Restarting HR in 2020

Up to five months ago, HR’s conversation was mainly about recruitment difficulties, and even more so, the challenge of retention.

Early March 2020: most HR functions had to halt all their plans and focus their energies on adopting new ways of working, reskilling and redesigning the workforce, and trying to keep the workforce employed within the organisation.

We are now working hard to recover from the crisis, even though the pandemic is not over yet. We cannot simply return to how we were before and most HR professionals I speak to are hoping that, indeed, we do not return to where we were before. HR was exhausted – it was merely functioning the way it should have been. During the crisis, HR took on a supportive role whereby it helped managers and teams face the sudden change that we all had to go through.

Although it is sad to see that there are organisations that have not learnt anything from the past three months, I enjoy discussing new challenges with organisations who are still reflecting on what their ‘return to work’ strategy should be. These organisations have not rushed in returning to the normal. They are also using today’s scenario as an opportunity to reflect on their business model.

Are organisations embracing the new reality? Should we consider what worked (and what didn’t) during the partial lockdown Malta was in? Should we think about what we have learnt? The way we handle the ‘return to normality’ defines our organisation.

Of course, not every organisation is in the same situation. Some organisations are still looking at short-term strategies to make it to the end of the week while others are looking at longer term strategies and are redesigning their operations for the future.

Is it now the time to restart HR? What are the exciting opportunities that HR is embarking on at this time?

Flexibility and Remote Working Options

One thing that COVID-19 has taught us is that we need digitisation to ensure business continuity. Within a few days many companies were forced to change or accelerate change. While this was not possible for everyone, there were companies that were hesitant to implement remote working prior to the pandemic. Such companies realized that this can work and are now open to the idea of remote working options becoming the norm. A good number of companies have already implemented a work-from-home roster basis to ensure that people can continue to work both from home and from the office.

Organisations might have rushed into remote working due to the pandemic, but it is now time for HR to ensure that well-written policies are communicated to all staff. Companies have come to us to re-organise their policies and introduce such initiatives once people were expected to return to the office.

HR’s role is also to support managers and teams ensure that the right processes are in place while also ensuring a healthy well-being for all employees.

Mental Wellbeing

Pre-COVID, HR had started focusing its efforts on introducing initiatives to improve mental wellbeing at the workplace. HR is now thinking of both an employee’s mental wellbeing at the workplace, as well as at home.

Over the last months, uncertainty and fear has reigned. Although measures have been relaxed, this does not mean that everyone is comfortable to go back to ‘normal’. HR need to keep this in mind. A balance between having policies in place and managing employees’ wellbeing must be found.


Employees need to feel safe when returning to work. We need to focus on redesigning the workspace to ensure that not many people are in the same place, at the same time.  HR needs to work closely with administration to ensure that different cleaning and sanitization procedures are in place. Additional hand-wash stations, signages and so on, are all infrastructure changes that need to take place. We need to ensure safe social distancing procedures and guidelines. To ensure that these are maintained, training on these new policies and procedures needs to be provided to our employees.

Communication and Engagement

Communication became even more important during the pandemic. Collaboration between management and staff as well as between staff themselves had to be reinforced. Managers need to get close to their teams and be flexible. in terms of managing working hours. This is especially so for employees working from home and with young children. Empowered managers will also have the ability to empower their teams.

Engagement, on the other hand, remained a challenge but took a different perspective. Employees may question as to why they need to engage especially when there is a feeling of helpless. Managers need to communicate the need for planning for the future, despite going through difficult times. We need to continue to talk optimistically with our people, while also recognising what the reality of the situation is.

Let us all use this time to restart HR and think of different HR strategic priorities which we were all longing for prior to the pandemic.


At SurgeAdvisory, we have been assisting businesses and HR professionals overcome obstacles that COVID-19 has brought along with it. Contact Joseph F.X. Zahra or Maria Bartolo Zahra to discuss your challenges.

About the author

Maria Bartolo Zahra is Managing Director and HR Advisor at SurgeAdvisory. She has over sixteen years of human resources and business advisory experience.