Philippe-Quentin Real

Philippe-Quentin REAL

Vice-President, Business Consulting

Social distancing requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic created immediate and drastic changes to the way we manage our workforces. For the first time, many employees found themselves working from home full time, affecting their attachments to their organizations and interest in work, while creating new desires and expectations.

At the same time, employers have shortened their human resources decision-making processes while developing more tactical workforce management approaches to improve adaptability and resilience. New internal networks (and even external networks with suppliers and clients) have emerged, along with new team behaviors, driving operational and cultural change.

Assessing these new ways of working and corresponding behaviors will be key to building a workforce that drives the necessary cultural transformation both mid- and post-crisis. As leaders move from responding to the crisis to focusing on plans to rebound from the pandemic and reinvent new ways of working, they are reexamining the relationship between their business and employees, and considering changes to their culture.

Here, we offer high-level recommendations for managing your human capital and fine-tuning your organizational cultures.

  1. Increase empathy toward employees and other stakeholders (clients, suppliers and communities). With the increasing influence of Glassdoor and similar job boards, news of bad organizational behavior quickly spreads. A caring culture and social responsibility may become new competitive assets in an undoubtedly challenging time for attracting and retaining the best talent.

  2. Carefully assess when, who and how to transition back to the office. At what point should employees return to the office based on local public health readiness? Each employee’s criticality is a key factor to this equation. In the beginning, you may want to limit the transition to critical teams only or reopen offices with increased remote work flexibility. Consider also the best health restrictions to put in place for employees who return to the office based on the nature of their work and your facility configurations.

  3. Expect the transition to going back to the office or having employees work remotely for an indefinite time to be challenging. Empathize at scale through a sustained focus on employee health and well-being to reduce employee stress. Change management tools will be critical to support team productivity and commitment, while managing responses to the ongoing risk of virus outbreaks.

  4. Embrace cultural management to accelerate your rebound. Strong cultural management combined with effective communication will be essential. Offer digital workforce platforms to empower employees to share information and express themselves. Use top-down communication to drive shared objectives and instill a renewed sense of purpose. In addition, promote bottom-up communication, supported by empathy from leaders, to foster an open, caring workplace and rapidly detect mental health issues. Cultural management is not a short-term strategy to overcome the crisis, but a major shift in your organization’s culture.

  5. Accelerate digital workplace transformation. The phenomenon of overnight digitization has demonstrated the ability of IT departments to break down longstanding digital barriers in a matter of days. While digital tools have become an imperative, they also require deeper initiatives to integrate them within work processes, including connectivity with partners and suppliers, for seamless, end-to-end work process management.

  6. Measure employee satisfaction and engagement. Shortly after transitioning employees back to the office or communicating longer work-from-home periods, conduct a survey to gauge their state of mind, concerns and expectations. Use an online survey or focus group sessions. Assess their opinions on your early crisis response actions, and monitor regulatory changes with respect to local labor laws and adapt your human resource policies, as necessary.

  7. Embrace 360° workforce management. Human resources agility will be a major competitive advantage. Your ability to align resources closely to operational needs and meet new employee expectations across the enterprise will require advanced analytics planning and tools. Consider ways to engage employees in providing more data (while keeping privacy concerns in mind) and develop new metrics for monitoring your workforce management performance.

  8. Maintain the momentum of collective agility. Many employees working at home or on the frontlines embraced autonomy and efficiency to meet business continuity requirements with constrained resources. Leveraging their collective agility can create competitive advantage. Capture employee ideas, lessons learned, innovations and best practices resulting from the crisis. To maintain momentum, help managers and employees preserve and enhance workplace social dynamics, foster a sense of community and belonging within your organization, and support managers in their efforts to drive engagement and mobilization. (Read our white paper on improving business agility.)

  9. Consider new ways of hiring, training and coaching. Your organization’s resilience and business agility may require a redefinition of essential skills. For example, you might want to put more focus on intellectual and practical agility skills, along with emotional and behavioral abilities, rather than pure knowledge. Consider reskilling employees to adapt to the “new normal.” Distance, virtual reality and practice-based learning are innovative complements to traditional face-to-face training. In addition, coach your managers to lead with empathy and foster a meaningful, collaborative and high-performance culture. This could lead to the identification of new leaders for moving your organization forward.

  10. Refresh your corporate purpose. Organizations can reverse the effects of potential employee disengagement by reassessing and reinventing their corporate purpose. Questioning the "why," reassessing the balance between business performance and social responsibility, and shaping a unique sense of identity can help to re-motivate employees. A meaningful corporate purpose can make an indelible and distinctive mark that attracts candidates, motivates employees, impresses customers and persuades investors, all of whom may shift their performance evaluation criteria to value resilience and societal expectations.

CGI business consultants are working with organizations across the globe to drive performance and competitiveness through innovative human capital and culture management practices. During the pandemic, our objective is to help organizations respond, rebound and reinvent through effective workforce management. To learn more about our work, feel free to contact me.


About this author

Philippe-Quentin Real

Philippe-Quentin REAL

Vice-President, Business Consulting

Philippe-Quentin Real leads CGI’s Business Consulting Global Center of Excellence, overseeing the its operational and delivery activities.