7 Lessons in Communication and Management from ‘Professor 2020’ For HR in 2021

7 Lessons in Communication and Management from ‘Professor 2020’ For HR in 2021

2020 might remind us of that strict, stubborn professor in college whose classes you tried to avoid, but Professor 2020 still had some valuable lessons to share.

We have survived a year of crisis and disaster, but as the saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining”. In this case, the silver lining was the many lessons that 2020 taught to brands and their teams, especially the HR professionals.

Through the pandemic, HR played a crucial role in transitioning and getting operations rolling for their organisations. They were also responsible for responding to quick and sudden changes in the work environment while maintaining coordination, communication, and collaboration across different segments within the organisation.

Now, as we are slowly emerging from the other side of the pandemic and global lockdowns, we face a “new normal”. The pandemic has shown us that there are more effective ways to work than what we were used to.

Consequently, HR’s goal is to re-proportion, reinvent, and re-prioritise organisational goals and plan for what seems to be permanent changes created by COVID-19.

HR’s goal is to re-proportion, reinvent, and re-prioritise organisational goals and plan for what seems to be permanent changes created by COVID-19. Click To Tweet

Lessons to learn from 2020 about the changing organisational landscape

Here are some of the most important takeaways from 2020:

1. Your people come first.

Although we would like to think our personal and professional lives are separate, and have different rules, behaviours, and thought patterns, the truth is that they profoundly affect each other. People going through complicated personal lives find it tough to invest themselves at work and vice-versa.

The pandemic has made this relationship even more apparent as employees have had to balance working from home with looking after children, sick family members, other household responsibilities, etc. There has also been a tremendous struggle to strike the right work-life balance while working from home.

Therefore, it has been critical for companies to monitor the situation through the pandemic and offer their employees the support they need to perform well at work.

However, even as we start going back to the workplace, companies need to continue to support their human resources by:

  1. Offering opportunities for flexible working, child care and other work-life issues.
  2. Focussing on empathy as transformation, change, and disruptions become the new normal.
  3. Addressing the longstanding issues of employee mental, social, physical and financial wellbeing.

Providing support is not just good for employees but also beneficial for the company in the long run. People with a greater sense of wellbeing are more engaged in the workplace and put in their best, ultimately aiding the company to stay on top of their goals.

2. Communication is key.

Effective communication has always been the key to all healthy professional relationships. But during the pandemic, effective communication has become more crucial because of remote working. It has drastically changed the way we communicate with our colleagues.

The most noticeable change is that we have now less face-to-face, in-person interactions with our teammates. Digital channels like video conferencing, online team/sharing platforms, instant messengers, pop-up messages, desktop tickers, corporate social media tools, etc. have become the norm because they are quick and effective ways to communicate.

Therefore, it is now more evident than ever that companies need simple and effective forms of communication as well as platforms and tools that can reach people no matter where they are.

HR teams need to help their companies to develop:

  1. Quick, clear, authentic, relatable, and empathetic communication strategy to ensure that employees and management stay aligned, and there is no confusion or miscommunication.
  2. The safest and most efficient tools, technology, and platforms to ramp up internal communications in an uncertain time for many in the industry.
  3. Open communication channels in the workplace, including top-to-down, bottom-to-top, and peer-to-peer communications. It is vital to keep these internal communication channels open and encourage employees to ask questions, voice thoughts, and prevent disengagement.

With the increasing scope of internal communication professionals’ roles and responsibilities in their organisations, many can now have a ‘seat at the table’ they did not enjoy before.

3. Trust and Transparency will always be crucial.

Lessons in Communication and Management 2

Trust has always been one of the most critical elements in relationships between employers and employees. And now even more so.

Working from home has required both employers and employees to support each other, and has some extent forced control to give way to trust.

Both sides are learning how to reciprocate dependability, integrity, support, respect and care. However, building trust and transparency is an ongoing process and takes time and effort to nurture.

Companies can further build trust by

  1. being honest with employees about business decisions.
  2. being in direct contact with employees instead of sending out general mass communication.
  3. giving employees the support that they need.
  4. giving employees recognition when recognition is due.

Trust and transparency are crucial to teamwork and success. It does not matter if employees are physically or virtually present. If there is trust between team members, they will adapt and work effectively.

4. Collaboration helps the wheels turn in the same direction.

The pandemic has strongly highlighted the importance of effective collaboration between employees, teams, and departments for an organisation’s success.

Organisations have needed to pull together and pool resources to solve rapidly changing, complex problems that could have long-term business implications. A diverse group of employees with varied experience can look at problems, solutions, opportunities, and risks from different perspectives to come up with unique solutions and adapt quickly and efficiently to dynamically changing situations.

The pandemic has strongly highlighted the importance of effective collaboration between employees, teams, and departments for an organisation’s success. Click To Tweet

To continue to build teams that can collaborate seamlessly, HR teams need to help their companies to:

  1. Build community, synergy, and interdependence between teams and departments.
  2. Keep employees engaged and get them to know their co-workers better.
  3. Reward and celebrate successful teamwork and collaboration.

The workplace should not symbolise the drudgery of routine work at a computer and endless phone calls. The workplace should be where people collaborate, creatively solve problems, share and exchange information, build a community and an identity.

5. Agility and flexibility are required to thrive.

Change is the only constant in our lives. And the pandemic has shown us that we have to be prepared for anything.

We have been so stuck in how we were working that it became a mammoth task to adjust to overnight changes in our traditional processes. For example, working from home was a luxury at most companies. And when people had to make the unprecedented shift to remote working, it became challenging for many to adjust to new technology and processes.

The good news is that we did adjust, albeit hesitantly and with a lot of hiccups. And the point is that we can adapt; we have demonstrated that we can move faster and act in more agile ways than we thought possible.

Companies now have a better idea of what can and cannot be done outside their traditional business processes, and COVID-19 is dictating both the extent and pace of innovation in the workplace. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate.

Here are a few ways that companies can enable their employees to adapt quickly to a changing environment:

  1. By building a learning mindset.
  2. By quickly adopting new technology.
  3. By constantly reskilling and upskilling their employees.

Companies must continue to be adaptable, agile and flexible without reverting to the 9-5 mentality.

Companies now have a better idea of what can and cannot be done outside their traditional business processes, and COVID-19 is dictating both the extent and pace of innovation in the workplace. Many are finding simpler, faster and less expensive ways to operate.

6. We need new parameters to define success.

The new work situation has highlighted the need for new methods of adequately measuring employee performance and success. We cannot use the old parameters and ratings (with new names) to assess employee performance.

Static performance appraisals, yearly goals, and occasional feedback were never very effective even before the crisis, and they will certainly not be effective now.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. It is time to leave traditional systems behind and create a performance measurement strategy that is adaptive, responsive, and adjusted to the new workplace. And therefore, we will have to overhaul the system to accommodate agile goals, accountability, etc.

HR can evaluate performances based on:

  1. Quality and quantity of work, instead of the amount of time clocked in.
  2. Level of execution of assignments.
  3. Consistency of performance improvement.
  4. Peer and team reviews.

Paying attention to employees can help elevate their performance over time. To increase employee effectiveness further, organisations can identify strengths and areas of improvement, and equip employees with the required tools to improve their performance,

7. Proactive planning is the need of the hour.

The events of 2020 have made organisations realise that preparing in advance is the key to successful operations and smooth transitions when the time comes. It is crucial to be proactive instead of reactive – to make decisions before the event has occurred rather than after.

As the pandemic raged, organisations struggled to implement work-from-home policies quickly and manage remote employees. Because of the unpreparedness, there was a lot of trial and error, resulting in chaos in the initial days.

Therefore, it is evident that companies and HR teams should have contingency plans up their sleeves as there is always a likelihood of disruptions in business operations.

Currently, there are no fool-proof blueprints for the strategies companies must follow in such scenarios. However, to be prepared for any eventuality, HR departments need to:

  1. Study all facets of the business and generate policies that tackle small issues before they balloon into massive problems for the entire organisation.
  2. Take time to build a full contingency strategy that includes an action plan to keep your workforce safe and protect mission-critical functions for business continuity.
  3. Combine effective existing processes with new ones to ensure there are no untimely and unnecessary pauses.

By taking these steps, companies can prepare themselves to a large extent and minimise the chances that things will go drastically wrong.

We need to make decisions in the present, based on the learnings from our past about operating and growing in the future. By preparing in advance for any possibility, organisations can build resilience for themselves and their employees.


The global response to the pandemic has resulted in the most rapid transformation of the workplace. We have been hurled forward, fast-tracking trends such as automation, digitalisation, and innovation.

Right now, the need is for companies to work in tandem with their employees and HR teams, even beyond the suggestions mentioned above as things are continuing to change rapidly.

This is crucial because how an organisation responded in a time of crisis will be remembered longer than how they worked in normal times.

All in all, COVID-19 can also be seen as a catalyst to reinvent the workplace and work culture for HR teams who take the opportunity to keep updating and upgrading themselves.

Companies that capitalise on post-COVID opportunities will be able to retain their talent and attract people when the situation stabilises. They will gain the public confidence that this ship will not abandon its crew when the waters get rough. In contrast, those that fail to embrace change will be left behind, exposing themselves and their employees to risks of financial distress, layoffs and closures.

And now, it’s your turn! If you have any interesting thoughts or experiences from 2020 that helped you prepare for the rapidly changing 2021, you can leave us a comment or get in touch with us, and we would love to hear from you!


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