Over the past several weeks, organizations of all sizes have dealt with unparalleled changes (and journalists have reached for their thesaurus to find new synonyms for “unprecedented”).  Standing in the breach of the turmoil are the chief people officers who are helping to steer their organizations through uncharted waters. 

Four human resources experts that we gathered this week for a virtual roundtable shared their experiences and best practices with more than 250 Business Record readers watching live. Moderated by Business Record Publisher Chris Conetzkey and Senior Staff Writer Joe Gardyasz, the panel included:

– 
CJ Jacobson – Vice president of people and culture | ITA Group
– 
Ali Payne – President | ethOs | Practice leader of organizational engagement | Holmes Murphy & Associates
– 
Jo Ellen Whitney – Attorney | Davis Brown Law Firm
– Amanda Young – SVP, chief human resources officer | Bankers Trust

Among the themes that emerged from the hourlong discussion was the importance of communication, compassion and continued human interactions as organizations respond on the fly to make critical decisions involving the health and safety of their employees, clients and customers — while trying to ensure that their businesses will survive. 

In addition to the strategic shifts that organizations have made to adjusting conditions, the panelists also foresee some significant long-term ramifications for how organizations handle remote working in the future. 

The Business Record will provide more in-depth coverage from the conversation in the April 17 print edition. 

Meanwhile, here are responses that the panelists gave to the first question posed: What has been the biggest transformational change you’ve seen as an HR professional in your organization in the past couple of weeks? 

Amanda Young: 
We’re uncertain when it’s going to end, so plans we make today may change within a month, a week, or even within a day as different guidance comes out from the CDC, the World Health Organization and from different government entities and officials. … What we’re all trying to do is strike that balance between helpful optimism and practical realism to maintain that mental fortitude to keep up this pace. 

Ali Payne: 
Organizations are really having to ask themselves, did we have the proper [procedures in place] to do what we needed to do, which was execute something that we thought would never happen. They’re asking themselves: Is our culture strong enough to hold both when we’re in the office and when we’re working from home? Do we have the right relationships built with our customers so that they feel supported at this time? I think having a strong culture and having a strong sense of community can really support all of these opportunities that we have in the future. 

CJ Jacobson: 
I would say [a big transformational change] was the ability to move our staff to a remote workforce environment. We had about 25% of our team members who had never worked from home before, and within two to three days we had them equipped and trained and ready to work at home, which was quite amazing. I recently saw this definition of the word “agile,” and it is the ability to change the overall system completely in response to an unpredictable external force. And I think that’s what we’re all feeling right now. Our guiding principles as we walk through this uncertain time is to be calm, to be caring, and to stay connected. 

Jo Ellen Whitney: 
One [observation] is how incredibly important the HR fundamentals are, because if you didn’t have good HR fundamentals — if you didn’t have cross-training, if you hadn’t done a good job of setting expectations — that’s all become much worse. Bad employees don’t get better in a pandemic; they only get worse. So I’ve had a lot of clients say to me, “You know, I wish we would have done better training earlier.” So I think that really highlights the importance of HR when you’re going to the CFO with budget requests. The second thing is that for my clients, the ones who are transparent, who are doing a good job communicating with their employees and telling them what they’re thinking, are doing better than the ones who have less transparency.