The Role of HR in Fighting The Covid-19 Outbreak

By: Yael Shafrir, Chief Marketing Officer, Meet in Place

Last Thursday, on a sunny Coronavirus-haunted morning, 20 human capital leaders met at Meet in Place, Rothschild, to discuss the role of HR in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Coronavirus and HR? It isn’t immediately obvious that the bulk of the responsibility for companies dealing with the Coronavirus falls on HR’s desk. However it was crystal clear to the people in the room that it’s their job to lead a massive reorganization of their companies. Not just to overcome the chaos and define a new routine – but also to build the future infrastructure of their organizations, given the challenges that lie ahead. 

Quite a challenge, we know.

What does the Coronavirus challenge mean for HR?

In order to start understanding this challenge together – as a first step towards addressing it within our organizations and in wider circles –  we started breaking it down into its component parts, mapping where we should focus our attention.

New routines for global remote working, including tech tools. It’s not just about using Slack or (which is important, too). It’s about adjusting to online-only communication, building new routines around it, and optimizing this new form of communication. About 50% of the people at our roundtable joined online, which was a perfect opportunity to experience the challenge of having some people in the room and others joining remotely. No more personal conversations around the table – people on the other side are lost. No more delays, no more improvised agendas – keeping people engaged is more of a challenge than ever. There’s a lot more involvement of people behind screens, and it’s a challenge to keep them alert and involved. This is just the beginning.

Avoid confusion, maintain ongoing communication with employees. With all the uncertainty, there’s a lot of anxiety around, particularly on the part of employees. Even when you as an HR professional might be down or lonely – and you need some love and care – the role of HR is first and foremost to take care of your people. How do we do that when we don’t have a clue where all this is going? How do we put our own feelings aside and focus on keeping people calm and maintaining positive energy? 

What about perks and company culture? Is this still the time to pamper our employees? Or maybe it’s time for everyone to put these privileges aside and focus on surviving, thinking outside the box to save our businesses, regardless of what we get in return? Maybe it’s an opportunity to see people’s true mindset, and keep the those with the right attitude?

Cuts and layoffs are part of every economic crisis and this one came as rapidly as any other. Many companies are already going through major changes – shutting down activities, cutting budgets, letting people go. How do we do that without creating serious damage once things get back to “normal”? How do we avoid demoralizing the remaining employees? How do we take care of the people we have to let go during such tough times?

And then – who do we keep? How do we stop management from cutting employees that are crucial to the company’s current mental health, or to the future recovery of the business? Can we shift from one department to another?

How do we help the company pause, rather than run around madly with all kinds of immature ideas for saving itself? How do we ensure that sanity and rational decision-making are key values in our company right now? How do we get everyone to throw their original 2020 plans out the window for the time being, and rethink everything?

Global complexity is not about tech platforms or time differences. How do you deal with people in different countries with different mindsets, experiencing very different situations, and requiring different solutions? How do you prioritize your attention? How do you delegate your work to others in the company – if at all?

Long term thinking during a crisis is challenging. While everything is changing, you also need to consider that this outbreak is not going away any time soon. What does it mean for your company? Who are the teams doing the deep analysis? What are the HR implications of each potential scenario?

Policies for everything – events, flights, gatherings of people, kids on vacation – how do we handle it? Transportation policies, internal communication, communication with people we’re hiring and firing. Probably the most important thing is how we manage the pandemic in terms of people: people in isolation, people at risk, people who are sick. How do we communicate with them and how do we ensure they continue to be significant contributors to the organization, where they are willing and able? We also need to think of emergencies. What happens if someone performing a vital role is sick? What if multiple people get infected? We want to be prepared for these potential scenarios.

Last but not least is the mental situation of everyone involved; starting with ourselves, and moving on to each and every employee, all the way to management, C-level and founders. Stress management is probably the most important role of HR during this unexpected, rapidly-changing global situation. Being calm, positive and functional at all levels is an achievement for all of us, and a critical basis for reaching other milestones.

Where do we start?

To cope with this endless list of tasks, we’ve put the above (initial) list in buckets, as a methodology for addressing these issues: People, Business and Culture related topics. 

We divided into three groups – two of them in the physical venue and another one online. Interestingly, the people in the physical space needed more time and wanted to prolong the meetup, while the people online had to move on their next task and some of them left before conclusion. 

In the below section you’ll find a teaser as to what happened in the smaller teams. Stay tuned – we’ll share more insights and recommendations from each team in the next couple of days.

The Business Team
  1. The HR role is to be in charge of readjusting plans to the current reality. We need to “make friends” with this new reality, and develop tools for achieving agile business targets.
  2. Cost reduction – we need to understand the impact on the business, on its ability to execute, and how cuts of budget and workforce will impact this ability.
  3. We see organizations withdrawing in terms of their development phase – this will require people to take responsibility over more domains, companies to increase R&R efficiency. It will also require new leadership skills.
Look forward to more from this group in our next articles.

The Culture Team
  1. Mode of communication – rather than talking about a temporary situation, our job is to communicate a change and the need to adjust our culture.
  2. The biggest challenge is mid-level management that needs to receive immediate tools for a new and challenging way of managing their teams: remotely, under stress and uncertainty, and with a real need to be more creative and collaborative than ever.
  3. Practical support during these times: companies that can physically support creating the home office should go there. Others need to adopt new routines, such as daily updates, daily tips, new forums, and chat rooms. Some also need to adopt new values: transparency, order, and routines for psychological safety.
More for the Culture Team will be coming soon.

The People Team
  1. Building organizational resilience: even companies with established cultures are hurting these days. Routines are key in restoring resilience. It’s important to try to find new routines that connect to your company’s DNA – and be willing to be flexible, plus to be open to your employees’ needs and ideas.
  2. The emotional aspect: new plans, new tools, new targets. We now need an intermediate reality for our employees. There are many paths to explore, and we’re doing this in an ecosystem of the unknown. What will change? For how long? Will we still be relevant after this all ends? More questions than answers.
  3. How do we adapt our manpower to remote working. In regular times, remote work requires a particular personality of the employee and special training for the manager. Today, we’re all required to adopt this format, and HR’s role is to bridge this gap and overcome related challenges. How to keep it personal from a distance? How to cultivate a learning culture? How to measure performance remotely, to interview remotely? This is an opportunity to adopt new tools and methodologies, both for HR and for managers.
We’ll bring you more from the People Team in due course.

What’s next

Last Thursday, noon. After a powerful session, 20 HR executives are hugging one another goodbye, feeling close yet remote, everyone facing their own challenges. The hugging might be over for a while, but the sense of partnership and collective responsibility for empowering HR during these tough times is there. Let’s be there for each other and continue to develop new methodologies for sharing knowledge, inspiring each other, and mentally supporting each other – both personally and professionally.

About the Author:

Yael Shafrir is the Chief Marketing Officer of Meet in Place, a global network of innovative meeting spaces designed for an urban boutique hospitality experience. The Meet in Place philosophy is rooted in meeting science, as every design feature and amenity offered serves a unique purpose to make meetings as productive as possible. For more information about Meet in Place or to book a room for your next meeting, please visit

One comment

  • To say that there are multiple challenges in the world of HR, especially following COVID-19, would be an understatement. Even though this pandemic has turned things upside down for many businesses, it’s good to see how well specialists in HR have been able to pivot and still provide top-level service.

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