Talent & HR Productivity Organizational culture Operations Digital transformation

HR experts discuss: What is the new normal?

Watch the full recorded broadcast above.

On April 23, 2020, The Ivey Academy's David Loree led a conversation and thoughtful debate on the future of work post-COVID-19. He was joined by a panel of HR experts in Val Duffey, former CHRO, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Marty Parker, CEO, Waterstone Human Capital, and Cathy Sprague, EVP, Human Resources, Bruce Power. The panel discussed organizational culture and values, what employees and leaders should start preparing for now, possible return-to-work scenarios, and existing best practices that organizations in other countries are implementing.

Key webinar content

Core topics

  • A four-stage model to provide context for how organizations are moving through their response to the pandemic
  • Bruce Power’s approach to managing the pandemic as an essential service
  • Ensuring employee safety – both physically and psychologically
  • What does the phrase “new normal” mean – and look like?
  • The notion of “digital empathy”
  • The tension between the inflexibility of values and the need to be flexible and adaptable during a period of crisis
  • Role-modeling behaviours we expect others to demonstrate
  • Issues to be mindful of when employees return to work
  • Digital etiquette and spacial etiquette
  • The key skills organizations will need to develop to survive as well as thrive
  • Time management and thinking strategically about the future

Memorable quotes

“The intersection between having a safe & innovative workplace doesn't have to be opposite terms. We've proven that rapid design, going for speed over elegance, is a way of working for all those organizations that had years-long transformation agendas.” – Val Duffey

“Mental health challenges coming out of this are going to be immense. We are going to be dealing with this in our households and our businesses.” – Cathy Sprague

“A lot of us are comfortable working in a home environment, but there are many who are not. Some don’t have the space, some have family or young children. We’re going to be dealing with the issues of people really wanting to get back (to the physical workplace), which isn’t talked about as much.” – Marty Parker

“To me, one of the primary drivers of authenticity and sincerity is consistency.” – David Loree

Post livestream Q&A

What do you anticipate the job market with look like in the near-term and over the course of the next 6-12 months?

It will be difficult but start to stabilize in Q3 of this calendar year. – Marty Parker

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a very troubled job market for the next 6 – 12 months and beyond. There will be continued government stimulus for job sustainability and creation, but the I think the market will be a very challenging one. – Cathy Sprague

It will be an extremely sluggish job market as organizations will not hire back to their pre-pandemic levels. Short-sighted employers may pull back on "employee value proposition" practices because it will be an employer’s market for some time to come. – Val Duffey

Can you share some trusted HR-related information sources that you have been relying upon, especially during this pandemic?

I have attached several resources (see "Additional reading" below). However, they are changing every week and getting more plentiful and far more useful as the pandemic progresses. Ensure you are networking with peers inside and outside your industry.  Sign up for updates from leading consulting firms, law firms, industry associations, etc.  Every week the material is plentiful but you need to stay on top of it as it’s constantly changing. – Cathy Sprague

Professionals have always needed to stay current on trends and emerging practices but this is different – this is all new, everyone is learning together, and collaboration and sharing has never been higher. Leaders/organizations cannot afford to be insular at this time as there is risk to not embracing the latest standard or acting on the current public health requirements. If it can’t be you then be sure to appoint someone on your team who is accountable to gather market/industry/government tools, research and updates. And don’t re-invent the wheel – there is a plethora of open source checklists, strategy guides, learning materials which can be quickly tailored to your organization’s needs. – Val Duffey

When organizations transition to the “new normal,”  how will you mitigate liability should employees contract COVID-19 when returning to work?

This is a legal and not an HR question, but ensuring employees stay home if they show any symptoms at all, if possible. When testing is freely available, ensure employees have proof of a negative test or positive antibody test. – Marty Parker

Ensure you are doing everything prudent as provided by Public Health Authorities. Strict social/physical distancing, cleaning, hygiene, etc.  It is up employers to set up the correct processes and conditions and then strictly educate, monitor, enforce them. – Cathy Sprague

Employers will assume legal risk if their employees and customers are not appropriately protected to these standards. – Val Duffey

A result of working from home during this pandemic has been a new appreciation for family, connection, and downtime. Will this impact employee engagement when employees do return to work?

It will send some people back happily as their workplace at home is not conducive to working productively. For others, they will prefer staying at home for a variety of reasons. Employee engagement will be harder for employers and leaders and they will have to provide a complete virtual/digital working experience, – Marty Parker

It sure will. There are many who thrive and will want to work from home for a long time (if not forever). There are others, who will run back to work tomorrow if they could.  It really depends on everyone’s personal circumstances.  So many are struggling balancing being parents, educators, provider of elder care and managing their household all the while holding down full-time jobs. That’s on top of potential illness and dealing with uncertainty. No doubt engagement will be impacted. – Cathy Sprague

The line between personal/family and work has become blurred by the pandemic and although it will likely revert somewhat, it won’t go back to being as strictly compartmentalized as it once was. Until a vaccine is found, accommodating personal/family circumstances, and ensuring social distancing will continue to be paramount. Individualized work arrangements vs."‘one-size fits all" will be the norm, including staggered schedules and a hybrid of working at home and at the office. – Val Duffey

How will performance management change when evaluating remote-work job performance?

Behaviours will be harder to manage. Outcomes will be even more important. Collaboration and digital face time will matter, – Marty Parker

I expect that by mid-year companies will need to re-examine and likely reset incentive plans, key metrics, objectives, etc. It’s likely too early for most companies to do this at this stage, but hopefully by mid-year there will be more certainty in a very uncertain future. – Cathy Sprague

Employees and leaders who are new to the remote-work arrangement will need to get aligned on (potentially changed) work objectives, and then work closely to monitor progress, solve problems together, and track results. Clear two-way communication, including self-assessment and feedback sessions will ensure both employee and leader are "on the same page", and the more objective and defined the metrics and success measures are, the better they can do that. All the same stuff as when you’re working together in person, but it needs to be scheduled, focused, and more deliberate when it’s a remote working relationship. – Val Duffey

You spoke about skills leaders need during a crisis. What about employees?

I am not sure it's different, but they will need to be more digitally connected and more receptive to working collaboratively and ensuring the safety of their peers and colleagues. – Marty Parker

Essentially the same: resilience, patience, ability to deal with ambiguity, compassion, resourcefulness, courage and creativity. – Cathy Sprague

Additional reading

Effective strategies for remote work during COVID-19, The Ivey Academy
Coronavirus 2020 strategy toolkit, Open-source
Guide to working from home, Microsoft
Four phases of working through COVID-19, Goat Rodeo Project
The heart of resilient leadership, Deloitte
The Waterstone insights leader pulse, Waterstone Human Capital

Trusted HR-related information resources

Best practices for return to work in the financial district, Toronto Financial District
Your guide to remote working for the employer and employeeAvanade
The safe six: workplace readiness essentialsCushman & Wakefield
Recovery readiness: a how-to guide for reopening your workplace, Cushman & Wakefield


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About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.