Talent, culture and the world after Covid-19

The world will never be the same again. That much is clear as governments and businesses map out a route towards emerging from the coronavirus lockdown and getting people back to work in ‘normal’ conditions. But what constitutes normal in the post Covid-19 world?

That’s not easy to answer. It may look different across sectors and geographies and change over time. But if we can be certain of anything, it’s that supporting the workforce through these tough times will be critical to future success.

For Melanie Fitzpatrick, Chief People and Brand Officer at CPA Global, “The challenge for many businesses is that in times of uncertainty you are judged, both internally and externally, according to different principles. Crises such as Covid-19 are a fundamental test of company culture and people strategy. You can have the best product in the world, you can even maintain financial performance and share prices, but if you fail your people then the road back is long and hard.”

As the leading IP technology partner for innovative businesses and the law firms who advise them, CPA Global’s strength relies on its exceptional talent, so focussing on its team – on an individual and corporate level - is a top priority. Never more so than in the current global crisis.

responding to the coronavirus crisis

Perhaps the most lasting impact for businesses of the coronavirus crisis will be the enforced adoption of, or wider roll out and reliance on, technological solutions and remote working.

To respond quickly and effectively to comply with unprecedented restrictions on how we operate, in every country we operate in, was a major undertaking for an organisation that employs over 3,000 people in 29 offices worldwide. “The rapid shift to mass working from home has been a major challenge for every business, but we were able to make the transition quickly and seamlessly as a result of the investment in technology and working practices we have made over recent years,” says Fitzpatrick.

Priorities changed virtually overnight, plans were amended based on a detailed scenario-planning exercise and the short-term focus changed solely to maintaining resilience - employee resilience first and customer resilience immediately thereafter. Once the business was secure in its new operating form, the focus moved to planning for the changed customer priorities as they emerged from the restrictions. 

However, employee resilience remains the primary concern: their wellbeing, work-life balance and financial health. For example, online professional development opportunities are being scaled-up, steps are being taking to allow flexibility around working times while monitoring overwork and stress.

In a remote working environment, trust is key. So too is “comms, comms, comms,” argues Fitzpatrick. “We’ve made a massive effort to open up transparent daily and weekly communications and implement social events such as virtual happy hours to keep people connected.”

a catalyst for innovation and a test for culture

Fitzpatrick acknowledges that maintaining people’s morale while moving towards an acceptance of the new way of doing things is a fine balance. It’s not only internal ways of working that have changed, but the way CPA Global meets customers’ shifting needs that now requires a new approach. Innovation must – and has - come from within.

“It’s been amazing to see talent really stepping up,” Fitzpatrick says. “There’s been a big appetite for learning and we’ve identified many candidates for fast-track talent development. We have also seen much greater collaboration internally, with our customers and between the industry itself. That’s vital because we need new thinking around how we deliver for our customers and ourselves.”

That this cohesive, creative and committed impetus has happened despite the move to remote working is testament to CPA Global’s culture. As Fitzpatrick puts it: “Great culture takes years to build and seconds to destroy. Uncertain times are a test of our culture and values.”

planning for a return to 'normal'

If managing lockdown was fraught with pitfalls for businesses, so too will be the transition back to the workplace. Fitzpatrick notes that issues such as phased returns and creating new office protocols for staff protection are front of mind for many HR teams. Protocols for those whose jobs require them to visit client sites also need careful consideration.

She advises kicking off any back-to-the-office plan with a people survey to find out how they are, how they find working from home versus in-office working and if they need time to get back to ‘normal’. Then phase the return in slowly, based on who needs to be back immediately, being sensitive to survey responses. “Set your priorities but also meet people where they are,” she advocates.

Access to the workplace, from lifts to car parking, should also be carefully controlled and floorplans may need to be reconfigured. Appropriate data gathering (for example on temperature checks and antibody testing) may be helpful, risk assessments must be fit for (new) purpose and everything should be regularly revisited. Global policies will need to allow for guidelines in different jurisdictions.

the new world of work

Whether things will ever return to ‘normal’ is a moot point. Fitzpatrick foresees a future in which digital transformation will drive long-overdue changes in many businesses and enforce a more agile way of working. Tech will enable faster, real-time customer engagement while there will be opportunities to leverage shifts in customer behaviour, for example greater reliance on technological tools and automation. Such shifts will embed resilience into business models as well as creating competitive advantage.

Fitzpatrick believes remote working is here to stay and is clear that employee wellbeing is an increasingly critical issue. “Organisations need to look at this holistically, with a renewed focus on mental health. When people feel vulnerable, they need to know it’s OK not to be OK.”

Companies will need to be ‘leaner’ and more dynamic. According to Fitzpatrick, the most forward-thinking are already looking ahead at how to execute their strategic plans, re-organise themselves and re-define roles in light of the new realities ahead. Communication is again vital here so that this is seen as an opportunity that employees can get behind, rather than a threat.

“When we look back on the Covid-19 crisis, we’ll be judged on how we treated our customers and our people,” says Melanie Fitzpatrick. “This is a chance to demonstrate how we can build a better world through innovation and problem-solving. Our talent is what makes us thrive and we’ll continue to build pride in our people, to motivate and inspire them around a positive purpose.”