From the CEO: Planning for the New Workplace

In the COVID-19 era, CEOs are turning to HR for expert advice on how to navigate the delicate balance between ensuring employee safety and well-being and moving ahead with business.

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP May 21, 2020
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Johnny C Taylor Jr

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no part of our lives untouched. And even as stores, restaurants and other businesses are cautiously reopening, and life is slowly resuming, this virus has transformed the world forever—especially the workplace.

At this critical time, CEOs are turning to us in HR for expert advice on how to navigate the delicate balance between ensuring employee safety and well-being and moving ahead with business. I am one of them. 

As CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), my focus is always on our members and the HR profession, making sure you have the up-to-the-minute news, knowledge and resources you need to manage in the “new normal.” But I am also an organizational leader, concerned about more than 400 employees in the U.S. and abroad in a shifting business landscape.

Business leaders like me are being asked to make critical, seemingly impossible trade-offs during this time, so we must be equipped with the best data available. Beyond information about the virus itself, we must also understand exactly what is changing—and will change—in business operations, budgets and workforce management to skillfully prepare for what’s ahead and to ramp up again.

Thanks to our fantastic Research team and their continuous work, SHRM is able to lead with data, so I have the results of our latest COVID-19 research to guide me. One thing is clear: Workplaces will be the cornerstone of our recovery.

Although no one can claim to know with certainty what lies ahead, a picture of the future is starting to emerge.

First, we know that with 2020 budget projections and plans scuttled, all employers will likely become more fiscally conservative in the coming year.

We will also see changes in where work happens. Business travel will be significantly curtailed, and remote work will become a more widely accepted alternative to onsite work. Not only will this change business operations, but it will change employers’ hiring strategies.

As workplaces open their doors again, employers have a new and profound responsibility to prevent resurgence and spread in the workplace. New standards for hygiene, distancing and personal protective equipment will be features of the new workplace.

Virtual learning—augmented by new applications of virtual reality—will come into its own and change the landscape of education. Employees will be able to learn quickly and as needed. I believe this transformation will enable new solutions for our country’s skills gaps when we can upskill and reskill 24/7 from anywhere.

Then there is the psychological toll that will have an ongoing impact on workers and those who have lost loved ones and jobs. Employers will be solution-providers, expanding support for mental health and wellness in the workplace and providing training for individuals returning to work.

CEOs and CHROs are in this together. They are forming tighter partnerships than ever, shouldering the weighty responsibilities of serving people and preserving profits. Let’s continue to lean on and learn from each other as we progress through this crisis and what comes next. 

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management

Photograph by Delane Rouse for HR Magazine. 

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