The pandemic has emphasized a need to focus on people—and many organizations aren’t prepared to make the investment
By Erica Volini, principal and Global Human Capital leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP
For many people, the world of work looks entirely different than just a few months ago. The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on global workforces, fast-tracking business leaders’ plans to transition to the future of work. Whether they were prepared or not, many business leaders and human resources teams were forced to transition employees to remote work and enact social distancing plans for essential workers—redesigning business operations in a matter of weeks.
While employers were historically accountable for only physical safety, today 96% of respondents feel employee well-being is an organizational responsibility, according to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report. As the pandemic grew, meetings and check-ins quickly moved from conference tables to video screens, and team chats on digital collaboration tools to keep work flowing. Chief among leaders’ priorities during this time is ensuring employees feel connected and engaged—to one another, to their business objectives, and to their organization’s purpose.
However, many organizations have gaps in their ability to shift and make work more human-focused. The report found that while 53% of respondents felt half or all of their workforce would need to be transformed over the next three years, only 16% of business leaders expect to significantly amp up investment in the evolution of the workforce during that same timeframe. Additionally, at a time when workforce shifts are happening at warp speed, only 1 in 10 business leaders surveyed is producing workforce insights in real time. On top of that, we found that just 27% of business leaders have clear policies and practices to manage the ethical challenges resulting from the future of work despite 85% of respondents saying the future of work raises ethical challenges.
Now, as organizations begin to turn their attention towards recovery, leaders should think about prioritizing these gaps in an effort to move forward from a position of strength and resilience.
Steps, not Leaps, Forward
This is not a time for organizations to limit their investments in the workforce. The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that many organizations have significantly underinvested in how humans will adapt to and embrace new ways of working, compared with investments in technology over the past decade.
The pandemic has taught business leaders to approach workforce transformation by balancing innovative technologies with a culture of meaningful work. While technology is key to reinvention, the real benefit can be unlocked when employers identify and build upon workers’ capabilities, pointing their workforce toward the future of work.
There’s no doubt the way work gets done has fundamentally changed. Navigating the new normal brought on by COVID-19 has pushed the need for a stronger HR organization to the forefront—yet 26% of respondents are not confident in HR’s ability to step up to the challenge and lead their organization. By failing to capitalize on employees’ ability to work, organizations won’t be able to make the most of technology’s potential—and could hinder the innovation necessary to be able to thrive in the COVID-19 era and beyond.
Returning to Work by Designing the Future of Work
A framework for approaching workforce-related strategies during recovery outlines five critical actions: Reflect, Recommit, Re-engage, Rethink, and Reboot. These actions, particularly Recommit and Re-engage, can help bridge the response to the new normal by laying the foundation to thrive in the aftermath of crisis. Organizations can demonstrate a dedication to re-assimilating the workforce by providing a guide for the short-term recovery process.
Organizations need to recommit to employee well-being and purpose by acknowledging and working to mitigate physical, psychological, and financial concerns of their employees. This pertains to both the workplace and at home, supporting their workers as they transition toward recovery and being mindful of extenuating circumstances, such as childcare.
When organizations look to re-engage, they should take advantage of opportunities throughout the recovery process to assign meaningful work. As they redeploy their workforces both remotely and onsite, leaders should arm workers with the skills and access needed to meet work requirements and benchmarks, while simultaneously offering clear direction on priorities and tasks. How organizations prepare and support their workforces for these new priorities and routines will be a key driver of workforce performance.
Invest in and Engage with Your People
To prioritize employee well-being and belonging, the top two trends in this year’s report, organizations need to reinvent themselves, make investments for the long-term, and re-evaluate their focus with the goal of becoming a social enterprise—an organization whose mission balances profitability with an emphasis on collaboration and social responsibility. The social enterprise possesses a unique ability to find the right equilibrium between technology and humanity at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put humanity in the spotlight. This environment has forced organizations to re-examine whether humanity and technology are truly in conflict and find ways to remain distinctly human in a technology driven world.
To drive and sustain organizational performance and become a true social enterprise prepared for the future, executives should make sure their organization embodies three characteristics:
- Purpose: By deepening the mission and values connection amongst teams, employees feel a greater sense of belonging and engagement at the workplace
- Potential: When organizations tap into the workforce’s capability to contribute in new ways, they’re positioning themselves to be a more resilient employer
- Perspective: If leaders embrace bold decision-making in periods of constant change, they’re better able to adapt in rapidly developing situations
Each of the “Three Ps” will require significant commitment to changing workforce strategies, but by embedding them into the organizational DNA, business leaders can find a clear path for organizational recovery and resiliency.
The biggest challenge in recovery will likely be the tug-of-war between getting back to work and rethinking work as workplaces embrace a new reality. How leaders handle recovery may define their brands for years to come, and ultimately reveal whether they are truly operating as a social enterprise.
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