Based on information from various reports and expert interviews, these workforce management issues are some of the most immediate for 2020 and what practitioners should be thinking about.
In environments like factories, workplace safety has always been a point of focus, while the same could not be said for the average retailer or office setting. “All of a sudden, that’s changed,” said Matt Stevenson, partner and leader of Mercer’s Workforce Strategy and Analytics practice. Due to COVID-19, employers are concerned with how the work environment must change to ensure employee safety.
Currently, this is one of the most significant workforce management issues, he said. I’s impossible to predict how long this hyper-focus on employee safety will last. He surmised this depends on whether a COVID-19 vaccine is developed and when.
Stevenson gave the example of polio. Before the vaccine it was a serious threat, and there were polio epidemics globally. After the vaccine was created, safety issues related to polio stopped being a concern. On the other hand, he added, viruses like HIV still don’t have a vaccine decades after being identified in 1981.
Shifts in the way work is done
One outcome of COVID-19 is that certain jobs are done differently, Stevenson said, especially with remote work. Some organizations did not change their operating models because they didn’t have to, and the pandemic made it so they did not have a choice.
For example, the use of telemedicine has grown since the pandemic started, Stevenson said. Telemedicine has existed for years, but there was some resistance to it, and it was often underutilized. With a pandemic that limits physical contact, people began embracing telemedicine. It’s possible this trend could continue after the pandemic ends.
That’s what happened with retail stores, Stevenson noted. Online shopping for goods of all types is the norm these days, although consumers still can visit brick-and-mortar locations.
Industries like hospitality, leisure and travel have been especially impacted by the pandemic, he added. It’s difficult to imagine how a shift to something more online-friendly would look for these organizations.
The future of the physical workplace
Whether remote work will be as accepted after the pandemic ends is still unknown, but there’s a possibility that organizations will be more open to a largely remote workforce.
As employers think about their return-to-work plan, they may start with only bringing people in they have to, Stevenson said. From there, a large portion of the workforce may remain remote. This could lead to a big picture question of, “Do I need this big, expensive office space if I can just have employees work from home instead?”
This is already happening in the tech sector. Twitter recently announced that staff can work from home permanently.
Not enough flexibility for employees
Deloitte’s “2020 Global Human Capital Trends” report highlighted organizations that took employee-friendly approaches — giving employees more jurisdiction over their work schedules and offering them new flexible time off programs. These approaches are designed to allow employees to “live and work at their best” ultimately had positive impacts for companies. Company culture was improved, and teams saw better communication and collaboration.