Shifting narratives of the new normal: blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0

Reflecting on the past two years of the pandemic and the changes brought on by it, and on our responses to it, we are now grasping and probing the emerging contours of our ways of working, living, playing, and relating. Many have used the term, ‘new normal’, to encapsulate this change and the various and continuing shifts in how we work, live, play, and relate to each other. Although it may be an awkward term and brings on questions on what is normal and not, what we may demarcate as new, and whether the new normal is a state or process, the term has gained currency and mainstream use.  The new normal has been characterised by the increasing adoption of hybrid working arrangements and, consequently, the hybrid workforce. This narrative of hybrid though does not really attend to hybridity (as the blending or integration as well as splitting or negation of elements of the past and future world of work); and it does not identify the possibilities, challenges, implications, and unintended consequences thereof as well as that of two related future trends: the metaverse and Web 3.0. The narrative of the new normal and hybrid seems to be defined and informed by two implicit dichotomies: two sets of the workforce differentiated by site of work and the physical versus remote/digital/virtual.

metaverseThere are various descriptions of the metaverse. These include: a fully immersive 3D shared virtual ecosystem that is always live and where different virtual worlds are connected to each other; providing a shared space in which you can interact simultaneously with others and their virtual lives and selves through virtual reality (VR) gear (such as Facebook’s Oculus); and can afford some interaction or exchange with the physical world in the future
web 3.0The various investments and experiments in decentralisation and disintermediation of the web as well as and self-sovereign identity. These include decentralised platforms and ways of exchanging goods and value through decentralised ledger technologies (such as blockchains) and digital tokens (such as cryptocurrencies). However, one of the key questions is who is investing and how – with concerns regarding VC funding and incentivisation of the platforms, protocols, and tokens.

We can leave aside for the moment the question of a new normal and whether we have arrived at a new normal or will arrive at it at some point, to explore how blended workspaces (the blend of physical and digital/virtual workspaces), the metaverse, and Web 3.0 will shape and influence the future world of work. We could suggest that ‘we’ will probably inhabit and work and relate between many worlds/realities given the blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0. This we can denote as an inter-verse where we navigate between and within multiple worlds (including the metaverse or set of multiverses). This can be roughly illustrated as in the diagram below. This means we will inhabit and experience multiple realities and identities, from physical, augmented, to the virtual immersive. Thus, we will need to explore how the employee experience and lifecycle will take form in these different realities, as well as how access, inclusion, and the digital divide will take shape. We will also need to consider potential ethical dilemmas with the emerging technologies and digital transformation of many aspects of our lives and with the creation of digital avatars.

Inter-verse: Navigating the blended realities including individual multiverses and the metaverse

We need to be mindful of how these blended workspaces, metaverse, and Web 3.0 can enable and limit an individual’s realities and identities – as previously noted consider access, inclusion, and the digital divide. There are complex relationships between the blended spaces and the physical, augmented, and virtual realities and identities. The below diagram provides a heuristic framework for deliberating on these complex relationships and how the HR practitioner, for example, needs to expand how they view the physical and digital/virtual workspaces and the realities and identities therein. They need to also expand on how they view employee experience, engagement, and lifecycle, and how working, teaming, and collaborating takes form and can be facilitated within and across the different physical and digital/virtual spaces. As previously noted, the HR practitioner needs to critically examine how the blended workspaces affords and influences how employees craft their work, job, engagement, roles, identities, learning and development, and career paths through these workspaces.

Navigating the blended workspaces, realities, and identities

By Ajay Jivan

Wellbeing and productivity paradox in the new normal

The calls to address employee wellbeing are becoming more frequent and louder within organisations and at various forums (whether in the news or the many webinars and peer-sharing platforms). This is related in part to the difficult decisions that organisations are making on how they deploy, manage, and engage their workforce, especially with the acceleration of flexible and remote work in some segments of their workforce. Separately, there are also calls for the need to address productivity. This has rekindled the heated debates and questions on what productivity is, and how do we measure and manage it. At first sight these two calls, on wellbeing and productivity, seem separate or the distinct mandates of different functions within an organisation. However, the reality is that organisations need to address both wellbeing and productivity together, especially in the now always-on digital workspace.

It certainly is a paradox that organisations need to engage with and manage holistically. The large-scale experiment in flexible and remote work during this COVID pandemic is reinforcing this need. It illustrates how we need to consider the wellbeing of the workforce in the design and management of work and the workplace. Wellbeing is not an adjunct, supplementary, or ‘after the fact’ consideration to the ‘hardwiring’ of the organisation and the questions on productivity, outcomes, and value creation of the organisation. In fact, the integrative reporting framework identifies human capital as one of the five capitals that firms need to report on, in terms of the impact of their activities on these through their value chain. This means that organisations need to manage the link between wellbeing and organisational outcomes throughout the value chain. This is also the message within the Deloitte’s 2020 Human Capital Trends report, “The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward”.

The first step to engaging with and managing the paradox of wellbeing and productivity is to identify and prioritise the core themes that are relevant to your organisation. This article helps by drawing out some of the emerging common themes. It focuses on themes in relation to remote working and the digital workspace, which can also apply in some respects to the physical workspace. The themes are discussed below.

Uptime/online and downtime/offline

The COVID pandemic and worldwide lockdowns were the trigger for organisations to go remote and digital where possible. In this sudden remote and digital immersion, organisations carried with them two contrary expectations. There was the expectation that the organisation could function, as is, in a remote and digital way. The assumption was that of a plug-and-play solution, where remote and digital work could simply plug into the organisation’s legacy processes, systems and practices, and allow work to continue as is. However, there was also the expectation that digital technologies would cause vastly increased levels of individual, team and organisational productivity. We found, though, that the realities of the remote and digitally enabled work and workforce are not that clear cut and simple. It is not simply plug-and-play, nor do technologies by themselves cause profound shifts in productivity. It requires deliberate thought and action, that is, organisations need to explicitly define productivity, the shifts required and how these will be achieved and managed.

Organisations are now realising that there needs to be a broader organisational transformation strategy and programme. Being online and productive is rather complex and requires systematic wellbeing, learning and development, engagement, and performance management interventions for example. There is the need to balance being online and offline that allows for employees’ productive engagement, flow, and downtime. The dangers of being constantly online can be seen in the digital and psychological fatigue that many now talk about – whether it is “zoom-fatigue”, “Teams-fatigue”, or “webinar-fatigue”. The extended hours of work, being constantly available, and the squeezing in of webinars is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. Some whisper about the possibility of burnout, especially with the anxiety of being constantly monitored in the digital world. In the recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) on workplace technology, for example, they found that “around a quarter of employees say their work has had a negative impact on either their physical (24%) or mental health (26%)” (2020).

What is forgotten with the organisational demand that employees be available and online for extended hours, while also absorbing learnings in between, is the importance and role of our resting downtime states. It is in these states that we actually process, consolidate our memories and learning as well as reflect and plan. We are reflecting on our selves, others, and our pasts and futures – here the default mode network of the brain is active. This is when we recharge and re-energise.

Boundary, role, and identity management

Working from home has blurred the lines between our work and personal lives. With remote working and mobile and other technologies, it not just the blurring of lines, but the collapse our work and personal spaces and boundaries. Within the confines of our home we are now fulfilling different and competing roles that we previously used to in different spaces. The considerable research on the bi-directional role and gendered conflict between work and family, namely, work-to-family-conflict and family-to-work-conflict, can help to understand these dynamics. There is also research on work and family enrichment, where the roles could enrich and enhance each other. The pandemic, lockdown, and new normal of work presents us an opportunity to take stock of our lives and the various roles and identities we perform, but could also easily lead to fear, loathing, and disarray that negatively impacts wellbeing and productivity.

Employee surveillance and voice

With the blurred boundaries, spaces, and times employees fear being constantly monitored and measured at a very granular level. The CIPD’s (2020) research found that:

  • “45% of employees believe that monitoring is currently taking place in their workplace”
  • “86% believe that workplace monitoring and surveillance will increase in the future”

Employees are aware that monitoring software makes visible each and every minutiae activity, ‘non-activity’, and error or slip-up – from their clicks and browser history, their time spent on applications to detailed analytics on their online times, communication patterns, meetings, collaboration, focused time, and task completion. For managers, the monitoring software can be rather ‘seductive’ in that it gives a false sense of being in control and measuring (rather than managing) employees. However, they themselves fear being visible and monitored 24/7, which means defensive and risk-aversive decisions and behaviour as they themselves are triggered by the surveillance as are their employees.

This sense and reality of constant monitoring and surveillance can negatively impact on trust, engagement, and ultimately the achievement of organisational outcomes. For example, in the CIPD research, “73% of employees feel that introducing workplace monitoring would damage trust between workers and their employers”. The constant monitoring and surveillance will also impact on employees’ wellbeing, as they will feel constantly triggered and in danger. This will exacerbate the negative impact on individual productivity and the achievement of organisational outcomes, especially if there is no consultation. Employees will feel as if they do not have a voice and may feel disempowered and become more disengaged as they feel their job quality will be impacted. This can be seen in the CIPD research:

  • “Only 35% of employees and/or their representatives have been consulted on the introduction and/or implementation of new technology”
  • “Where employees have not been consulted about technology change, only 20% are positive about the likely impact on their job quality, compared with 70% for those who have been consulted”

It boils down to the old choice, are organisations wanting to measure time and presence (in this instance, online-times and clicks-and-keyboard-strokes) or outputs and outcomes.

Psychological safety, productive space and mindset, and performance

The above issues of trust, fears and triggers does impact on employees’ sense of psychological safety, a construct developed by Amy Edmondson (1999). The construct reminds us that it is not just individual triggers, but also interpersonal and structural factors as well that are important and that ultimately impact on team learning and performance. The serious attention that is again been given to psychological safety, then, is not only focused on individual adjustment and coping during the COVID pandemic, but also the dire socio-economic effects of the pandemic that are unfolding and employees’ feedback on both the positive and negative impacts of being online for extended periods and of their protracted uptime.

With the extended uptime and the pervasive and constant monitoring and surveillance, there is also the possibility of dislocation and disconnection from working remotely and virtually. We may feel dislocated because we are intellectually in one space, emotionally in another, and physically in a different space. This is compounded by the convergence of personal memories and memorabilia, office equipment, and the virtual presence of team members and managers on our screens. We feel as if our minds, emotions, and bodies are in different spaces and at different tempos.

“[..] we are fooled into believing we have more and stronger social connections in the online world, but they don’t trigger all the positive biological responses that real social engagement brings” (Mortensen, 2020)

With dislocation there is also the possibility of disconnection. Although we may be present to our team members and they present to us, digitally, this is not the embodied engagement and social connections of face-to-face interactions. This may engender feelings of isolation, thoughts of being left out, and not being able to identify with the team and organisation. Thus, we may lose the sense of belonging. That is, belonging to a place and to a purpose. This is the organisation as represented physically and spatially and its vision, mission, and purpose.

It is not just belonging that needs to be addressed. Organisations can help employees create productive spaces and mindsets to regain perspective, focus and productivity. They need to demarcate space and times for employees to recompose and recharge themselves and reflect. As mentioned earlier, we need to take stock of where we are at mentally and emotionally.

Through the discussion of the above themes one notes how wellbeing, productivity, engagement, trust, and achievement of outcomes are interwoven, especially in the digital workplace. These need to be addressed deliberately and together in a coherent organisational transformation strategy and programme. Digital technologies by themselves are not the ‘magical elixir for the ills’ of organisations as they navigate the pandemic and the new normal. Flexible and remote working and the broader digital transformation requires hard work on and within organisations, by organisations themselves. Organisations need to navigate and manage the paradox of wellbeing and productivity together with the other paradoxes that confront them.

Downtime and mindfulness in the digital world

As the global experiment of organisations going remote, as a whole, advances during the COVID crisis, the realities of being remote and always-on in a digitally connected world are settling in for a large number of us. We seem to be entering a new phase, from the initial phases of novelty, experimentation, trepidation about innovation, and idealisation of new technologies, where we thought we could, with some adjustment, adapt to remote work and going digital. This shift in phase can be gleamed from the many discussions in various webinars, panels and focus groups where HR practitioners speak of their own and their teams’ digital and psychological fatigue. The new way of working, relating, and living is causing them to take strain. Some have even whispered about the possibility of burnout, especially with the anxiety of being constantly monitored in the digital world and the real fear of losing their employment.

We could adapt the Gartner’s technology hype cycle to map the possible phase shifts we may experience through the management of the crisis and going remote and digital. The phases of the hype cycle are differentiated as follows: there is first an innovation trigger; early on there is the build-up of hype with the resulting peak of inflated expectations; the trough of disillusionment ensues as expectations are not met; development of more realistic expectations and a number of pilot successes of the new technology lead to the slope of enlightenment and uptake of the new technology; and then the rapid growth in uptake plateaus as mainstream adoption consolidates.

Gartner tech hype cycle

However, with the escalating pace and system-wide and worldwide impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the above phases may be crunched; and we may journey through the above cycle many times. Roughly we could map the first iteration through the cycle as follows. The COVID crisis and worldwide lockdowns were the trigger for organisations, as a whole, to go remote and digital. The expectation was that the organisation could function, as is, in a remote and digital way. It was a kind of plug-and-play of the remote and digital into the organisation’s legacy processes, systems and practices, which would allow work to continue. Not just continue though. There was the expectation that new levels of individual, team and organisational productivity would be achieved with digital technologies. However, at present, we are entering the trough and trying to figure out what could be the ‘new normal’. There is digital and psychological fatigue. A sense that something is missing; and rather than being energised we feel enervated. There is also fatigue from video conferencing and the extended hours of work and being constantly available. Some speak of the need to switch off while some managers think being offline means being idle.

Where does this need to switch off come from? And should we necessarily interpret being idle as being unproductive and lazy? Let us begin with the second question. Managers may perhaps be conflating issues here or not reflecting on the shift they require to make for going remote and digital. It is important to tease out, for example, if this a productivity problem or an issue of using ‘analogue’ and time-based management in a ‘digital’ shift; a staff motivation issue or managing remote teams problem;  a slack or trust problem. One way to think about this is to use McGregor’s differentiation of Theory X and Theory Y, which many of us have encountered in our HRM textbooks. We could ask if managers have altered from Theory Y to Theory X with the digital shift, believing they need to constantly task, monitor, and follow-up with team members because they are not internally motivated and will only pursue their self-interest. Are managers giving more negative feedback now that their teams are remote? Another way to think about it is the way managers are now perceiving their team members and, relatedly, whether they are relying solely on task-oriented leadership style at the expense of relationship-oriented style. We could ask if managers are now seeing team members as digital automatons, and engaging solely in a task-oriented manner with the digital shift because automatons do not need down time or time to switch off.

This leads to the first question, why humans need space and time to switch-off. There are two important concepts to consider. Resting, downtime states of the brain and mindfulness. Current neuroscience is dispelling popular myths about our brains. One of the infamous myths is that we only use a small percentage of our brain. Another myth is that when there are no stimuli the brain is not active – it is idle, and the neurons are ‘quiet’. These are myths and lead to many false inferences and misinterpretations. Our brains are always active even when we are asleep. Sleep is important as it is period when we (our brains) consolidate our memories and learning; and when there is an increase in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow to eliminate harmful protein build-up in the brain. Remember the phrase of ‘sleeping on a problem’; and how see a problem, barrier, or obstacle differently the next day.

During the day when we at rest, not occupied by a task, just staring into space or day dreaming, our brains are still active. Importantly, during resting downtime states we are processing, consolidating our memories and learning as well as mulling and planning. We are also reflecting on our selves, others, and our pasts and futures – here the default mode network of the brain is active.

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self”

“Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself” (Jabr, 2013)

When we are constantly online and digitally available to others, there is no space and time for down time. For example, previously, driving to work in the morning and back home later in the day gave us some down time – if the traffic did not annoy us. This was a passive choice of downtime. A more active choice is to deliberately engage in mindfulness. Originally referring to Buddhist meditation practices and to yoga, it is now seen as a psychological state of awareness.  

“Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress” (Mayo Clinic, 2018)

Research has suggested that mindfulness can help decrease emotional reactivity and stress, increase cognitive flexibility, enhance compassion, promote empathy, and develop quality of life (Davis and Hayes, 2012). Mindfulness enables one to live in the moment, which needs to be differentiated from the perpetual digital present of being always on.

Managers still need to take care of their teams even if they are at home. They need to consider their work loads, their availability and productivity as well as their need for downtime and space to consolidate, reflect, reframe and recharge. Managers themselves need to practice downtime in an always-on digitally connected world. Thus, wellbeing programmes and need for balance are important. HR practitioners have an important role to play in this and help leaders and teams navigate during the crisis and beyond.


Association for Psychological Science. (2012). Rest is not idleness: reflection is critical for development and well-being. Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from

Davis, D.M., and Hayes, J. A. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from

Gruberger, M., Ben-Simon, E., Levkovitz, Y., Zangen, A., & Hendler, T. (2011). Towards a neuroscience of mind-wandering. Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from

Jabr, F. (2013). Why your brain needs more downtime. Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from

Mayo Clinic. (2018). Mindfulness exercises. Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from

Mineo, L. (2018). With mindfulness, life’s in the moment. Retrieved, 24 April 2020, from  

Creating a productive space at home

Although over time we have been talking about the blurring of lines between our work and personal lives, especially with the available technologies and some of us being always online, the COVID-related lockdown seems to have not just blurred but it has collapsed our work and personal spaces and boundaries. This is particularly the case with those who are able and can work remotely. We need to contend with the fact that in the confines of our home we are now fulfilling different and competing roles that we previously used to in different spaces. Working mothers though have been dealing with these conflicting roles and demands of their personal and work lives for generations.     

There is considerable research on the bi-directional role and gendered conflict between work and family, namely, work-to-family-conflict and family-to-work-conflict. There is also research on work and family enrichment, where the roles could enrich and enhance each other. The lockdown presents us an opportunity to take stock of our lives, roles and identities, as a whole; that means taking stock of our personal and work lives together and how we are managing these and possibly enriching both. It is forcing us to reckon with our purpose, priorities and where we are in our relationships in our personal and work lives. These can bring up many feelings, emotions and thoughts.

Given the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, it is important to create a clear structure, routine and outline of responsibilities or targets for yourself and your family. This includes the continuation of your learning and development, as well that of your family. In this way you can keep track of and manage the different time, task, expectations, and behavioural conflicts between work and personal/family lives. Here are possible steps to begin to address the above role conflicts and the creation of a productive space:

  • Take stock and clarify the different roles, responsibilities, identities, expectations, demands and needs that you and your family need to fulfil during the lockdown
  • Check in with your family their expectations, needs and demands. Don’t assume.
  • Take stock of your own needs and the mixed feelings, emotions and thoughts you may be sitting with (this will be explored in future posts on understanding our emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and new normal)
  • Map out and prioritise what needs to be done now and into the future.
  • Map out the weeks of the stages of lockdown and create a calendar that clearly demarcates the weekdays, weekends and holidays
  • Structure and mark out work, family, leisure, personal, and home chores and maintenance times in the calendar
  • Create and keep to a routine with the above times. Routine is important but be flexible with the routine and calendar. Life and contingencies happen! Write out your deliverables and goals for work and family so that you can keep track and readjust your calendar appropriately
  • Create a working space for yourself. A study would be ideal where you could demarcate it as a workspace, close the door and keep distractions away. Develop a schedule if this space needs to be shared. If you do not have a study or a room that you can dedicate as a working room, then create a space where there is less traffic and demarcate it with a piece of furniture or something else that signals for you and others that you are in working mode. Explain to family members why the space, time and quiet is important for you.
  • The working space should be comfortable and facilitate working. If you are doing video calls and conferencing, then the space needs to look professional as well.
  • Dress appropriately. If you are in the workspace or online, then how you present yourself still matters to you and others
  • Ensure that you prepare as you normally do and organise the necessary information and resources. It is easy to lose track of your workflow and where you had left documents, for example, when juggling different roles and competing demands for your attention and time
  • Create or mark out clear times when you need to be available and online for team members and your manager
  • Know and plan for what are the non-negotiables for you, your family and your work
  • Structure and mark out times for news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and other news. Watching streaming news for prolonged periods can be disheartening and disempowering, as the unfolding increasing number of infections and tragic deaths may leave you feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Reinforce prevention measures with family and yourself. Check in with your family, especially young children, on how they are feeling. Help the young children understand how prevention and staying home helps.
  • Put in place measures for your and your family’s wellbeing

How do we address mindset, agency and productivity?

Creating a productive space is ‘one side of the coin’ as it were. The other side is your mind space, or your mindset and sense of agency. Together these influence your productivity during the lockdown. The pandemic and lockdown can disrupt, dislocate and leave us feeling lost at sea. To regain our perspective, focus and productivity we need recompose ourselves. As mentioned earlier, we need to take stock of where we are at emotionally, and reflect on the mixed feelings, emotions and thoughts we may have. The workspace we create can also act as a reflective space. We may consider relaxation exercises, for example, to help us be in a reflective space and mode (this will be explored in future posts on understanding our emotional reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and new normal).

Below are possible ways to reflect on and address our mindset and agency:

  • Be honest and take stock of your feelings, emotions and thoughts. This may not be a once-off event, but rather a process throughout the lockdown and that you can continue thereafter
  • Check in with yourself. Are you distracted, in a confused state, at a loss, or just can’t seem to get going? Don’t beat yourself up about it. It may be a reaction to the pandemic and lockdown. As suggested before, clarify the different roles, responsibilities, identities, expectations, demands and needs that you and your family need to fulfil during the lockdown. Put in a structure and routine. Prioritise.
  • Think about your current state of mind. Do you feel like a ‘fish out of water’ and you do not know if you can adapt to this sudden change? Consider the distinction between a fixed and growth mindset that Professor Dweck proposes, and how you can shift your mindset. See this video by Professor Dweck.
  • Ask yourself what inspired you before. Can you still find inspiration from it? Is there something else that can inspire you?
  • Ask yourself whether you think you can change things that are immediately around you in your home and the immediate issues with your family and work life. Make a note of these and what you previously could do and change. How different are these lists? What could be holding you back?
  • Reach out to others and check in with them how they are coping and managing the lockdown and negotiation of their work and family roles. Develop support networks.
  • Crowdsource. There are many curated and collated resources on working remotely, maintaining a professional presence online, managing virtual meetings, and managing and leading virtual teams.
  • Decide on how you want to be present when online and on calls. Do not confuse how we behave on, and the informality of, social chat and social media platforms with professional platforms. They may look and feel the same, especially being at home, but the context and role expectations are different. Video conferencing is not like Tik Tok videos or Instagram.
  • Remember your organisation’s policies, procedures and practices are still in place.
  • If unsure then ask. Check in with your team members and manager what are their expectations and how they want to conduct remote meetings and work. Don’t assume.

What is the role of the HR professional?

As HR practitioners we need to also create a productive space and consider our own mindset and agency, while focusing on how to help our organisation, leaders, managers and teams to create productive space, mindset and agency for themselves. We need to engage the leaders and managers to assist their teams to manage their emotional reactions and state, create a productive space, prioritise, put in place structure and routine, negotiate their role demands and conflicts, manage their and their family’s wellbeing, and importantly survive the pandemic. It requires the leaders and managers to understand the disruption, uncertainty and anxiety that the team members may be experiencing. Micro-managing and ad hoc meetings, for example, will not assist.

The HR practitioner can assist the leaders and managers by the following.

  • Address the leaders and managers’ own productive space and mindset and agency. They may also experience disruption, dislocation and be ‘all over the place’.
  • Prioritise and structure for the lockdown, after the lockdown and the remaining business year as well as the medium and long-term.
  • Review the HR strategy accordingly as well as the workforce plan, talent management strategy and HR risk management. Use the HR Standards Systems Model as a guide to work systematically through these, the HR value chain, HR delivery system, and what the impact of the pandemic, lockdown and aftereffects will have on these.
  • Crowdsource how others’ are trying to address the sustainability of their organisations and employment
  • Consider the actual time and days of the lockdown and what can be practically achieved. Set out clear deliverables.
  • If team members can and are expected to work remotely then check what resources they have and need.
  • Set up clear times for virtual meetings, unless an emergency which requires ad hoc meetings. This helps team members structure their days and weeks. Check in where possible their role conflicts and what comprises can be made.
  • Communicate and consult where possible. Keep team members in the loop – they are already sitting with uncertainty about the future of their employment.
  • Communicate important updates on the pandemic and its impact. Do not bombard team members with updates on the tragic daily counts of infections and deaths. Be constructive and reinforce prevention measures
  • Ensure a wellness strategy, support and resources is put in place.
  • Ensure the workplace is conducive, safe and caters for employees’ health for post-lockdown return

Shaping leadership in the new normal

There is much debate and many unanswered questions on the ‘new normal’ that will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and crisis. These include questions on the impact of COVID on work, the workforce, and the workplace; the transformation of these post-COVID; and the required people practices in the post-COVID future. As with other emergent phenomena such as the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and disruptions, the new normal is complex and unclear. It is perplexing as it is difficult to discern clear contours and patterns of the new normal and what are the appropriate good practices and responses. This includes good practices in relation to leadership. It poses the question to organisations, what is leading in the new normal.

HR’s role is to facilitate this question with both internal and external stakeholders, and help shape organisational leadership in the new normal. This facilitation can be structured along three questions, as illustrated in the table below. HR needs to understand the questions being asked and identify those that are not being asked (this links to the development of a speak up culture). Here, it is important to surface and engage with the assumptions on leadership and the new normal. This will aid the development of a more coherent leadership philosophy, agenda, strategy, culture and development interventions; and develop good practice in the emergent new realities of organisations.

What questions are being asked on leading in the new normal?Map the stakeholders, their questions, and the levels of analysis the question can be located at (see the table on theoretical perspectives)
What are the assumptions on leadership?Map the stakeholders’ perspective and assumptions
What are the assumptions on the new normal?Map the contours and patterns of the new normal that emerge from facilitating conversations with stakeholders on the emergent realities. The Cynefin framework, VUCA framework, and CCL’s RUPT framework can be useful
Three key questions

The below template can be used as a guide to facilitate the conversations and map the stakeholders, their questions, the levels in which their questions can be located. The conversations will usually focus on leadership inputs and processes, with some of the more urgent outcomes. The right column on leadership can help explore the unasked questions or silences in the conversations. This can help probe assumptions. The following template can be useful for this.

Template for stakeholders, questions and outcomes