Last fall, as part of GR8 People’s independent research into the influence of artificial intelligence and automation on the practice of human resources and the profession’s future, we asked current HR and talent acquisition leaders to weigh in on whether they would recommend HR as a career path to the next generation of professionals. Among the top three reasons cited to enter the field is that “organizations will increasingly need strategic HR thinking to help them get the most out of their workforce.”
Viewed through the lens of COVID-19, the statement now takes on a magnitude few could imagine at the time. Even amid a tremendous amount of ongoing uncertainty, the picture is clear that workforce optimization is critical to not only an organization’s ability to navigate the pandemic but to thrive in a future that’s likely to be very different from what was previously envisioned.
3 Essential Workforce Optimization Priorities
In the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, CEOs were most concerned with attracting workers possessing the skills their organizations require to compete in fast-changing digital landscape.
While that concern remains top of mind among many business leaders, dramatic shifts in the wake of COVID-19 present new opportunities for HR to advise their organizations on the strategies that will support workforce optimization during difficult times. More specifically, HR is positioned to guide their organizations in their efforts to make working remotely work, hire for resiliency and meet digital transformation head on.
#1: Make Working Remotely Work
Obviously, one of the biggest changes experienced by employees is the move to working remotely, and several industry analysts expect to see a more permanent shift. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics estimates that the percent of the U.S. remote workforce will rise from 3.6% to 30%. Part of this is attributed to employee preference as numerous surveys point to their desire to continue to work from home after the pandemic. And, with more high-profile companies announcing plans to permanently ease restrictions on working from home, it may seem as if the right choice is to follow suit.
Yet, for most organizations, it’s just too early to make long-term decisions given that a closer look at the situation reveals conflicting data. A survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Glassdoor indicates that 72% of respondents “say they are eager to return to their company’s office,” citing factors such as getting to socialize with colleagues and collaborating in person. However, when asked about their preferences after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, 65% say that they “would work from home full time” if that option is available.
Because such widely varying opinions exist, HR should counsel their organizations to arrive at a complete understanding of the perspectives and preferences of their actual employees, alongside a data-driven assessment of early impacts to productivity, collaboration and innovation. Only after this understanding is in place can leaders determine which remote working policies are most viable and the associated tools and resources that must be in place to support all employees, whether they return to the office or continue to work from home.
#2: Hire for Resiliency
Soft skills were already in demand before COVID-19 due to growing recognition of the importance of these abilities, such as interpersonal communications and self-awareness, to overall performance. According to Udemy for Business, learning and development leaders were prioritizing innovation, change management, communication and storytelling, emotional intelligence, growth mindset, and time management as we entered 2020.
Moving forward, resiliency and adaptability will rank high on the list of desirable employee attributes since resilient employees are generally able to adjust to culture shifts and environments that are in flux. As such, it’s likely they will perform better than their less resilient peers during extended periods of crisis.
Because soft skills are by nature difficult to evaluate, HR can steer their organizations towards the use of data to help uncover the characteristics and experiences that correlate most closely to resiliency. Taking a data-driven approach, particularly one that leverages people analytics, represents the best method for achieving more accurate hiring assessments and, therefore, making better talent decisions.
#3: Meet Digital Transformation Head On
According to Gartner’s annual survey of HR executives, “digitizing HR” was the top priority among CHROs for 2019. COVID-19 has only accelerated the pace digital transformation, particularly as it relates to the use of automation. A recent Willis Towers Watson survey of global employers finds that 48% of respondents had or planned “to automate certain aspects of work to streamline and/or increase productivity” in response to organizational demands driven by the coronavirus pandemic.
HR leaders will encounter plenty of opportunity when it comes to advising their organizations on strategies to ensure that workers have the right skills to work alongside both automation and AI. Of course, digital transformation will also involve continual reskilling, as well as the capability to move talent around within an organization to meet changing business needs and economic conditions. HR leaders who can deliver agility in terms of putting the right people in the right jobs at a moment’s notice will prove most valuable to their organizations.
While COVID-19 certainly won’t be the only large-scale workforce disruption that the HR profession will have to grapple with in the coming years, the rapid evolution of the field offers those who pursue it countless opportunities to continually grow their skills and serve as a strategic advisor to the business.