Reopening the workplace: What will be the next normal for HR?

ManagementJune 18, 2020 15:59

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from PexelsWritten by Max Loong, Senior Career Advisor 

As we gradually move to Phase 2 of the Circuit Breaker reopening, many can’t help but think about what changes to anticipate in the workplace beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Some processes will continue as they were, while some will inevitably change or removed – hopefully for the better.

Being the bridge between the Talent, Organisation, and Leadership, Human Resources should be steadfast into looking at what the next new normal will be - how to anticipate and adapt to the constant changes, and how to make it work strategically.

Here are 5 thinking points Human Resources should be aware of:


  1. From Passive to Pro-active                                                                                                                                                                  

Leading HR thought leader David Ulrich, stated that “HR professionals play a strategic partner role when they have the ability to translate business strategy into action.”

It is crucial for HR to first look at the strategic implications for every possible situation before formulating action plans and making the necessary adjustments. Hence having alignment with key stakeholders must be done before any execution can happen.

To ensure business continuity, HR Policies and procedures (e.g. Compensation & Benefits, Leave, Hiring, Performance Management, etc.) should continually be reviewed and updated. This will allow operations to continue to run in cases of unprecedented contingencies in the future.


  1. Effective working arrangements

A survey done by human resources technology start-up EngageRocket, the Institute for Human Resources Professionals and the Singapore Human Resources Institute, indicated that up to 8 in 10 Singaporeans are open to the idea of working from home at least half the time after COVID-19. While 40% of employees felt less productive working from home as compared to working in the office, with a higher percentage of them being older workers (22% aged 30-50, 46% aged above 50)

It is true that working from home might become the new norm for companies moving forward, but the numbers also indicated that there is still demand to continue working in a physical working environment. Before jumping into the bandwagon of implementing working from home arrangements, HR should still consider what kind of working arrangement is practical, realistic and effective rather than what is popular.


  1. Accelerating Digitisation

COVID-19 had undeniably accelerated the need to leverage on digitisation. From online communication platforms (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex), work collaboration tools (Slack, Monday, Trello), to cloud technologies (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive), these platforms saw a worldwide rise with the need to work from home in isolation. This trend also gives employers a cheaper and convenient option to ensure business continuity and maintain productivity.

In addition, adopting HR technologies in this current state would be beneficial to businesses as well. According to renowned HR Tech blogger Adrian Tan: “If HR teams adopt HRTech in their key functions, they can be in a better position to solve pressing business challenges, use budgets more efficiently, and improve candidate and employee experience.”.

A recently released research product “2020 Singapore HRTech Market Map” details how HR teams can leverage on HR Technologies to increase employee experience and organisational productivity in these few areas:

  • Talent Acquisition (Applicant Tracking System, Sourcing, Screening)
  • Talent Engagement (Employee Communication, Onboarding, Performance Management)
  • Talent Development (Coaching and Mentoring, Competency Management)
  • Talent Operations (HR Automation and Bots, Payroll)
  • Talent Rewards (Benefits, Wellness, Compensation Management)
  • Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS Enterprise and SMB’s)
  • Talent Analytics
  • Talent Planning
  1. Growing need to reskill

Changing technologies and new ways of working were already disrupting jobs and the skills employees require to take on them. This trend has already been evident even before the current crisis. COVID-19 just made this a more pressing issue.

In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. However less than half of respondents had any concise plans to address the problem.

To meet this challenge, there is an urgent need for companies to look at the current talent gaps and develop a talent strategy that develops capabilities for the emerging trends, but also their adaptability and resilience to face future disruptions.

In an article by McKinsey Global, they detailed six steps to reskilling:

  1. Rapidly identify the skills your recovery business model depends on
  2. Build employee skills critical to your new business model
  3. Launch tailored learning journeys to close critical skill gaps
  4. Start now, test rapidly, and iterate
  5. Act like a small company to have a big impact
  6. Protect learning budgets (or regret it later)


  1. Transparency and creating trust

A study by international software firm Qualtrics displayed an increase in anxiety and stress among employees in Singapore since the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey indicated that most employees (65%) are feeling more anxious, and 64% are saying they are feeling more stressed.

Employees working in an uncertain environment with no control of what’s ahead of them, it is no wonder many business columns are pushing out calls to focus on employee well-being at times like this.

Having transparency between management and employees would seem to be the starting step to fill up that gap. Highlighted in our previous article, some steps that HR can take to be transparent can be fostering employee engagement, creating suitable benchmarks, and frequent communication to your employees.


“Effective HR professionals recognize, accept, and act on a new normal in business. When faced with “tell us about your business,” they can respond by discussing global changes in context, stakeholders, and strategies. These shifts are not cyclical events that will return to a former state—they are a new normal grounded on enormous disruptive and evolutionary changes.” – David Ulrich



It is crucial for HR to develop capabilities to not only manage the current obstacles, but also to be ready to take on any future contingencies ahead. Despite numerous changes coming our way, the role HR will still be guided with the same principle; to maintain continuity, drive organizational transformation, and optimize staffing.