HRD priorities during Covid-19

In all those prediction pieces published in December 2019, not one predicted this. Our world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. Organisations and leaders have been forced to shift gear and priorities rapidly and radically.

In the first of a series of support calls I have been holding for small groups of CPOs and HR directors in large organisations, the overwhelming feeling was that they had never worked so hard, so long and so intensely on one single issue. Covid-19 consumes all work-related thoughts and there is little space to think about the things that were previously considered essential.

With that in mind, here are some of the key themes to have emerged from several weeks of peer-to-peer sharing among HRDs… 

Getting tactical

With daily survival the aim of the game for many organisations, HR directors have become increasingly focused on the operational and tactical. A few weeks ago, you might never have even heard of the word furlough or given much thought to how to get PPE to your teams. Now, these issues haunt your dreams. No one has ever had to do this before, so we are all learning day-by-day.

Accelerating digital transformation

Projects to embed and enable remote working have been turbo-charged by the pandemic. For some organisations, that’s meant kitting out whole teams with the equipment to work from home in days rather than the usual months or even years. For others, it means conversations about remote and flexible working have been accelerated. As one HRD put it: “A couple of months ago, the exec was discussing one working from home request and there was pushback. Today most of the company is working from home and it seems to be going well.” The question now is how to ensure organisations don’t go backwards once we return to normal (whatever that looks like).

Values, integrity and ethics

Organisations are having to make tough decisions. For organisations that had previously been talking a good game about people, purpose and values, this is their greatest test. How they act now could have serious reputational ramifications in future. That doesn’t mean not making tough decisions, but it means, as one HRD put it, doing hard things the right way, treating people with respect and acting with integrity. The CIPD is celebrating examples of HR done well through the #HRtogether campaign on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Preventing HR burnout

HR teams are working around the clock to support their people and organisations. One CPO said his team was regularly working 6am to midnight. Given the emotional toll of dealing with furloughing, potential redundancies, sickness and bereavement, HR leaders need to be mindful of their team’s wellbeing – as well as their own. The CIPD is running a webinar on how people professionals can look after themselves on 1 May. Find out more here.

What next?

The first few weeks post lockdown were frantic. Now the pace is beginning to slow ever so slightly and HR leaders are able to come up for air to consider the long-term impact of Covid-19 for their organisations and the world of work more widely. There’s a desire to keep hold of some of more positive impacts, like increased remote and flexible working. But there’s also a concern that this pandemic might force organisations into their next phase of development before people are ready. This will be a major OD challenge for HR leaders to tackle in the weeks and months ahead.

HR’s time to shine

“After this, HR will never be called soft and fluffy again.” That was the prediction from one HR director who added that this will be seen as a “game changing moment” in terms of how organisations and business leaders view HR. This is an opportunity for HR to prove its organisational worth and come out stronger. And that’s something to cling to during these long, hard days. 

Katie Jacobs is the CIPD's senior stakeholder lead, looking after the senior HR leader community. If you are an HR director who would be interested in connected with others, Katie can be contacted on

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.