With prolonged stay-at-home orders predicted in Greater Sydney and as Melbourne emerges from its fifth lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely disrupt business operations.
Companies across Australia have had to embrace remote working, opening a Pandora’s Box of workplace changes for employees and employers.
With border closures preventing international recruitment, business leaders have had to contend with an unprecedented squeeze on talent. They are also managing geographically dispersed teams as city workers relocate to the country and coast.
Remote working has pushed HR teams into rethinking how they recruit and onboard staff, managing mental health and wellbeing issues while maintaining focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are living through a fundamental transformation of working practices that is unlikely to end when this period of uncertainty does.
The latest phase of lockdowns has shown that many businesses are still struggling to adapt to this new way of working. This is harming their businesses. As geographical barriers are removed through remote working, workers have more choice about how they work and who they work for. Every business must focus on how to attract and retain the right talent within these new parameters.
For businesses to ensure their workforce is highly resilient and future fit, they must first empower their people with the right tools. Technology enables all businesses to tap into information, skills and processes that were previously only available to large enterprises. With employees likely to demand that remote working options are retained; it also has an increasingly important role to play in fostering collaboration and a sense of company culture across dispersed teams.
Building a fluid workforce
With challenge comes opportunity. The removal of geographical barriers means employers have access to a much larger and more diverse workforce. As the battle for talent continues, this offers new ways of thinking about how to fill gaps in skills and experience.
We are seeing companies taking a more fluid approach to building their workforce. Our Global Workforce Agility Report 2021 shows that Australian businesses are less likely to hire permanent staff than their global counterparts (35 per cent in Australia vs. 45 per cent globally), and are more likely to hire temporary workers (52 per cent in Australia vs 48 per cent globally).
A key consideration should be on how to strengthen company culture and build connections across a hybrid workforce. Simple initiatives such as including temporary workers in business-wide updates and events, as well as inviting them to regular team meetings and town halls, will help employers retain the best talent.
Working from home for prolonged periods of time has had a psychological impact on the workforce. People are experiencing complex emotions and too many businesses are failing to adequately consider the importance of mental wellbeing. Instead of making it a priority, it is often treated as an afterthought.
The Global Workforce Agility Report identified a group of “Vanguards” (10% of respondents), that took a strategic, long-term approach to improving the resilience, agility and wellbeing of their workforces, compared with the “Laggards”. Majority (91%) of Vanguards said that improving the employee experience is as high of a business priority as improving their customer experience. The implementation of regular employee surveys to track employee experience was a key priority for this group in order to help their business stay across what’s happening behind the scenes and in the moment. Creating a positive experience for employees is a competitive advantage. It opens a business up to new talent and fresh perspectives, which in turn delivers better business results.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
McKinsey data shows that companies with more diverse workforces are more profitable and have a greater market share. These workplaces also report higher rates of job satisfaction. This generates a strong business culture that makes it easier to attract and retain talent. In our Global Workforce Agility Report, 56 per cent of business leaders say improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) increases employee satisfaction and loyalty. They also report better retention (45 per cent) and a more collaborative culture (41 per cent).
And yet while most Australian businesses say they are focused on DEI initiatives, they are less likely than global counterparts to prioritise workplace culture (30 per cent vs 37 per cent globally). Three in four Australian business leaders report that their DEI strategy is focused on permanent staff and doesn’t include temporary workers.
Managing the fallout from COVID-19 has required great resilience during a prolonged period of uncertainty. It’s always difficult to predict what the future will bring, but it feels safe to assume that the workplace will never be the same as it was 18 months ago. Employees will continue to demand greater flexibility in where and how they work, and businesses must continue to rethink how they will level-up in finding, managing and supporting their people in this new world of hybrid working.
By embracing change while investing in better technologies, talent acquisitions strategies and employee experiences, businesses will set themselves apart from their competitors. This will give them the pick of available talent and set them up for future success.