HR Strategies for a Pandemic

We have heard the old saying, “Hindsight is 20/20”. How accurate! It is easier to see clearer after a situation has passed. With careful and fervent thought, we ruminate on what we could have done differently. As well as what actually worked during times of trial and success. The year 2020 ignited chaos into the global market with the insurgence of the COVID pandemic.  HR professionals are ultimately championed to be crisis management experts; however, when COVID stormed the world, there was no end date to the chaos.  No explicit best practices on what to do when the world shutdown existed. 

By applying 20/20 hindsight from what happened in 2020, HR professionals are better prepared and continue to craft and modify plans to prepare for when, not if, the next global emergency manifests. Using knowledge acquired from experience. HR professionals must work with employees at all levels to compose and implement fluid preparation plans in times of global crisis. This way they can diligently plan for the worst while hoping for the best.  


The magnitude of the global pandemic took people by storm. The “normal” work culture no longer had a definition. Expectations of employees pivoted. While health issues resulting from COVID cannot be downplayed, the lingering effects of the pandemic on business operations cannot be ignored either as the pandemic disrupted global business. Here are three key areas of focus for HR professionals in a post-pandemic world:


Flexibility in Pandemic Situations


Prior to the pandemic, a typical workday for some employees might have been 9 – 5 like the legendary song. That changed in 2020.  The global pandemic redefined flexibility. Flexibility did not only mean working from home. It also meant how employees worked, when they completed their tasks and who was around when they worked.  People worked at home with partners, children and pets. Parents had to juggle work with children’s e-learning in addition to caring for family members.  By the force of nature, companies redefined flexibility to include parameters that were rarely supported, much less considered, by company leadership.     

Lessons Learned:  

Organizations learned that many roles could be completed successfully outside the office. Trusting that employees will get the job done and done well no matter the work environment will help retain essential talent.  HR became champions for company talent by advocating for flexible work arrangements to remain post-COVID for roles that can support it.  For some roles, does it really matter if the employee takes time in the middle of the day to take a walk, run an errand, or go to a child’s activity if the person is doing their job well and performing at or above expectations? 

Flexibility does not mean eliminating deadlines and giving an employee free reign to do whatever they want. It means establishing and communicating clearly defined parameters of job expectations and validating that employees and management understand those expectations. Empower employees to complete work tasks outside the traditional business hours if necessary to help maintain work-life balance and prevent employee burnout. Employees who feel supported during difficult times are more likely to remain loyal and stay with the company. 

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Communication Is Important in a Pandemic


HR balances operations with engagement. People need to be paid. Benefits need to be applied. Jobs need to be filled.  In companies of all sizes, it can be cumbersome for HR professionals to talk with every single employee. (Yes, talk, as in having a verbal conversation.)  During times of crisis, stress magnifies internally and externally for individuals. The pandemic generated a sense of fear and uncertainty in most people. Employees’ minds resonated with “what ifs” related to their professional and personal lives fostering anxiety. Temperature checks (AKA finding out how employees really were feeling) changed from being a “would like to do” to a “must do” for HR teams.  The need to establish and maintain human connection was at an all time high so HR had to be creative and develop ways to support the company’s greatest asset – their people. 


Lessons Learned:

HR must spearhead a way to deliver clear and concise communication to employees wherever they are located. To mitigate fears and incorrect information, HR must have various channels and methods in place to deliver timely updates. This reduces employees’ fears and limit gossip. If a conversation cannot be held face to face, use live or recorded video instead of emails when applicable. This can help make the message more personal. HR must establish a communication chain with employees who are trained in delivering communication in times of crisis and who understand their specific role in delivering information. External stakeholders must have their communication support as well. Customers need to know if services or products will be delayed. Having candid and honest conversations between HR and stakeholders will help strengthen trust and provide opportunities to strategize together to mitigate business upheavals. 


Developing a communication plan to check in with all employees is essential to their mental wellbeing and productivity in a pandemic.  For some small businesses, it might be possible for an HR team to check in with all their employees; however, that is unlikely for most companies. HR must instill the importance of consistent conversations between HR, managers, and employees to share their fears, successes and complaints without fears of retribution. Pandemics magnify stress so providing a listening ear and offering support will help employees handle the challenges.

Employees at all levels should have access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) where they can communicate difficulties in a confidential environment without fear of ridicule or repercussions. Group activities (i.e. book clubs, training sessions, gaming, etc.)  and virtual social hours in times of crisis can connect employees when there is a face-to-face disconnect. Ask employees what they need so they feel connected and safe, and incorporate their suggestions as best as possible.  


Technology Can Help in Pandemics


People were forced into finding alternate ways to communicate. Face-to-face conversations were muted and replaced with conversations behind masks and computer monitors. Finding software to support communication through video, chat and text became an instantaneous priority. In the mix of hiring freezes, downsizing and turnover, HR still maintained their efforts to recruit, hire and onboard essential talent. However, it had to take a different approach to make themselves stand out amongst their competitors. Paper approaches became even more inefficient as people were not readily able to complete job applications and new hire forms. Many HR professionals could not go “pull the file” quickly to access info.  Having information accessible to employees and HR staff in multiple locations became necessary during the pandemic.


Lessons Learned:

Although many people now feel like seasoned professionals with video conferencing software, train employees how to use essential technology. Coach employees on video and chat etiquette. Although companies have been using email for years, it can be challenging to detect tone in emails and texts.  Help employees, especially in stressful times, to read messages carefully and without predisposition to negativity. Some people are very formal in their messages while others incorporate humor and slang. If there are questions or concerns about the way a message is conveyed, pick up the phone and have an old-fashioned phone call to get more information. 


Investing in the right technology can save time and money. Automating the hiring process does not eliminate the personal aspect; it can increase it by giving HR more time to focus on people instead of paper. Use cloud based employment software like an Applicant Tracking System and Onboarding System increases efficiency.  Employees can access what they need wherever they are. Video interviewing and scheduling tools within an ATS simplify recruiting.  Automating document collection within an onboarding system reduces cost and saves time allowing HR to focus on creating the interpersonal connection between employees and the company. Ensure the software service provider is friendly, knowledgeable and receptive to the company’s needs.  Having a domestic based support team that is receptive to the company’s needs is essential. Let the provider do the heavy lifting of software maintenance and support. 


Too often, HR is portrayed only as the “policy and procedure” department. The heart of Human Resources centers on the humans in which they lead.  While policies and procedures are essential to safety and maintaining order, they also provide direction within an organization.  HR professionals can take what has been learned from the pandemic in 2020 and apply that knowledge to prepare for the next global crisis. Creating multiple plans, and knowing that the need to adjust those plans will inevitably occur, is a start. The past four years have been challenging for everyone. Taking what we have learned and strategizing to protect a company’s employees and business practices is time well spent.


Learn more about how ExactHire can help you with crisis management through our software and Full Service Hiring solutions, visit or call 317.296.8000. 

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