The impact of Covid-19 on HR management in Russia


A Russian perspective on the pandemic

2020 will be remembered as a year of major unexpected changes, in our personal lives and in the corporate world. Companies all over the world and across most economic sectors faced challenges on a scale that has not been seen for decades. Since February, companies have been struggling to preserve the continuity and viability of their business, while at the same time guaranteeing the safety of their employees.

HR managers article on COVID

To measure the impact of Covid on HR setup and processes in Russia, we talked to a panel of key decision makers in Russian companies and Russia-related corporate headquarters in Europe, including CEOs, Managing Directors, CFOs, and HR Directors. This report is our summary of the most interesting responses and insights.

We should acknowledge that due to Russia’s history, individuals and companies are highly resilient, and better prepared to handle instability than people in countries not used to frequent turmoil. Because of this, Russian employers and employees alike were geared up to handle Covid-related restrictions and changes in working processes. In addition, western companies operating in Russia found it easy to quickly re-adjust their operations, as the pandemic (and subsequent lockdown) reached Russia around 4-5 weeks after it had hit Europe. Companies were therefore able to roll out measures which had already been in place in other countries, and to profit from these earlier experiences.

HR leaders have been on the front line. Most have been working to find solutions that will allow business to proceed, while protecting employee health and adapting operations to the new reality. 

HR Managers Russia Survey

Depending on the economic sector, companies have been coping with multiple challenges: supply chain disruption, dramatic decreases in sales and business activity due to the closure of stores and production sites, or conversely, skyrocketing demand for certain products and services. HR leaders were given a huge increase in workload and pressure, as the expectations and stakes have been very high. In this context, HR Directors and their teams have been demonstrating the strategic reach of their function, while simultaneously becoming agents of change and drivers for transformation inside companies. While reshaping corporate operations, they are simultaneously designing the optimal operational restart for the post-Covid period.

We are aware that in some industries, Covid-19 measures have had a minimal impact. One CEO told us: “In general, from my perspective, there were no big issues which were difficult to manage. It was a ‘change the processes as usual’ situation, where a little bit more attention and time was needed to modify the processes.”
In companies with production facilities, additional challenges had to be overcome: keeping production running under new safety rules, complying with local sanitary procedures in production facilities, introducing Covid case reporting, and permanent modification of procedures. The feedback showed that home office working had been implemented where possible, as well as online communication tools and procedures.
We have been able to group our findings from the survey into five main points, which characterise the impact of the Covid crisis on HR management and decision-making:

  1. High levels of uncertainty; the impossibility of forecasting

The main challenge for all companies was to identify, collect, communicate and implement all relevant local measures, grants and governmental initiatives as quickly as possible, in order to optimise budgeting efforts and avoid bigger losses. 
A further complicating factor was the high level of uncertainty and the impossibility of forecasting, which affected all areas (sales, budgeting, financing, operations). Most managers saw a way out of these problems by seeking a balance between a proactive and a reactive approach, and the redefinition of the company’s long-term strategy.
This uncertainty has increased the pressure on management to make faster decisions, and to react more flexibly to changes. Agility and speed of reaction to change are the key to lasting success in every sector. 

What made it difficult for you?

HR Director in fashion retail: “Mobility restrictions.”  

GM of a major white goods producer: “Production sites and stores closed.”

Regional HR Director of a leading fashion retail player: “Bankruptcies of local/global partners (franchisees, subcontractors, providers, etc.).”

HR Director of a leading food producer: “Decrease of the consumer purchasing power.” 

Business leader of a major food producer: “Changes in consumer behaviour (shift to mass-market products, online purchasing).”

To be continued


Susanne Doenitz - Pedersen and Partners Executive Search

Susanne Doenitz

Susanne Doenitz is a Consultant at Pedersen & Partners based in Moscow, Russia. Ms. Doenitz brings over 15 years of Executive Search experience in Russia and CIS, having worked with leading multinational companies in the region and conducting more than 300 search mandates for executive positions in such industries as: Oil & Gas, Food, FMCG, Media and Consulting, Automotive, Pharma & Life Sciences, Construction, IT and Telecommunications. During her search career, Ms. Doenitz has set up subsidiaries and built international desks for multinational executive search firms across Eurasia. Prior to joining executive search business Susanne gained more than a decade of management experience having worked as the CEO of different media subsidiaries of one of the German Public channels. Besides Executive Search, Susanne is supporting managers as a business coach.

Ms. Doenitz holds a PhD in Oriental Studies from the Academy of Science of Russia and a BS in Japanese Philology from Moscow State University. In addition to her native German, Ms. Doenitz speaks fluent Russian and English and has a conversational level of Japanese.

Julie Desloges - Pedersen and Partners Executive Search

Julie Desloges

Julie Desloges is a Consultant at Pedersen & Partners based in Moscow, Russia. Over the course of her professional career, Ms. Desloges gained vast experience in Human Resources consultancy & management within major international firms in Russia and France. Prior to joining the firm, she held key positions within several multinational Human Resources consulting firms, ranging from Executive Search Manager to Strategic Account Manager and most recently, Senior Consultant for FMCG & Retail practices. In addition to conducting local searches for a variety of sectors, she gained extensive experience in cross-border searches for local and international companies.

Ms. Desloges holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration from Toulouse Business School and a Master’s degree in Applied Foreign Languages from Toulouse University. Apart from her native Russian, she speaks fluent English, French and German.

Gautier Vasseur - Pedersen and Partners Executive Search

Gautier Vasseur

Gautier Vasseur is a Client Partner, Head of CIS and Head of Sports Practice at Pedersen & Partners, based in the Greater Geneva area. He is a multicultural Executive Search professional who has lived in over 10 countries, and completed hundreds of cross-border assignments for Senior Leadership, Board and Supervisory Board level recruitments. Mr. Vasseur has been with Pedersen & Partners since 2003, developing the firm’s growing presence across CEE, Russia/CIS and APAC out of our respective Prague, Moscow and Shanghai offices. He writes articles on various management topics, and has spoken at numerous conferences on recruitment and leadership issues related to Emerging Markets.

Mr. Vasseur was an international-level professional athlete before he embarked on his business career. While pursuing his athletic goals, he received an MBA from the INSEEC Graduate School of Business and later completed a Specialised Master’s in Inter-Cultural Management from EMLYON Business School. 
In addition to his native French, he speaks fluent English and can communicate in German, Russian and basic Mandarin.


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