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Fit for the postpandemic future: Unilever’s Leena Nair on reinventing how we work

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As chief human resources officer, responsible for 150,000 Unilever employees, Leena Nair prepares for the future of work by focusing on both the care of people and the competitiveness of the business.

Many organizations have had to adapt and pivot their operations swiftly in response to the changes imposed by the health risks of COVID-19, as well as the economic impact of the ongoing restrictions. As we enter what we hope will be the start of an era of recovery, leaders may find themselves asking how they should reimagine their organizations to become stronger and more resilient in the future. Human-resources executives are playing a central role in finding more agile solutions for their employees, transforming their organizations amid the COVID-19 crisis, and leading many innovative efforts to speed up a return to work through a human-centric approach. Unilever’s push for change includes a recently announced set of global commitments not only to pioneer new employment models but also to build a more equitable and inclusive society that offers more opportunities to everyone.

McKinsey’s Mary Meaney and Astrid Sandoval caught up with Unilever’s chief human resources officer (CHRO), Leena Nair, to reflect on how the pandemic has changed organizations, how her company is equipped to drive change in its workforce, and what lessons have been reinforced over the past year to help Unilever become future fit. What follows is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

McKinsey: How can you sustain the speed of change brought about by the pandemic and still retain a healthy workforce?

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