28 Aug 2020
EY - Return to work

In challenging times, a human-centred approach will set the trajectory for success

By Jackie Gilmore

EY Ireland Partner People Advisory Services

Commercially driven, motivated leader. Dedicated mentor.

28 Aug 2020
Related topics COVID-19 Workforce

The return to work, whether as a part of a full, phased or hybrid arrangement will place new demands on both businesses and employees. 

e are seeing global organisations start to make blanket declarations on their return to work policy. Several large tech companies have recently said that they will allow employees to work from home until the end of 2020 and beyond.

As we enter a critical phase of our response to this crisis, there are several aspects that employers must get right to safeguard employee well-being, ensure bio-secure environments and build their people capabilities.

In a time of rapid change, HR functions must respond with new agile methods and processes but also not lose sight of their existing people agenda.

There are significant challenges around wellbeing and maintaining a positive culture. In this article, I discuss how a human-centred approach can pay dividends and underpin a new, rapidly responsive and resilient way of engaging with their people.

For those who continue to work from home, organisations should increase connections and communications that focus on relating, empathising, and belonging. It will be hard to replace a workplace culture that has developed over time but seeking ways of engaging authentically will help.

There is no doubt that educative and well-timed communication is central to workplace culture and wellbeing with clear and personalised communications being especially key. Employers are becoming more conscious of burnout and the impact that over-work can have mental and physical health.

We are already seeing that the workplace is now more digital, more flexible and far less hierarchical because structure, governance, employment models and reward approaches must adapt to survive.

More agile, human-centred approaches will facilitate greater productivity, flexibility and resilience as operating models and customer expectations undergo rapid shift.

As organisation are challenged with optimising how work is done to be more efficient, employee experience is an area that can be controlled, amid the uncertainty. Applying the lessons learned now by HR and people functions will be crucial to longer-term success.

Attracting the right talent and skills will depend on the type of experiences a company can offer, how they prioritise well-being, how they collaborate and reflect employee preferences and ways of working. In our emerging value-based economy, those that put people first will win.

As challenging as recent times have been, there is a clear opportunity to reimagine the workforce and the future of work.

By putting humans at the centre of their talent strategy, companies can generate long-term value in how they live their purpose, deploy their people and develop tomorrow’s talent.

We have seen how fast change can happen when there’s solidarity, a core focus and everybody working together. A lot of senior leaders are asking, ‘how do we bottle that transformation drive?’

We managed to transform our business into something else, how do we take that form of thinking, we way we made decisions, the way we organised, the way teams operated, the way in which our technology enabled us, how do we take that into the transformation and change debate?         

Customer, employee and societal behaviours and expectations have changed. That’s going to mean changes in how Governments operate, changes in how customers buy and the demand they have for certain types of services, how services are provided to them and employees in terms of how they expect to be treated at work. 

These expectations and sets of behaviour are going to drive change in operating models. For HR and People functions, transformation is now about revolution not evolution. HR’s role is now broader. How you connect, enable, and lead remote teams can now set the trajectory for your next success.’

In fact, work as both a place and an activity has fundamentally changed, at a time when leadership has never been more needed or so remote.

Successfully returning to the physical workplace is the priority. But recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is also an opportunity to reframe your organisation’s future.

Leaders must apply learnings from the pandemic in a constant cycle of model, iterate and pivot. Putting people at the heart of change will make organisations more resilient in a post-COVID world, building a human-centred approach will allow them to emerge stronger than ever.


Powerful, purposeful leadership must be central to all of this to build a strong culture, so that workers feel safe, productive and connected through the current crisis.

About this article

By Jackie Gilmore

EY Ireland Partner People Advisory Services

Commercially driven, motivated leader. Dedicated mentor.

Related topics COVID-19 Workforce