The return to the office has become one of the most discussed topics among business leaders and employees as we navigate through this vaccine phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. With leading companies like Facebook, Uber, and Microsoft all set to open in some capacity this summer, many other businesses are following suit. Although CEOs and business leaders have been charged with operating through unprecedented events over the past year, it has been the HR leaders who have been the unsung heroes of the workplace and will be counted on even more as we transition back into the office.

Fostering Stability Behind The Scenes

Since the start of the pandemic, HR leaders have been the guiding force for organizations, keeping all parties updated, safe, and accounted for. With anxiety and stress at an all-time high, HR leaders have been the intermediary between employee and executive, balancing the needs and challenges of the everyday worker with the goals and direction of the leadership team. Striking this balance is no easy task, with reports indicating 90% of HR leaders felt an increase in stress this past year. 

Their work doesn’t go unnoticed, though, whether it’s updating policies to account for flexible work hours, scheduling town hall meetings between the executive team and employees, or even fun Zoom happy hours to give everyone a brief sense of pause and enjoyment, HR leaders have been working overtime to provide a continued sense of connection and culture.

The Return To the Office

After managing the adjustments to a work-from-home lifestyle, HR leaders will be called upon to do the same as we venture back into the office. Despite trepidations for safety and growing comfortability with WFH, there is a visible appetite to return in some capacity. In fact, a recent survey from Gympass found  that almost two-thirds of respondents (62.3%) were at least somewhat excited about the idea. This will require even more communication and understanding of the needs and wants of employees and executives from HR leaders to ensure a productive, safe, and effective work environment. 

Even with a return to the office, hybrid work models will most likely become a norm this year and in the foreseeable future. This opens up a new set of challenges that our HR leaders must face, once again demonstrating their indispensable roles in every company. Managing employee in-person vs. virtual schedules, balancing desk and space availability, ensuring safety protocols for in-person employees, all of these tasks will fall upon their shoulders to ensure a productive and, above all, safe workplace for all. No doubt there will be experimentation and frustration from both employees and executives, but our HR leaders are accustomed to being the heroes we need but don’t deserve.

Where We Go From Here

As CEOs, it’s imperative that we take a step back to review all the work that HR leaders have put forward during this time and not take that for granted. Through the remainder of this year, we will once again ask too much of them in order to grow and succeed as a company, as well as keep our employees safe, productive, and happy in their roles. We must also think about how the HR role has changed and how we can best utilize their skills and position in the company to improve several aspects of day-to-day operations. CEOs need to give our HR leaders a seat at the table, as it were, allowing them more visibility into the direction of the company, as well as providing them with the opportunity to express the views and feelings from the employees they manage. Doing so is mutually beneficial, as HR leaders gain insight into  the business priorities, initiatives, and goals, while the executive team has a better understanding of its employees to make informed decisions.

The nature of the workforce has dramatically changed for good, that much is certain. The pandemic has ushered in changes that will be cemented for generations and has directly impacted the duties and responsibilities our HR leaders now hold. As we move towards the light at the end of this tunnel that had been COVID-19, we must look back on those who truly made a difference on a daily basis. While CEOs are often granted credit for their leadership and actions during turbulent times, we mustn’t forget the true heroes that work behind the scenes to navigate us smoothly to a safe landing. 


  • Cesar Carvalho

    CEO & Founder, Gympass

    Cesar Carvalho is the CEO of Gympass, the world's largest employee wellbeing platform that he co-founded in 2012 to ignite and fuel every journey to feel good. With Gympass, employees have the opportunity to find what makes them feel good — mind, body and life — by reinventing wellbeing, making it universal, engaging and accessible. Prior to Gympass, Cesar worked at top firms including McKinsey & Company and AC Nielsen. Originally hailing from Brazil, Cesar has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Universidade de São Paulo and attended Harvard Business School before founding Gympass.