By Daniel Newman, Forbes
Even before the start of coronavirus, it was clear that digital transformation would change employee experience and the future of work. OECD research from 2019 showed that more than 30 percent of jobs could eventually be changed by automation alone. Enter COVID-19, and the push to automate and digitize work has only accelerated. Where does that leave companies when it comes to talent planning? And what about employees themselves?
When it comes to recruiting and hiring, there are some definite trends popping up in the age of the “new normal.” Is your company on track to stay competitive during these unprecedented times for talent planning?
Upskilling and Investing in Employees
Just this year, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in investment in upskilling. Amazon alone committed $700 million to upskilling its employees through 2025 to prepare them for a more digital workplace. The program seeks to impact more than 100,000 of its employees with a unique focus on helping its employees in lesser skilled role gain the skills to grow professionally.
As one of the most well defined upskilling programs focused on internal workforce development, it is worth examining this a little bit closer. Amazon’s training programs are comprehensive – including Career Choice, Associate2Tech, Amazon Technical Academy, Machine Learning University, Amazon Apprenticeship, and AWS Training and Certification – the goal is to help Amazon employees gain critical skills to move into higher skill, better paying, technical and non-technical roles, either within Amazon or elsewhere. In a recent update from the company, it claims Amazon claims that it has scaled and expanded these six employee programs across the U.S., with 15,000 participants over the last 12 months.
Amazon isn’t alone in its effort to upskill its workforce. PwC is investing $3 billion. Why? Even before coronavirus, the world’s leading businesses recognized that we’re on the verge of an increasingly large skills gap. The skills companies need most, especially those focused on AI and machine learning, simply aren’t out there in the numbers they need them. And now, with coronavirus accelerating digital transformation even more, employees are often lacking the skills they need to survive in more digitized positions—not just high-tech ones.
For instance, what we’re seeing overall is that all jobs—even manual ones—will become more digitized, and even tech/office jobs will also need to build stronger understanding of automation, analytics, data, etc. Bus drivers will need to learn to drive smart busses. Factory workers will need to work in smarter, more automated factories. Office workers will need to be able to read and understand data reports—remotely—to make more informed decisions. In short, every job in the coming decade will need to incorporate some sort of technology, and the best way for companies to do that is—well—personally, by offering employees the training they need.
Several other large technology firms including Microsoft, Salesforce, IBM and Google have all launched programs for upskilling both internal and external workforces. I expect this to quickly evolve beyond traditional technology firms. Mastercard, for instance, has been working on this since 2016, and I expect many others to follow suit.
New, More Flexible Work Days/Weeks
Another element of talent planning in the “new normal”—not just finding employees with the right skills, but attracting them to your company with the right types of benefits. These include flexible and shortened workweeks to help manage the increasing stress of working from home with family, kids, and the unending burdens of caregiving. Gone are the days of the 9-5, in-office work-week and 10 days of vacation each year. Companies like Google, Netflix, Slack, and Facebook have already come out indicating teammates will not need to return to the office until mid 2021—if at all. Amazon is also offering some much-needed support for parents—discounts on tutoring for those struggling to teach their kids at home and back-up child-care for those days when managing kids and work is just too taxing. If coronavirus has taught employers one thing, it’s that oftentimes, employees can be far more efficient and productive if they are given time off and time away. Moving forward, companies will need to offer these types of benefits to attract top employees.
Technology for the Home Office
On one hand, moving teammates into remote offices is great for companies. It means they can save money by managing smaller home offices and less onsite “stuff” in the form of office furniture, technology, and energy use. Still, those costs don’t just disappear completely. In many cases, they fall on the shoulders of workers, who suddenly needed to be able to work from home in the same capacity they could at work. To help, some companies, such as Facebook and Google, are offering funds to help employees build their home offices and offset the cost of working from home.
At the same time, other companies like Dell are moving mountains to make sure every employee has the right company-issued device or devices that they need to work efficiently from home. It seems like it depends on the resources of the company, but smart companies are recognizing that investing now — in any form — will mean more efficient workers later.
Software to Make Work Easier—But Just the Right Amount
As you’d imagine, most companies had to up their remote work game when coronavirus hit. That includes an influx of investment in collaboration, software-defined networks (SD-Wan), VPN, and other communication tools that allow teammates to work together even though they’re apart. Still, it’s becoming clear that humans have a very clear limit as to how many online meetings they can sit through without suffering from stress and fatigue. Indeed, even the likes of TED and Harvard Business Review are discussing the very real concern of “Zoom fatigue” and the need to allow employees to disconnect from work in an effort to keep them engaged and productive. Microsoft released a study on the topics of productivity and meeting fatigue finding that our constant video meetings were definitely leading to greater fatigue levels. To combat this, the company shared some ideas in its report about breaks and reasonable work conditions. Microsoft also launched some new options in its Teams platforms including Together Mode and Dynamic View to help change the immersion and make it less overwhelming for users in constant video meetings. When it comes to talent planning and recruitment/retention, the smartest companies are the ones that find ways to help limit those marathon videoconference meetings to a minimum while also finding meaningful ways for employees to connect and stay engaged.
So—the right technology, more flexible work, and investments in upskilling are all ways to attract and retain the best employees in the age of coronavirus. Unfortunately, not all companies have the budgets of Amazon or Google, so they might find it difficult to provide money to create home offices or provide back-up child care. That’s one of the reasons it will be so interesting to see how the next year plays out, and how it changes the market—and players—overall.