Google this summer decided to keep employees home until mid-2021, one of the first major conglomerates to make what seems like a bold decision amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19. Such boldness is necessary in the ‘next normal.’ Predicting and adapting the workforce to protect against significant external changes is vital to surviving and thriving in the next 1-3 years.
Since the lockdowns began, many organizations have stumbled into new ways of working. In this era of constant change, optimizing the workforce is critical to success; how it’s organized, how it operates, and how it can do better. Leaders need to rethink how workforces are setup for adaptability and innovation in order to rapidly meet customers’ needs, and they must do so now. For large, multinational companies, this is no simple feat. Here are four practical steps to transition to the ‘next normal’ and build a resilient organization:
1) Know What You Need
A knowledgeable and flexible workforce must be able to morph both with customer trends and with rapid changes in regulatory compliance. Key to this is building and acquiring the top skills needed for the next two years. These look very different from the skills available now. Fundamentally, there needs to be a shift to digital capabilities, roles, and mindsets. People who understand AI, analyze data, invent and apply solutions rapidly, and move into new roles as needed will be in demand – all while learning on the go to keep their skills up-to-date. Take Amazon, for example. They pioneered the use of robotics in-house and for logistics, and built an adaptable workforce around them. Fast and effective hiring of their contingent workforce enabled them to thrive and be resilient amid the onset of COVID-19.
2) Understand What You Have
Evaluate the skills and capabilities that already exist and identify what needs fine tuning. Spotify, for example, adopted an agile formation throughout their organization, using scrums, tribes, and guilds. Now they are better placed to deliver the products and services their customers want using the right skillsets and setup. Quickly drawing accurate insights about how an organization operates requires data gathering and modeling, especially for large enterprises operating in multiple geographies and/or industries.
3) Identify the Gaps
Next, consider what’s missing. How are teams organized? Do they have the processes and tools in place to help them focus on the most-valuable activities? Are they constantly learning? Does the culture feed on innovation? Apple claimed the top spot for most innovative company in 2020 and is known for its successful innovation culture and values grounded in simplicity. This enables its people to focus on developing products and ideas – and bringing them to market – fast.
4) Bridge the Gaps
There are three ways to bridge organizational gaps:
- Build, Buy, or Borrow. Leaders must decide whether to build, buy, or borrow the desired skills and capabilities. This might include ‘building’ a culture of learning to stay relevant in the market, or ‘buying’ AI engineering skills and talent through strategic hiring. ‘Borrowing’ skills to plug the gap is an option as well. Mobilizing a crowd of software engineers, for example, enables a technology organization to scale as needed, helping to create agility. Wipro’s Topcoder provides a remote community of engineers empowered to develop digital solutions and are accessible on demand.
- Adopt Digital Technologies – Fast. Integrating systems, moving to the cloud, and cutting down clunky processes are all key to achieving organizational agility. Companies should seek to benefit from platform and tooling investments quickly, and to use machine learning to anticipate and respond to employee needs in real time as they take on new systems and processes. Wipro’s Zero Touch Change approach can be used to rapidly scale and drive adoption, whether it involves moving to a new collaboration platform such as Microsoft Teams, or a new cloud based ERP or Agile dev-ops solution. By doing so operations can move fast, and enterprises can spend more time serving critical customers.
- Lead with Empathy. Remote and flexible working is here to stay. How do leaders ensure people feel connected and productive when working from home? AI ‘bots’ are one way to assess and monitor individuals’ emotions, responses, and behaviours while working remotely, empowering managers to act quickly on insights and better support their teams. Wipro uses workforce analytics to identify whether people are productive, happy and enabled to perform at their best. This article about Vital Leadership Tactics provides practical guidance for those looking to lead people through uncertainty, with confidence.
Managing the impacts of COVID-19 on workforces has been tough. Leaders must build human connections, get the future skills they need and implement new platforms and tooling quickly to build a resilient organization. This process requires identifying and nurturing the most valuable skills and capabilities, and rapidly acquiring and developing the skills they don’t have. Yet stopping there won’t be enough. Building and sustaining a successful remote workforce that lives on innovation is key to thriving in the next normal. Is your organization ready?