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I had the pleasure of attending the virtual HRM Summit 2020 – Middle East Edition from Oct 11-15, 2020. With all of us living and experiencing a ‘new-normal’ with the global pandemic, the focus of the summit was re-imagining workplaces/ workforce and our role as HR practitioners and business partners in transforming organisations adapt to these unprecedented times.

Not only was the content thoughtfully curated with best-in-class technology, the speakers from around the world generously shared their knowledge and time facilitating many sessions, with some even staying up until 3am (based on their timezones) to enable the participants’ learning journey. With a variety of bite-sized sessions and no longer than 1.5hrs workshops, the summit attracted a diverse range of engaged participants across the globe.

For those 5 days my laptop screen was a window to our new world, and the view helped set clear expectations of HR professionals in driving and progressing significant changes. Highlighted below are a few key insights for me:


Empathetic, agile and compassionate leaders are more likely to succeed in these uncertain times. Now more than ever, being in touch with employees, listening to their views, being honest and transparent in decision making , spending more time in building those 1-1 relationships and carefully balancing the business & human aspects in their messages are important traits of leaders. Leaders need to be able to energise employees and create a sense of purpose for all, while being purposefully objective in business decision making. While HR leaders will be expected to demonstrate these traits, they will also need to enable business leaders in focussing on the emotional quotient and connection in their leadership styles.


We are all witness to organisations leveraging technology to help tide through the current crisis and have (at times accidentally) realised its potential in transforming the future of our workplaces. There was a repetitive theme in the conference of the accelerated journey of digitisation of workplace. There were interesting parallels drawn on how our external customer’s expectation of goods and services being available on demand, pandemic or no pandemic, will be mirrored in the , internal customers (employees) expecting HR services to be delivered to them on demand. HR will therefore now more than ever before need to leverage and adopt new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, online employee engagement tools, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and Microlearning platforms amongst many others to enhance employee experience. The expectation from HR teams is to allow technology manage the operational aspect of the role while they focus on providing the human touch and innovatively futureproofing the workplace.

Employee Wellbeing & Mental Health

Most organisations have always had programs focussed on wellbeing but there never has been a time in the history when these initiatives have been the centre stage of employee engagement. New adaptive work arrangements, social isolation, financial losses, family dynamics, feeling of loss, anxiety, fear and many other factors have amplified the complexity of the individual’s relationship and engagement with work. Due to the diversity of issues, HR teams must innovate on a wide range of employee wellbeing and mental health support schemes and organisations, with enough flexibility for personalisation. Such mass customisation may need additional investments.

Shaping the future workforce

There was a consensus amongst the speakers/ panellists that the future of workforce/ workplace may perhaps never be “back to normal” as we knew it. This new normal, has brought an opportunity for HR to support the workforce transformation in their organisations, understand the future needs of the business, define roles for the future workforce, skills and behaviours needed, determine new work structures and mix of working arrangements. Systematic assessment of current workforce will help HR understand the gaps in the organisation and focus on upskilling/ reskilling programs. The supporting HR systems of onboarding, induction, rewarding, performance management, talent management, learning, succession planning will all need to be reviewed and adapted accordingly.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The current crisis at the face of it may seem to have led to a reduced focus on traditional DE&I initiatives. However, closer scrutiny reveals that the impact of the pandemic has been varied and has surfaced the structural inequities of race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, education level, and economic class across the globe. The writer Damian Barr sums it well, “We are not all in the same boat, we are all in the same storm”. There is a need for organisations to broaden the definition of DE&I work understand the new challenges of their diverse workforce and make their policies and interventions more inclusive.


There were many other interesting areas that were discussed, for example: developing meaningful partnerships, improved decision making through analytics, changing regulatory frameworks and wellbeing of the HR teams/leaders themselves. All very relevant themes! In conclusion, the crisis has created a tremendous opportunity for us HR professionals to make a strategic shift in our roles and shape the culture of organisations.

Gazal Srivastava

Gazal has 18+ years of experience in Human Resource management with specialisation in Compensation & Benefits across Intergovernmental Organizations, Not for Profits, Microfinance, Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing industry and across various geographies and varied cultural contexts (Asia, USA, UK and Africa).

She has designed and managed HR systems for organisations at various stages of business lifecycle, program managed projects that spread across geographies and coached and mentored HR teams to adapt to new ways of working. In her specialist area, most recently she led global compensation function for GGGI based in South Korea, and worked at Save the Children International HQ to implement a new C&B framework for their 55 countries operation. She has designed and lead several benchmarking studies/ compensation projects for Fortune 500 clients during her tenure with Aon Hewitt. Her professional HR experience with organisations like Hewlett Packard, Unitus Investments and Fujitsu has given her a good grounding of HR systems in the private sector. Gazal has an Honours degree in Statistics and has an MBA in Human Resources.