Watch a 5-minute video recap by Chief Research Officer Kevin Martin.

Just how different remains to be seen, but there’s no question that work will look much different when business returns to “normal,” and employees begin to return to the workplace. And organizations still have many questions to answer: Who will return to the workplace and when? Who will remain at home and why? What type of flexible work arrangements will persist and under what circumstances? And how must we look at ‘work’ differently in order to enables our companies to compete and win in this era of continuous disruption?

 HR leaders discussed their strategies for answering these and many other questions on i4cp’s May 15, 2020 CHRO Action – COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Series call, where companies such as Prudential, McKesson, Wayfair and many more shared their approach to return-to-work efforts, and the lessons they’ve learned in the two months since the coronavirus pandemic arrived to fundamentally change the workplace going forward. Some highlights: 

-       More organizations are determining that there must be compelling reasons to bring certain employees back to the workplace, as opposed to letting these employees continue to work from home once COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted. Today’s guest speaker, Lucien Alziari, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Prudential, addressed this topic during today’s Q&A. At Prudential, the executive leadership team is looking at how if at all the organization would benefit by bringing certain employee populations back to a physical office/work environment, and rethinking how and where work should be done, and how technology can be used differently to enable more remote work.

-       Companies are working to equip leaders differently in order to lead in what is a new, highly personalized work experience. In addition to providing people-leader training focused on managing a remote team, for example, organizations are emphasizing the importance of leading with empathy, and utilizing “soft” skills to a greater degree. At Prudential, for example, “it’s humanity that’s making things right now,” says Alziari. “I might spend the first 20 minutes of a call or a meeting just asking everyone how they’re doing, how they’re really doing.”

-       Organizations are evaluating how this crisis will allow them to enhance the impact that CHROs can have on their companies. In an instant poll, 89 of the more than 150 call participants answered how they are or should be using the pandemic for this purpose. The largest number (83%) said “thinking differently about how work gets done in the future,” with 67% saying the same about “taking care of our people,” and 61% indicating that “making sure we exit this crisis phase to ensure we survive and thrive” would be the biggest way to boost the impact of CHROs on their companies.

-       While employers continue to evaluate which employees will be required to return to the workplace, when and why, there is an appetite among the workforce for a hybrid approach to work going forward, combining remote options with time at the office. Multiple HR leaders on today’s call noted that their HR teams are conducting employee pulse surveys designed to gauge employee sentiment around returning to the workplace and other coronavirus-related issues, and are finding that many employees would like to move forward with hybrid remote schedules.


As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, organizations are realizing a need to re-think their talent supply chains in order to navigate this environment of continuous disruption. This was the focus of the latest CHRO COVID-19 Response Series call, where dozens of CHROs and HR leaders discussed how their organizations are approaching the use of their talent (and displaying overall agility) in the wake of COVID-19. 

Guest speakers Lisa Bettinger-Buckingham (EVP of People, Place and Brand at Lincoln Financial Group) and Ellyn Shook (CHRO at Accenture) shared their organizations’ roles in launching People + Work Connect, the recently launched, analytics-driven platform designed to connect companies with roles to fill and talented individuals in need of work. Some highlights:  


Today’s call focused almost exclusively on the People + Work Connect, an analytics-based platform that links companies that are cutting jobs with ones that are hiring. Founded by HR leaders at Accenture, Lincoln Financial, Service Now and Verizon, the platform went from concept to launch in just two weeks, is available to any company with approximately 100 jobs to fill or 100 available workers to place, and has already connected more than one hundred companies and those in need of jobs.  

Today’s guest speakers, Lincoln Financial Group CHRO Lisa Buckingham, and Accenture CHRO Ellyn Shook, discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has led their organizations to change the way they think about redeploying talent. For example, Buckingham noted that initial scenario planning at LFG led the leadership team to realize that “walls would have to be broken down” and talent would have to be moved throughout the organization to address this challenge.  

This speaks to the relevance of i4cp’s Talent Ecosystem Integration Model, which outlines the multiple avenues – collaborative/agile teams, internal and external talent marketplaces, partnerships, for example – that high-performance organizations pursue to meet their talent needs.   


Similarly, the lessons learned in taking the People + Work Connect platform to market in two weeks

underscored the importance of an organization, and HR, displaying agility in the midst of a crisis.  

Today’s poll question asked the group which element of this model they believe would enable the greatest agility and/or resiliency in their organizations.  

35% of respondents said that their external talent exchange would enable the greatest agility, with 34% saying the same about their internal talent marketplace. Another 13% answered “gig/freelancers,” with 10% responding “crowdsourced solutions from curated internal/external audiences. 


Recent i4cp pulse surveys have confirmed that organizations are turning their attention to return-to-work efforts, even though it’s still unclear when the workplace will return to “normalcy.”  

According to i4cp data, which we shared on this call, the majority of companies have put together a dedicated return-to-work task force or team to lead the effort. In a poll of 292 organizations with 1,000 or more employees, 65% said their company has already assembled such a team, with another 26% discussing the formation of a return-to-work task force.  

These teams are primarily composed of:  

  • CHRO (73% of organizations)
  • Corporate Communications Leader (58%)
  • Select Business Unit Leaders (54%)
  • General Counsel/Legal (48%)
  • Environmental Health and Safety Leader (40%)
  • Executive Leadership Team (36%)   


Both guest speakers touched on the link between personal health and the health of one’s relationships, including at work; i4cp’s upcoming holistic well-being research addresses this as well.  

As i4cp’s Kevin Martin noted on today’s call, the onus is on organizations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to not allow physical proximity, or a lack thereof, create feelings of isolation and a lack of connectedness with colleagues and the company. (This subject came up on yesterday’s Total Rewards Leader response call as well.)  

Companies are addressing this head on. At Accenture, for example, the company has created a section on the company intranet with resources designed to help employees acclimate to working remotely, and allows the opportunity to interact with each other, and also includes a section dedicated to maintaining mental well-being and brain health.     


The unpredictable nature of the Coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for companies to think too far ahead. However, a comparison of survey data i4cp collected from hundreds of senior-ranking HR leaders (first during Mar 16-18 and then again on Mar 30 – Apr 1) shows that 5x more companies are now extending office closures and social distancing mandates more than eight weeks out.

Strategic CHROs must strike a critical balance to help their organizations navigate in the here and now, as well as be best positioned with the right return to work strategy. i4cp’s April 3, 2020 CHRO Action – COVID-19 Coronavirus Response Series call – which featured CHRO guests Dave Gartenberg of Avanade and Christy Pambianchi of Verizon – hit upon both. In an energy-filled call, Dave and Christy shared and discussed strategies with peers from dozens of organizations about what they’re doing to ensure continuity and sustainability in the face of COVID-19, now and in the weeks and months ahead. Some highlights:


  • While it’s impossible to say when the Coronavirus curve might get flattened, organizational leadership is starting to turn its eyes to return to work efforts. In one polling question during the April 3rd call, 77% of the HR leaders indicated their organization’s corporate leadership was spending at least 25% of their collective energy on ‘return to work’ efforts. And, while that number will surely climb, many organizations simply don’t yet the luxury to think too far into the future just yet, and are still in “how do we deal with this right now?” mode.
  • Current circumstances underscore the need for organizations to rethink their talent ecosystem to prioritize and enable talent fluidity. i4cp’s agility research has found HPOs are 3.5x more likely to establish networks of trusted partners with whom they share and borrow talent.
  • Communication strategies related to the current state of play with the pandemic at large and within the organization are critical. Many attendees shared their strategies, such as Verizon’s daily noon broadcast including the CEO, CHEO and another (rotating) leader, who oversee a 30-minute meeting that is available on Verizon’s website, as well as Twitter and other social media platforms. Verizon also texts employees worldwide with reminders to take pulse surveys designed to gauge sentiment around how they and the organization are faring.
  • And with the pending layoffs and furloughs, coupled with reallocation and redeployment of displaced workers, emphasis was placed on the importance of a strategy (and related mechanisms) that enable the organization to understand workforce sentiment (i.e., how all those communications are actually being heard by the workforce). The CHROs of Verizon and Avanade are both instituting daily/regular pulse surveys of their respective workforces and both shared the types of survey questions they are sending (or planning to send) to gather that sentiment.


This week's call was attended by dozens of HR leaders from organizations including BNSF, Target, Tinder, Providence Healthcare, and many more. We discussed how their organizations are reacting in the constantly changing environment the pandemic has created. Particular emphasis focused on:   

  • Compensation and pay strategies to enable pay continuity for hourly and contingent workers as well as mechanisms (e.g., hazard pay and spot bonuses) used to keep essential and critical talent engaged and retained.
  • Mindset and methods to enable greater organizational and leadership agility. Particular energy and examples focused on executive team decisioning, speed and CEO communication/ involvement. 

Four Takeaways 

The pandemic has impacted productivity, naturally. But companies are definitely adjusting. Trend data from i4cp shows that the percentage of employers who indicate moderate to high levels of impact on workforce productivity remains at approximately 80%. However, that percentage has not moved in the past week. Perhaps a glimmer of hope as people become adjusted to working from home.     

Companies are ensuring pay continuity in a number of ways, most commonly by extending pay to all hourly employees, regardless of whether they performed work during that timeframe (52%) and allowing workers to tap into vacation pay (47%). Great to hear actions like creating supplemental sick “banks” for employees who have exhausted their reserves, implementing a hardship fund and several choosing not to count sick or vacation days. Additionally, many shared their approaches to rewarding/motivating essential personnel (e.g. healthcare workers), including 20% hourly wage increase and providing free mental health counseling.   

In terms of agility, most companies still don’t consider themselves adept at anticipating or even driving change. In our real-time poll, only 19% said they are most capable at anticipating change, with an even smaller number (4%) saying the same about forcing or driving change. The majority, 52%, said they are most skilled at adapting to change when it happens. (19% indicated that their organization is equally capable in all three categories.)    

In another real-time poll, 76% of the HR leaders on our March 27th COVID-19 call believe that – at least to a moderate extent - the social distancing and office closures that result from response to this pandemic will also force their organizations to rethink their approach/needs related to physical space for collaboration or workspace.


The first gathering of the addressed the following issues and concerns: 

Planning for COVID-19 is increasing the need for employers to expand on virtual work and virtual leadership capabilities

How are we going to address working parents that have children home from school with various scenarios?

  • Establish “core hours” for the workday
  • Allow flex time standards

When and how do we implement a WFH strategy for our workforce (that is geography specific)?
Following local and national guidelines to help make closure decisions

How do we emphasize social connection and well-being during this time of “social distancing”?

  • Pushing people to connect virtually on work platforms (Microsoft Teams)
  • Social virtual happy hours
  • Share tips on how to WFH for first-time remote worker