The Future of Work: 5 Post-Pandemic Workforce Trends
As companies begin to move past the initial layoffs, lost business, and dislocation that came with the outset of the pandemic, they’re also wondering what’s next.
Our view is that companies are now moving to what many call the next normal. Organizations are navigating a return to the office, stepping up operations, and engaging more contingent workers. Workforce strategies and business plans all point to a post-quarantine environment.
But that’s not looking far enough ahead. As organizations consider the post-quarantine world, now is also the time to plan for the post-vaccine future. Success in that future will depend largely on how companies change their approach to the workforce based on lessons learned in the pandemic.
Many of those lessons come from the shift to working outside the office. How do we re-frame our view and seize new opportunities that remote work will afford? We see answers in five areas of change and opportunity: geography, cost control, data, competition, and engagement.
1. Geography: Removing Barriers to Talent for the Future of Work
The future of work conversation is now a priority for businesses. The rush toward digital transformation is happening now, changing the traditional, physically limiting methods of talent acquisition to anywhere recruiting and virtual on-boarding. Companies that faced a finite talent pool can now remove those guard rails by being bold and considering candidates in any geography.
For years, many studies showed productivity gains from remote work. By having an anywhere mentality, a company can tap into global networks of candidates for the work to be done. A remote strategy not only improves the ability to attract talent; it also boosts retention. As a result, many companies are thinking about new questions:
- Depending on the job, do you care where work gets done? Many aspects of work where physical presence used to be required have proven to be negotiable as far as onsite demands. Has your organization revisited requirements for roles? The real impact of favorable remote work policies is increased access to talent who can do the work well.
- Are you confident of remote work performance? Has moving your workforce into their homes given you confidence, or at least made you more comfortable that there will be productivity, even if you don’t see it? The pandemic’s forced remote work conditions gave companies more insight into how well people perform in a work-from-home situation.
2. Cost-Control: Remote Work Opens Creative Approaches to Spend Management
Broadened geography for talent can mean cost-savings or cost-containment opportunities. This cost factor is not just at the individual worker level; it is also about the total cost of engaging all flexible talent. Of course, the ability to tap into talent in various markets can help with costs. But there are more options. Specifically, two questions reveal areas of opportunity for improving a company’s workforce strategy:
- Should you hire top talent or up-skill existing talent? In the past, companies had to build strategies based on recruiting conditions in their markets. If the talent or learning resources were unavailable, they had to adjust their approach in a reactive way. Now they have more control.
Today, the best strategy would be to exercise both options. An expanded geography to acquire talent, combined with anywhere-anytime learning, lets organizations balance hiring and developing new skills with their current talent.
- How can you get work done differently? Many organizations realize almost any section of their business can be done remotely. Looking forward, they can now open the door to ask, “How can work itself be done differently?”
For example, companies can learn to leverage their strategy for managing Statement of Work (SOW) or Services Companies in new ways. They can put all of their non-employee spend under one umbrella of management rather than the many silos of engagement that commonly exist today. By doing this, you can control the quality of work being delivered, get a handle on costs, and identify new projects or tasks that may be best executed by SOW resources.
3. Data: Visibility and Transparency Become a Survival Tool
The pandemic has revealed the importance of data and analytics in leading a company through uncertain times. To promote a climate of calm, you need engaged leadership ready to respond in the right way. They need to deliver timely, accurate, assertive, clear, and consistent communication at all levels.
That type of communication requires hard data, and the need for data extends to managing the flexible workforce. Transparency and visibility to all spend, and all workers, are more important than ever, and many companies struggled in the pandemic because they lacked that visibility. Consider the following questions about transparency to inform your workforce strategy in the future:
- Does your tracking go beyond the numbers? At the beginning of the pandemic, it was impossible for some companies with unmanaged spend outside their MSP program to blast out messages to suppliers quickly or attempt to contact trace. Calculating invoice amounts at the time became irrelevant when someone asked, “How many non-employees are on assignment?” And many companies had little data on the workers they engaged through an SOW.
Companies that never considered these issues before now realize that what you don’t know can hurt you. Getting a handle on unmanaged spend and resources is something AGS can take on, complementing a current contingent workforce program to give a more holistic view of what it takes to keep moving forward.
- Are you looking at information as an advantage? Data overload is no longer a burden. Access to data is an advantage if it can be analyzed and presented meaningfully to the right audiences. Companies need detailed visibility into what they are buying, who they are buying it from, and the outcomes they’re achieving. These needs shape the future of your contingent workforce strategy.
Going in eyes wide open to the business decisions your hiring leaders have made, and determining if you have leveraged the power of your investment in talent, is crucial to remaining on the offensive. Where and how is money being spent? What are the outcomes? Where can you improve? Every company needs to be able to answer these questions about every resource they engage.
4. Innovation: Competitive Advantage Comes in New Forms
The pandemic forced companies to act in ways no one wants to do. Sending teams home was not a choice, but it forced companies to get smart, quickly, about how to make remote work a core part of the business. Moving forward, organizations will have a better knowledge of what it takes to run the business reliably and efficiently while changing their strategy rapidly and effectively.
There is no single formula for change. Every company is different, but change will happen nonetheless. Consider the two directions your remote work strategy can take:
- Remote work is growing in many organizations. Do you see it growing in yours? Along with Twitter, Facebook recently announced its plans to incorporate work-from-home into its long-term talent plan. Mark Zuckerberg went as far as to say that more than 50 percent of the workforce could be working from home permanently within 10 years. They are looking to leverage the change they had to make into a competitive advantage in the future.
- Maybe you are going in the other direction. Think you’re alone? Then there’s Apple, which is taking a very different path. They want to continue to leverage their campus as a competitive advantage. They see the workspace, free food, gym, and other aspects of campus life as part of their DNA. A big part of their culture is about building the next big technology behind closed doors. The dynamic would change if everyone were remote.
What would it take to preserve the culture you need to grow? Can organizations plan now for a full physical presence? Even if the trends say otherwise, now is not the time to simply run with the crowd. Ask the real questions others are not asking. The payoff is a future where genuine action can boost real relationships with the great talent you need the most.
5. Worker Engagement: Intentional Good Becomes a Core Priority
Companies that were open, transparent, and intentional about what “good” means to their people will come out of the pandemic better. How well did organizations communicate and foster relationships in a virtual environment? How well did they empower their non-employee and internal talent to stay engaged with an unknown future ahead? Passively assuming the best wasn’t enough.
Active relationship-building made the difference during the quarantine, and it will continue to do so in the future. Consider questions about the worker experience that will influence engagement and relationships in the post-pandemic world:
- Is your representation of the employer brand genuine? Attraction to your company is one thing, but keeping people on board and fully engaged — and not playing the field passively — is another. We know a strong and memorable web and social media presence can bolster a company’s brand for the non-employee worker and traditional employee alike.
In many cases, recent events compelled contractors and employees to become brand ambassadors — or critics. They shared experiences and feelings about how their organization related to them. Was the organization transparent? Were they treated humanely? Did they see their colleagues treated the same? A worker’s take on a company is multi-dimensional, and it can make or break an organization’s reputation on places like Glassdoor and Indeed.
Companies knew the importance of worker sentiment before the pandemic. Now, the attention on worker experience has elevated. A focused effort on sustaining communications and relationships is critical, especially in a remote work environment where an employer’s reputation is at stake.
- Is quality of life a front-line objective? Finally, as corporations and their cultures evolve in this unforeseen global crisis, they cannot shy away from the quality-of-life conversation. It is on people’s minds more than ever.
Can someone integrate their work and life priorities in your company — for a career or even just a six-month assignment? Does the work being done contribute to their careers? Are you creating opportunities to train and advance their skills? Are you fostering a culture that makes lives better among workers and the community at large?
These questions cannot be answered passively. A company’s future relationship with its workers depends largely on the actions it takes today. Don’t put off those questions.
Know What to Do When You Don’t Know Everything
When it comes to navigating the road ahead, you can’t fully predict the world of the future. You can only try to read the messages of today. See what works. Be rigorous in your commitment to learning from what you see. And don’t give up looking for the opportunities to be better. That’s what AGS can do. You cannot fully predict what tomorrow’s world of work will bring, but with a combination of flexibility and planning you can future-proof your workforce strategy to keep your organization ahead.
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