The Pandemic Is Changing Society and Business In Amazing Ways

As we enter the fourth month of the global Pandemic, it’s becoming clear that The Big Reset is real. Society is changing in some positive ways. Let me give you a list of ten to think about.

(We have been conducting in-depth meetings with more than 150 HR leaders around the world and we are launching our findings at The Big Reset Town Hall on June 29, please join us.)


First, our society is raw with emotion, bringing us closer together. It’s very clear to all of us (and all our HR leaders agree) that the vulnerability we all feel to the virus has opened up our hearts. Care, forgiveness, patience, and listening are among the most important new topics in business. Many of the HR leaders we meet with tell us we are creating a new model for leadership, one built on taking care of others.

I’m not naive enough to say this will last forever, but today almost every CEO and business leader has come to the understanding that if the employees don’t feel safe, the company won’t survive.

Second, we’ve started a healthy (and very difficult) discussion about race, income inequality, and diversity. My belief is that D&I programs are well-intentioned investments, but they hardly move the needle on many of the injustices in society. So during good economic times, we assume they’re helping when in reality they don’t impact society very much. 

Well, now we are talking about it. According to the research I read yesterday, more than half of Americans believe Black Lives Matter is a good and important movement. So perhaps we will make progress on racial justice in the United States.

Third, it is now clear to me that the way we measure the economy is not working. The unemployment rate is staggeringly high but we don’t measure it well, yet the stock market reaches new highs. We see headlines and politicians celebrating the high price of stocks yet the stock market itself is more unequal every day. (The top five tech companies now make up 20% of the S&P.)

I don’t know if we’ll do anything about this, but there is a healthy debate going on about “how we measure the health of the United States.” And that will lead to better decisions about resource allocation.

Fourth, companies are radically changing their spending patterns. I’m really impressed that companies like Target, Verizon, AT&T, Lowe’s, and WalMart are raising wages, pledging to keep people employed, and increasing benefits.

Before the Pandemic we were having a terrible time convincing corporations to raise wages. Now companies are really stepping up. And companies like Apple, Bank of America, and Nike have donated tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to local community activities, black lives programs, and other initiatives. 

I wrote an article in 2018 about the terrible trend for companies to spend their cash on dividends, buybacks, and acquisitions and not to increase wages. The Pandemic is truly increasing corporate spending on people, which is something we couldn’t seem to do during the economic upcycle.

Fifth, learning has returned to the center of HR. I spent much of my career as an L&D analyst, and I’m absolutely thrilled to report that the L&D market is as healthy as I’ve ever seen it. The Pandemic is actually a business transformation, so companies are throwing money at workforce development. And learning in the flow of work has arrived, with lots of new tools coming every day. (The TikTok of learning is coming next.) 

And this includes helping families with learning at home. Global Foundries, one of the largest manufacturers of semiconductors, hired two school teachers to help employees develop instructional programs for their children at home.

There are still a lot of unsolved technical problems (skills models, LMS vs. LXP, and more) but I see some light at the end of the tunnel there.  (By the way, this week we launched our JBA Global HR Capabilities Assessment and later this year I’ll explain our Anthropology of HR work we’re doing. It’s all about decomposing jobs into capabilities in a very interesting and useful way.)

Sixth, the HR tech space is responding in amazing ways. In most recessions the tech industry takes a major pause. Not this time. Not only are people consuming digital experiences like never before, the tech industry itself is responding quickly.

ServiceNow, IBM, and TCS Consulting, for example, have already built and launched “Back to Work” toolsets, monitoring systems, attestation tools, and social distancing technology. All the learning vendors have agile learning tools for work at home. The employee experience vendors (Medallia, Qualtrics, Glint, and others) are offering real-time listening and feedback systems with new models for the Pandemic. And the performance management vendors (BetterWorks, 15Five, Lattice, and others) are all offering tools that truly make remote work productive.

Seventh, the concept of citizenship is finally taking hold. Forbes magazine, the hallmark of raw capitalist thinking (I’ve read Forbes for years because it always highlights the boldest and most disruptive people) actually wrote a whole chapter on Greater Capitalism. It isn’t particularly forward-thinking, but it’s filled with examples of companies doing the right thing.

I was quite concerned that the Business Roundtable Manifesto last year was paying the topic lip service. Companies vote with their policies and spending, not their press releases. But now that we’re all in trouble, they’re really making changes. I do believe a lot of the Citizenship we see in business is a pragmatic reaction to the problem of “if we don’t fix this we’re out of business.” But there is a real consciousness among business leaders that caring for society is part of our mission too.

Eighth, there is a whole new awareness of individual psychology in business. My psychologist friends are becoming some of my favorite people to talk to right now. The concepts of positive psychology, resilience, response to trauma (the George Floyd killing created trauma), and personal and family support are now common conversations in team meetings and zoom conference calls. And that opens the door to programs to help with mental and spiritual health. 

Check this out.

mental health

We didn’t talk much about this during the economic boom, did we.

Ninth, we are more focused on family issues. Now that many of us are home with our kids, we are worried about our parents, and our family circles are more quarantined, our employers have to think about what’s going on in our personal lives. Most HR departments now have major programs for family leave, education support for kids at home, flexible work hours, and other programs that help us lead a healthy family life. 

During the economic boom, we ignored these problems, forcing many of us to struggle in the competition between the long commute and the needs of our kids. That urgent problem is being discussed in business now and companies are far more open to family-centric solutions than ever before. Look at the type of remote work job-aid companies are now giving to their teams.

wellness at home

Tenth, the HR profession has taken on a heroic role. As I talked about in a podcast this week, I am more inspired and energized to support the HR profession than ever. We are rolling up our sleeves, partnering with IT and Facilities and Legal, and figuring out how to react, respond, and re-engineer. All the talk about “seat at the table” is over: HR professionals are leading the charge.

As I’ve felt for years, there are fewer “best practices” every day – and more “good ideas” and “great innovations” all the time. We are discovering and inventing new ways to work, new models for jobs, new ways to learn, and new ways to pay, incent, and reward people. And all this is has become innovative and more useful, fueled by the Pandemic.

One final thought.

For many years we’ve been writing articles about “The Future of Work.” I remember doing my first speech on this in 2016 and it was a baffling topic. Well, now it has landed in our lap. We now understand, thanks to the Pandemic, that work is all about empowerment, safety, development, and agility. Our organizations have to hire people based on potential and culture, we need to give people the tools and support to succeed, we need to create a work experience which supports the entire person, and we have to create clarity of mission and goals.

These things are crystal clear today. 

The robots are not taking over the economy, and the “skills of the future” are PowerSkills, not technical skills. Many of the things I felt needed to be discussed during the last decade have now become crystal clear. And I thank the Pandemic for that.

We’re not out of this yet, and there is a lot more learning yet to come.

Join us at our Big Reset Town Hall on June 29, and you’ll hear 7 companies detail what they’ve done to respond. And we’ll keep working at this to keep you up to date.

PS, my latest podcast talks through these ten positives in more detail.