What’s next? Looking long-term at COVID-19
It didn’t take long for the COVID-19 virus and the rapidity of its spread to overwhelm traditional government services and responses. As a result, for the past few months public servants have been working around the clock to gain control of the situation and implement measures to soften the impacts.
A key part of this response has been – and continues to be – HR, as we support business and staff to respond to this extraordinary health and economic emergency.
In times like these, with so much needing to be achieved in such difficult circumstances, it's unsurprising that many people become fixated on the 'now', thinking only of each day's requirements.
It's also one mistake that Head of APS HR Profession and Chief Operating Officer (COO), Australian Taxation Office, Jacqui Curtis, wants to ensure that we don't make.
At a recent APS HR Network webinar, Jacqui spoke alongside fellow HR leaders Mary Wiley-Smith, Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner, Australian Public Service Commission, and Justine Greig, Deputy Secretary Defence People, Department of Defence, about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
While the main focus of the webinar was on current activities, the panel also spoke about considerations for the future, including remaining flexible and adaptable.
"Some impacts that we are seeing already are around the changing priorities across the government. Work that was critical yesterday is no longer critical today. We are as an APS pivoting," Jacqui stated.
Mary echoed this sentiment and provided further information as to what this might look like on a practical level, explaining that staff should expect more movements to assist areas most under pressure. "APS employees who are unable to perform their normal duties, or whose normal duties are not considered to be a priority right now in the current environment, will be moved to other critical areas of urgent need," she said.
"For some staff this is going to be fairly difficult because, it might be in their home agency, for others it might be in another APS agency, but it also could be in a state or territory organisation."
Although the mechanics of how the shifts will occur are still under development, Mary made it clear that everyone will be relying on HR to make it happen smoothly.
With that in mind, Justine urged all APS HR staff to make the time to look ahead and plan for the future.
"We're focused right now, today, on what we're doing," she said. "Try to imagine what next week will look like, what next month will look like, and what a recovery stage might look like... this will help us."
Jacqui acknowledged that it can be difficult, but emphasised that taking a moment to employ strategic thinking was important.
"It's really hard in a crisis when you're running, and everything is on the go, trying to make really quick decisions. It's really critical at these times to take a pause and think through your decision and think, well, if I had to explain this to somebody, what would I say my reasons for my decision were?"
Though the panel agreed that the next few months would be challenging, they also spoke with admiration about the strength, dedication and commitment of HR professionals across the APS.
"There's no doubt, as Jacqui said, the next few months are going to be very trying and challenging for us all," Mary allowed. "But we know that the APS, what we do really well, is actually respond in a crisis. We saw that last year, in relation to North Qld floods; we saw it again earlier this year, when we saw the APS respond to the bushfire crisis. And now, we're mobilising, as Jacqui mentioned, in response to COVID-19."
If you'd like to watch the full webinar, visit the APS HR Professional Network group on GovTEAMS.