the incident and recognize that our Black community is suffering. In the article: “Your Black Colleagues May Look like They’re Okay—Chances Are They’re Not” by Daniel Cadet captures the empathic plea “on behalf of your black colleagues: we’re not okay. And you should not be either.” This call to action encourages more empathy and an integrated approach for diversity and inclusion efforts.

Within each of our critical talent management domains of recruiting, onboarding, learning, and professional development, an integrated approach must be embraced to tackle issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The organizational proclamation to address social injustice is a long-term strategy that goes beyond the immediate 2020 response in late May. The public commitments made by CEOs across the US require a cultural change and shift in how HR supports those commitments. Cultural management becomes a core focus for HR in order to deliver on these commitments. HR will serve as the conscience of the emerging culture that believes and demonstrates that inclusion makes us stronger. The commitment to social change lives in our education and training commitment to be anti- racists and allies. HR will need to model the way. HR success will be measured on not only what behaviors are promoted but also what behaviors are tolerated.

The demonstrated ability for HR to pivot and deliver in 2020 is profound. It is a game changer for the function. Enabling hightech and high-personalization of talent management practices brings a new standard of operational excellence to the employee experience. The consistent feedback of HR getting in the way has been converted to HR improving the way with enhanced and expedited virtual interactions, providing immediate access to information and systems. Early feedback indicates this virtual talent management approach is triumphant with potential candidates, new hires and tenured employees. Visible evidence of greater efficiency and effectiveness of cultivating a techenabled approach for interviewing, onboarding, training, meeting management, and diversity and inclusion efforts is positively contributing to empowering employees and creating greater individual accountability.

The rapid fire of uncertainty due to the multitude of crises in 2020 has ordained HR to supervene and provide needed guidance and support for the organization. At its best, HR is emerging as a proactive, fast and relevant function that provides the talent management advantage to allow the business to be competitive. The “COVID-months” demand for greater HR agility and protecting employee well-being will remain a collective mission for HR beyond 2020.