Plan now or be left behind: research

| May 15, 2020

There is a clear link between workforce transformation and strategic performance, according to a research survey published by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Fujitsu.

Before COVID-19 forced most knowledge workers out of their offices and into their homes, workforce transformation was already untethering professionals from prescribed office spaces and locations and letting them be productive from anywhere in the world.

The ability to work from home means staff can continue to be productive even while the COVID-19 pandemic response requires people to practice social distancing and avoid non-essential travel.

The ability for staff to work from anywhere allows companies to take advantage of the market’s best talent regardless of where people reside, bringing together teams from all over the world to collaborate and innovate. However, individuals working alone or in squads require consistent and secure access to company data and applications without risking the organisation’s valuable intellectual property and information becoming vulnerable or exposed.

This creates a significant challenge for organisations still relying on legacy systems to deliver the employee experience. The need for organisations to become more resilient and scalable due to rapid market changes means that workforce transformation—the process of enabling employees to be productive from anywhere and at any time without compromising security—is one of the most important priorities for modern businesses.

There is a clear link between organisations that successfully transform their workforce and those that over-deliver on their strategic objectives, according to the survey of 200 executives across 8 countries including Australia.

Ramy Ibrahim, Head of Portfolio, Digital Workplace Services for Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand, said, “The workforce of the future was already becoming a reality in many organisations. Technology is a key enabler for this, from providing optimised physical working environments to creating new ways for employees to securely collaborate. Providing consumer-grade experience at enterprise grade security will be key to a successful workforce transformation. This process is currently rapidly occurring in many leading businesses.”

In most organisations, the CEO or CIO takes responsibility for workforce transformation, according to the study. The most common measures undertaken in support of workforce transformation are new technology adoption (56 per cent) and skills training (54 per cent). Many (39 per cent) are also looking to design or improve the employee experience. Tactical measures such as changing human resources policies or re-designing organisational structures are employed less frequently.

Hallmarks of the modern workforce include less reliance on people for mundane, repetitive tasks that can be automated, and increased expectation for humans to handle tasks that require higher-order thinking and creative problem-solving. This creates an environment where people are more fulfilled in their work and know that their contribution is meaningful.

Ramy Ibrahim said, “Organisations will need to decide what aspects of work can be automated and what this means for their workforce. Shifting tasks to automated systems could mean that staff members need to be trained in new areas. Or, the business may want to reconsider its mix of part-time and full-time workers. The most important skills workers can possess in a transformed workforce are the ability to collaborate, innovate and creatively solve problems. It is important to note that a primary driver of workforce transformation is creating a positive working environment, which in turn leads to the creation of a better customer experience.”

The study revealed that the biggest changes were happening in organisations with knowledge workers (41 per cent versus 29 per cent), and 79 per cent of organisations said their workforce transformation would accelerate in the next three years. Only 22 per cent of respondents in Australia and New Zealand said they had already transformed their workforce extensively, while 58 per cent said they had done so ‘somewhat’. COVID-19 may well become known for significantly accelerating this workforce transformation in Australia and New Zealand.

However, there are potential costs and unwanted side effects of workforce transformation. Three-quarters of survey respondents cited one-off costs and increased employment overheads as negative consequences of workforce transformation. Increased staff turnover was also encountered by 70 per cent of firms.

Resistance to change was a common barrier to workforce transformation for 38 per cent of respondents, followed by a lack of understanding of what constitutes the ideal workforce according to 35 per cent of Australians surveyed. This suggests a failure to think strategically about what transformation requires from the staff and how to communicate to employees the benefit to them of being part of the future workforce.

Once the immediate threat of COVID-19 has passed, and to reduce future risks, organisations may find themselves looking to create a new type of workforce. There are four ways organisations can mitigate issues associated with workforce transformation:

1. Let strategy inform the makeup of the workforce. Overarching strategic goals must drive decisions around skills needs and training, the use of temporary labour, or where staff should be located.

2. Develop and articulate a clear vision. Workforce decisions can’t be made at a department level; they must be made with the entire workforce in mind. The organisation-wide vision should be communicated clearly to gain staff buy-in.

3. Understand where digital and workforce transformation do not overlap. Digital and workforce transformation should be closely aligned but digital transformation should be seen as an enabler of workforce transformation, not its determinant. It’s essential to leverage non-digital factors to support workforce transformation.

4. Minimise the inevitable costs. Workplace transformation will incur costs in skills development and upgrading technology infrastructure, among others. However, it’s essential where possible to ensure that changes don’t unduly increase complexity or damage employee morale.

Ramy Ibrahim said with so much change happening right now, it’s essential for Australian organisations to work proactively to streamline their workforce transformation.

“They need to put the right tools in place that facilitate collaboration, communication, and connectedness while maintaining strong security. The focus must be on supporting a different type of workplace characterised by geographically dispersed team members, a mix of employee-owned and company-provided devices, and an ongoing need for collaboration. And, it’s essential to underpin all of this with comprehensive security solutions that keep data safe without impeding access or the ability to do business.”

How is your business going to do things differently post COVID-19?

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