Post-Covid world of work: How smart organisations future-proof themselves

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By Sagorika Kantharia

Post-Covid world of work: It was not so long back. I was speaking at a forum on Future of Work in 2017. I spoke about future that seemed distant at that time. It looked like we had plenty of time to prepare for the challenges thrown up by the fourth Industrial Revolution. When Covid-19 broke out, only 54% of the organisations across the world was ready to work from home, according to a study by Gartner.

No one would have imagined the changes brought about by the pandemic. Around 80% of employees in the services sector are working from home, 70% are missing social interaction, collaboration and relationships. A large majority (87%) of employees are not ready to give up offices, and organisations are looking at hybrid workplaces. They have to decide on the basis of technological upgradation and productivity challenges.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report, 81% respondents expect use of Artificial Intelligence, but only 26% feel the organisations are ready. New policies and people practices need to be built to suit the new way of working. Attracting, reskilling, upskilling talent is crucial for organizations to survive and thrive in the highly digitalised world.

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Today, long hours of work have become the norm and employees are reporting burnout. Work and the life seem to be completely integrated and there is no demarcation between the two. Remote working has reduced the belongingness factor amongst employees, making retention of talent a key concern. The world of work has changed beyond recognition in the last two years.

The year of reimagination

The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic taught us several lessons. The way organisations were run underwent drastic changes and here are some of them.

Start-up mindset: Agility is the need of the hour. The crucial questions are — how can you serve your customers well and what processes need to change to satisfy them.

People at the core: Companies will need to think how their people work best and perform at their optimum level. Around 60% of businesses surveyed by McKinsey in early April said their new remote sales models were as much or more effective than traditional channels. I coach senior level corporate executives and I have seen people and organisations try their best to adapt to the new environment and the new way of working.

Accelerating digital adoption: The best companies are taking the opportunity to enhance their digital quotient. They’re successfully using advanced analytics along with their insights to make better and faster decisions for the organisation and for customers.

New customer journeys: Companies need to understand what customers value in the post-Covid world, and must develop new tailored experiences based on those insights.

Act with urgency and agility: During the current crisis, many organisations have acted with a sense of urgency about work from home and reinvented themselves to serve the customer better.

We have no choice but learn to thrive in chaos. What does all this mean for leaders and organisations? Be adaptive, agile, adopt lifelong learning, regulate emotions, build technology & digital understanding, ensure the well-being of yourself and the team.

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How do organisations future-proof themselves?

1. Develop talent

Commitment to lifelong learning: According to Deloitte research, only 20% of the executives believe that their organisations have the right skills needed to succeed in an AI-enabled world and 31% are not sure what those skills will be. Commitment from organisation and employees is important to reskill / upskill themselves.

Upskilling is imperative: Protect your learning budget or you will regret later. Most of the organisations have increased their reskilling and retraining budgets to prepare for the future.

Learn to capitalise and use AI: Understand the business strategy and determine what you need AI for. It is essential that organisations begin with clear understanding of their business strategy and goals and identify what AI could be used for. Leaders should know how to capitalise on AI and employees should know how to use it.

Managers and leaders champion AI: To scale up learning, organisations are creating learning cohorts to share learning, enabling self-directed learning with online solutions, and coaching their managers for a mindset change. The managers and leaders will have to own up and champion AI and create acceptance. Managers will have to make learning a priority.

Assess current capabilities of workforce: Assess the current capability of your workforce and develop the talent strategy that supports your organisation’s digital vision.

  1. What skills to recruit?
  2. Collaborate with external parties.
  3. Train existing employees in new skills that will be needed in the years to come.

2. Develop learning strategy and roadmap

Develop learning modalities with time frame. What strategy works best for you to speed up the learning.

  1. Virtual facilitator
  2. Blended learning
  3. Academic courses – internal or external series of structured courses
  4. Social learning – discussion board, collaboration tools, coaching / mentoring
  5. On-demand learning using podcasts, videos, and e-learning and,
  6. Cross-functional project teams.

As technology, globalisation and demographic shifts continue to shape the new world of business, the importance of soft skills will grow along with the hard skills.

According to Deloitte, soft skill-intensive occupations will grow at 2.5 times the jobs in other fields and account for two thirds of all jobs by 2030. (Source Deloitte Access Economics). Soft skills will be essential for the workforce and leadership, flexibility & adaptability, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, collaboration, communication and emotional intelligence.

Around “80% of the new jobs will require Artificial Intelligence. Literate organisations will face a shortage of such workers”. (Source Deloitte Covid 19 upskilling Imperative) Jobs that are in demand are of data scientists, machine learning engineers, automation experts, and business analysts.

3. Talent acquisition trends

Virtual hiring: Virtual and automated interviews will replace in-person touch points. Bots will do the initial level screening, but human intervention will be required to decide the best fit for the department.

Gig economy on the rise: According to Assocham, India’s gig economy is expected to increase to $455 billion at CAGR of 17% by 2024. In fact, millennials are showing an increased preference for gig contracts. This provides work-life balance and flexibility. The emergence of start-up culture provides opportunity to hire contractual freelancers for non-core activities. Organisations are also providing flexi-hiring option to reduce operational expenses. Currently it is less than 10%, but will grow in the years to come.

Open talent economy: Leading tech firms are expanding to tier-II cities by onboarding capable, keen, trainable and relatively inexpensive talent in smaller cities. Many organisations are open to exploring options to hire for niche technology roles, from developed economies like Europe and the US which was unthinkable previously.

Social media hiring: Social media hiring has been in existence for some time now. One interesting trend that is emerging is use of programmatic advertising – it is automated way of displaying ads to specific type of people whom you wish to attract.

Build the employer branding: Social media has played a big role in communication and organisations use social media to create the employer brand. Employees want to work for organisations that support social causes. In fact, studies show that 70% of the job seekers want to work for an organisation that demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Predict future talent needs: Using data analytics to understand your organisational goals and determine your talent needs. Once you understand the gaps between what skills your organization has and the skills your organization needs, you can develop strategic talent acquisition goals to recruit the right talent to fill those skill gaps.

Maintain active and engaged talent pool: Engaging them and staying up to date on their status will put you in a much better position to hire these candidates when a suitable position opens up. By maintaining a deep pool of candidates, you won’t be starting from scratch each time you have to fill an open position.

4. Retaining talent

Connect and belongingness: The world has become less stable with illnesses and technological changes causing anxiety and fear. People are turning to their workplace for stability. Connect the teams with the organisation’s purpose and allow participation in decision making to build strong employer-employee connect.

Designing work for wellbeing: Integrating wellbeing in the design of work itself. Restructure work in a way that will help employees not only to feel their best but also to perform their best and to foster a greater sense of belonging. Focus on physical, and mental well-being of employees is important. For example, 30 minutes cap on meetings and strict work closing time can reduce burnout, which was already a problem when Covid-19 broke out. Several reports point to higher levels of burnout, especially among employees with kids doing remote learning at home.

Equitable treatment: While the organisations are building hybrid workplaces, it is important for the leadership team to clearly establish team norms and ensure that their time and attention is not disproportionately directed towards well-networked and extroverted employees. They need to be able to create an environment of trust, openness and connect with every team member.

Review the policies: Future-focused planning must place humans at the centre, speed up technology and innovate to transform organisations. Companies already operating with these drivers are proving more resilient and will adapt faster to the evolution. The eventual design of hybrid model of work, and technology adoption will be different for different businesses.

We are living in times where things look uncertain and hazy. It is crucial to understand thoroughly deliberate and carefully conceive new models of work that is supportive and has enabling culture to thrive in the new economy. It is for leaders to have a clear vision about the future and develop a strategy that will provide a roadmap for the organisation to move towards a brighter future.

(Sagorika Kantharia is Founder of KYO Human Resource Consultancy. She is an organisation transformation specialist and executive coach.)