What’s the new normal for businesses post COVID-19? Our experts weigh in.

Apr 13, 2020 - Joe Matar

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is changing the way we find new people to join our organizations as well as the way we work together. But will this last once we get the virus under control and we go back to business-as-usual? Or will there be a longer-lasting impact on talent acquisition, communication, and the way we work?

To answer these questions, we tapped into our COVID-19 panel of 15 experts to share their thoughts and predictions.

We asked:

What does the new normal look like once we get through this (in regard to TA / EB / HR)? Is it different or does it stay the same? 

Our panelists touched on topics ranging from virtual recruitment to how employee benefits could change to how to connect remotely with employees and job seekers alike.

And not everyone agrees that things will be much different on the other side. So read on to find out more.

And this week, we did things a little differently. We’ve pulled out our favorite quotes and moved them to the top so you can get a quick view at what our panelists are saying but you can also view our experts’ full responses below our Top Quotes. Enjoy!

Top quotes:

"Being forced to operate more virtual is actually the silver lining that we need to get out of this situation. Although things feel negative right now, I have nothing but positive vibes for the future." -Jennifer Newbill, Director of University Relations and Recruitment at Dell

"But what I’ve seen in TA is a return to fundamentals, where there is a conscious and mindful approach to our recruiting staff, our stakeholders and our candidates that honors their humanity." -Peter Brooks, VP of Talent Acquisition at Northrop Grumman

I did see that there's a theory that handshakes could go away forever. I thought that was interesting. :) -Brandon Prideaux, Director of Talent Acquisition at HCA Healthcare

We humans can be like elephants if we are mistreated/or believe that a BIG bad corporation did wrong for People during troubled times. -Debbie Shotwell , Chief People Officer at Saba Software

“We’ve ‘needed’ to grow more comfortable with working from home.” -Andy Shearer, Director Talent Acquisition at KEEN Footwear & Chrome Industries

I see virtual events and virtual career fairs being the new normal. Also live streaming is going to be a large trend to get the real feel we get being in person. -Justen Baxter, Strategic Sourcing Team Manager at SAIC

My hope is that every organization will seek to truly understand who they are as an employer, who they want to be as an employer, and how they want people to feel at every step of the candidate and employee experience they create. -Shannon Smedstad, Senior Employer Brand Strategist and Engagement Director at exaqueo

The teamwork has been amazing. Everyone pitching in to help where needed – excellence defined! -Theresa Mazzaro, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Suburban Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine

I believe every major crisis brings about innovation, reflection, and change.  One of the major changes I feel that we will experience as a new normal centers around the virtual and digital experience for employees and candidates. -Brian White, Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations at Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437

Another huge thing that will matter as part of HR is the learning and development opportunities that companies offer. Reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling are going to be more important than ever, as well having a learner-as-the-center mentality. -Sarah Moffat, Learning & Development and Founder of Leading Ladies

I also believe HR and Talent Acquisition professionals will see an increased benefit in having a balance of in person meetings and online events, which promote networking and sharing of relevant topics. -Michael Poerksen, President of Loudoun County SHRM

We saw that it's ok when team members can’t be as productive as they’d like to be at work because of personal needs where before this might have been better hidden instead of openly communicated. -Lauryn Sargent, Cofounder and Partner at Stories Inc.

The new normal will utilize more virtual interviews in the hiring process going forward.  It's more efficient for the employer and candidates. -Ryan Gillis, Sourcing Expert, Leader, and Head of SourceCon D.C.

I honestly don't think that much will change…now, if this lasts a long time in terms of "normalcy," then maybe there will be some paradigm shifts around working remotely, etc. -Ted Bauer, Writer, Editor, and Marketer

Once we emerge from the shock our workforce has endured, we’ll (hopefully) start to evolve to organizations that empathize, understand, and prioritize people first. -Susan (Strayer) LaMotte, Founder and CEO at exaqueo

Full Respones:

Brandon Prideaux – Director of Talent Acquisition at HCA Healthcare

I did see that there's a theory that handshakes could go away forever. I thought that was interesting. :)

Jennifer Newbill - Director of University Relations and Recruitment at Dell

The new normal will be more dynamic, more nimble and able to function outside of our comfort zones in a really fluid manner. In particular how we conduct work seasonally and source talent from campuses. We have relied very heavily (too much if you ask me) on career fairs and face to face events. Being forced to operate more virtual is actually the silver lining that we need to get out of this situation. Although things feel negative right now, I have nothing but positive vibes for the future.

Peter Brooks - VP of Talent Acquisition at Northrop Grumman

What will the ‘new’ normal look like?  It’s probably a fool’s errand to speculate, especially given the human propensity to favor overly optimistic or overly pessimistic risk models.  We also routinely underestimate human resilience and ingenuity. All that said, I think there are two outcomes that I hope will strengthen and expand in the new normal. 

First, the need to socially distance and work remotely created an unprecedented revolution in digitizing the HR and TA space.  The technology has been available for some time, and it continues to improve, but social habits die hard. Despite many attempts from leaders, digitizing the enterprise has been a slow, arduous journey.  Now that there is a proof of concept that we can leverage tools to work virtually, often at the same or better rates of productivity, I think the genie is out of the bottle. In some spaces – and for some purposes—being in the office or in a SCIF is preferable, if not required.  But I think we’ve woken up the idea that ways of working, work hours and the like should not be a habit, but reflect purpose—and leveraging flexibility in that model deliberately, prudentially, artfully.

 Second, and this one may just be aspirational from my point of view, the current crisis has both appealed to our higher angels and it has stoked our greatest fears.  But what I’ve seen in TA is a return to fundamentals, where there is a conscious and mindful approach to our recruiting staff, our stakeholders and our candidates that honors their humanity.  Status calls begin with a check-in in how everyone is doing. Candidate conversations center on obstacles and challenges that people are facing, not just checking boxes on basic qualifications.  We are putting the safety of our employees and our candidates at the center of the process. Teams are doing virtual lunches, virtual happy hours—spending time understanding where people are coming from and where they need help.  As things get back to ‘normal,’ I hope that we continue to honor each other in that regard. And maybe it’s time we adjust our professional titling to reflect that approach. Recruiting does not really ‘acquire talent’ like it’s a commodity.  And resources might be a fine way to describe widgets, but not sure it’s a good way to talk about humans.  

Be that as it may, I think we have an opportunity.  As a function, we obviously need to meet the talent needs of our respective businesses, working closely with our stakeholders.  But we can evolve our function so that we are doing that in a way that is expansive, that contributes to the flourishing of the human condition, not its objectification.

One humble man’s view.

Debbie Shotwell - Chief People Officer at Saba Software

The new normal is Companies will be forced to think about humanity – truly People Focused – because they will have to be.  The organizations that are cutting jobs and impacting people’s lives right now will be remembered. We humans can be like elephants if we are mistreated/or believe that a BIG bad corporation did wrong for People during troubled times. WE WILL NEVER be the same – just my opinion. 

100% of the office based employees will NOT go back to offices. Yes, employees crave relationships, attention and collaboration but during the Covid 19 they will have found ways to work at home that allows them to be successful and productive. Employees will be fearful to return to offices for many reasons – commuting on trains, planes might not be attractive because employees will be worried for their health.   – if they are NOT set up for social distancing and there isn’t some sort of security that is required that allows guests to come into the offices and WE KNOW they are well. People Policies will change to say if you are sick – you will be required to stay at home. No exceptions the rule. In fact, employees might be required to provide a doctor’s note to return to work. Employees and Guests might be required to have their temperature taken before they would be allowed in the office space. 

Offices Spaces will have to include more frequent cleaning, Lunch time hours might have to be TIME ALTERED – Bathroom Breaks and # of individuals in the restroom – might need to be monitored.  With all of this requires administrative management will be required – there would be a cost to management these monitor.

Depending on the Company and their ability to WFH effectively – many companies might determine to invest more in People and less in office space. So if I reduce my office space (leases) I can spend more on employee training, coaching, development, wellness programs and overall effective training. 

Talent Acquisitions – more interviews will be done Video for sure.  In fact, we might see that employers that go more remote will hire people without meeting them in person.  Onboarding will be more remote – including more videos and New Employee Orientation (online). More employees will probably want remote work options (because of commuting etc.).  Some individuals might say I don’t want to work remotely because of this pandemic as well. 

HR – is being stretched – they need to worry about employees and communicate more – to ensure that the expectations of personal/employee responsibility is clearly outlined.  Once again – HR / L&D will need to train managers on expectations and ensure that new employees have buddies to ensure that new employees are fully integrated into an organization.  Organizational strategy will need to include expectations on how to handle pandemics – (what Companies do) Resolve – Resilience – Return – Reimagine and Reform. This will require individuals that did well in working through this pandemic and have experience – because it will probably happen again and companies will have to be prepared.  Saba was well positioned (we are global) and we had a pandemic plan in place. However, only 50% of companies had a plan (and we have work that is easy to switch to remote). We have RingCentral and Glip (like Slack) – so business continuity was not a problem. We had all the capabilities. Versus retail and other non-essential companies that didn’t have a plan – and they had to furlough and lay off people. 

Employee Benefits – Companies will need to have health and wellness programs – if they didn’t already – employee counseling and child care (benefits) for employees that work and don’t have care.  To ensure health and safety employers will need to invest in extra cleaning services for offices – to ensure that offices are properly cleaned. What might happen as well – employers might offer more FLEX BENEFITS plans so employees can choose which benefits matter to them (flat $$$ amount with many choices) so if a spouse / significant other can get standard benefits and someone else can get things like (coaches/mentors), child care services, student loan repayment plans, food services delivery etc. I am going off the range here….but you get my point.

Andy Shearer - Director Talent Acquisition at KEEN Footwear & CHROME INDUSTRIES

I think that for KEEN – the Coronavirus has forced our hand a bit in some really positive ways…. We’ve ‘needed’ to grow more comfortable with working from home, with working from home when you’re feeling ill (no more soldiering on in the office, and risking making your colleagues sick too), we are all getting more comfortable with virtual meetings, we are shifting more towards a digital first strategy from connecting with consumers right through to office dynamics.

Justen Baxter - Strategic Sourcing Team Manager at SAIC

The new normal looks to be leveraging collaboration tools much more for communications and idea sharing, as well as just staying connected as a team and with candidates. I see virtual events and virtual career fairs being the new normal. Also live streaming is going to be a large trend to get the real feel we get being in person.  Tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom/Skype, and Slack will be utilized that much more. Also the use of instant messenger for quick communications will be important, but the live human voice and picking up the phone and just making the personal connection is of more interest now than ever. 

I think we are seeing more candidates who want to engage more and not only through email/text/Instant Messenger or ChatBot but through live human voice/video because there is a craving as social creatures to feel connected and we are losing some of that right now.

Virtual Events/Virtual Happy Hours will become just mainstays now, with live video trumping all which is going to be the new norm, so Brazen is on point for our company and we are lucky to have their platform right now in these unprecedented times.

Shannon Smedstad – Senior Employer Brand Strategist and Engagement Director at exaqueo

Years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Maya Angelou speak during a recruiting trip to Penn State. Today, above my desk, her quote is pinned: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." My hope is that every organization will seek to truly understand who they are as an employer, who they want to be as an employer, and how they want people to feel at every step of the candidate and employee experience they create. You've heard me mention that "Experience > Process" -- perhaps this is the disruption that will finally reframe HR and Talent Acquisitions' people-centered approaches.

Theresa Mazzaro - Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Suburban Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine

The New Normal in a Hospital Setting: TA and HR perspective

Redeployment of staff: Volumes are low in certain areas of our hospital (elective surgical procedures were eliminated across most hospitals to reduce transmission and exposure). Our HR team has worked with Operations to redeploy staff to help in areas where volumes are higher. The teamwork has been amazing. Everyone pitching in to help where needed – excellence defined!

Also, redeploying staff to care for staff. We opened a Resiliency Center for staff, manned by our Social Workers and Chaplains. Sessions are held throughout the day to include: Talk Circles for Stress Management, Open Art Studio, Music Relaxation Therapy, Chair Yoga, Spirituality, Mindfulness Meditation, Individual sessions, Relaxation Lounge

Back in our Talent Acquisition office, I have found great pleasure in picking up an extra container of paper towel, toilet paper, or hand sanitizer and sharing with my team. Who knew what joy could come from paper products!!

Brian White -  Executive Director of Human Resources and Operations at Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437

I believe every major crisis brings about innovation, reflection, and change.  One of the major changes I feel that we will experience as a new normal centers around the virtual and digital experience for employees and candidates.  This crisis has forced us to operate differently. We've had to ask ourselves how we can accomplish things virtually that we never have before. Those that were previously resistant to a digital and virtual world have had their mind blown!  There will be no going back on this front. We will do and accomplish much more virtually and digitally in this new world. Meetings, paperwork, projects, and more have all been changed through this crisis. The mindset of requiring an employee or candidate to be physically present is forever changed.  This will create more flexibility for all involved.  

Another major change will be with regards to strategy and prioritization. This crisis has forced organizations and leadership to reevaluate priorities, and what is truly essential both internally and externally.  For many this will change strategy and priorities in the new normal. In moments of crisis we learn what is truly important. This will translate to changes in structure, roles, services, and responsibilities.  

Lastly, there will be a new norm centered around taking care of our employees.  Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis many employees will have deep and lasting impact from the crisis.  There is no doubt that this is a truly historic event. Health, fear, safety, loss, finance, and other concerns will be more prevalent with each and every employee more than ever before.  We will need to be sensitive to this as employers. Programming, policies, and services will evolve to serve these needs. 

Sarah Moffat – Learning & Development and Founder of Leading Ladies

Things are different. The post-pandemic world is going to see employee rights and safety taking a whole new level of priority. Additionally, how we recruit and what businesses put forward as their value and mission is going to matter more than ever, and so is their response to COVID-19. Companies who put their employees first are going to be more competitive in the future market. Dave Bookbinder said,  "The value of a business is a function of how well the financial capital and the intellectual capital are managed by the human capital. You'd better get the human capital part right." Everything people do now in HR/TA/EB is feeding into what they'll be able to stand on in the future, and how well they 'got right' the human capital (management/development/retention) part. 

Another huge thing that will matter as part of HR is the learning and development opportunities that companies offer. Reskilling, upskilling, and cross-skilling are going to be more important than ever, as well having a learner-as-the-center mentality. It's become abundantly clear that leaders will need different skills, as well. So what we're recruiting for as far as "soft skills" is going to be extremely important since leaders will definitely be leading more dispersed workers. There's really no going back after this and the new normal, I think, is going to be better in so many ways. And, the HR/Human Capital leadership and management is going to truly be what sets organizations apart... or so I believe.

Michael Poerksen – President of Loudoun County SHRM

From my perspective the new normal will continue to depend on the leadership and purpose/mission of companies as they rebound from their current states.  I do anticipate forward thinking companies will realize the benefit of flexible work arrangements, which would reduce the amount and cost of office space needed, allowing the redirection of budgeted money from rent to product innovation, enhanced customer service, potential for less geographical Talent sourcing constraints, and opportunity for greater people development and retention.

I also believe companies will take a fresh look at campus recruiting and university relations by having a blend of on campus, at company site(s) and online events. Video interviews will continue to increase however prudent firms will realize video prompt interviews are not well received by students and impact their ability to recruit top talent. Nothing should ever replace the importance of relationship building in person.

I also believe HR and Talent Acquisition professionals will see an increased benefit in having a balance of in person meetings and online events, which promote networking and sharing of relevant topics.  The more inclusive HR organizations, particularly those during our crisis, will have greater success than those who are more bent on charging a premium for more exclusive membership.

Lauryn Sargent – Cofounder and Partner at Stories Inc.

So much more work/life blending, which was already trending but accelerated because we have seen each other’s kids and home office/parents’ basements on video calls countless times now. We saw that it's ok when team members can’t be as productive as they’d like to be at work because of personal needs where before this might have been better hidden instead of openly communicated. This can change cultures and values, which can change how and who we recruit and how we work. 

I’d like to say the new normal will be more empathy for employees/teammates, candidates and people at work in general. I really want to hug my mail person and my team mates (but I won’t because that’s not kind) and I think it’s a combination of genuine appreciation for the people doing work that needs to be done and starved interpersonal interaction humans need.

Ryan Gillis – Sourcing Expert, Leader, and Head of SourceCon D.C.

The new normal will utilize more virtual interviews in the hiring process going forward. It's more efficient for the employer and candidates. Most of the hiring process can be done virtually and only the final round, if any, needs to be in person. This will vary based on the needs of the position but overall it should make the process less stressful for both parties.

Ted Bauer – Writer, Editor, and Marketer

I honestly don't think that much will change. So long as the focus of white-collar, for-profit is making money, then things that fit into the "making money" buckets will be prioritized, and things that don't will not be. I still don't think TA is far enough along with metrics that matter to check-writers, and that's going to be the biggest drawback. Now, if this lasts a long time in terms of "normalcy," then maybe there will be some paradigm shifts around working remotely, etc. I don't know if there will be direct shifts around TA and EB, though. Execs still want the best people at the cheapest possible prices, because that fits within their incentive structure. Until we have a reckoning around that, not sure if a virus will change up how TA/EB are approached.

Susan (Strayer) LaMotte – Founder and CEO at exaqueo

There is no new normal, because there is no normal in our day and age. In this day and age, these situations just illuminate the desire for people to embrace their own experience. This pandemic has already affected each of us in so many unique and personal ways, it’s hard to imagine any semblance of normal. What does this mean for human resources? We have to understand and embrace the differences. I am hopeful that HR will finally start to care about meaningful data beyond the basic “are you engaged in your work?”

Employers will start to realize that their brands will be even more heavily dependent on the employment experiences they offer and that will require a better understanding of employees’ unique needs and preferences. From the diverse family types we have at home, to values, relationships, schedules, and benefit needs, understanding what matters most to employees will allow employers to customize the experiences they offer. No longer will one parental leave program or flex work schedule be sufficient. No longer will we have a single benefits package for employees.

Once we emerge from the shock our workforce has endured, we’ll (hopefully) start to evolve to organizations that empathize, understand, and prioritize people first. 

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