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Workforce transformation at the heart of business success in COVID-19 era

By Catherine Knowles
Wed 13 May 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

COVID-19 has propelled the world into a new era of business, and it has become more apparent than ever that workforce transformation and strategic success are inexplicably linked, according to new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by Fujitsu.

Based on a survey of 200 executives across eight countries, the research identified key trends and statistics around workforce transformation, the process of enabling employees to be productive from anywhere and at any time without compromising security, and its outcomes.

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%) and skills training (54%). Many (39%) are also looking to design or improve the employee experience.

Tactical measures such as changing human resources policies or re-designing organisational structures are used less frequently. According to the research, 79% of organisations said their workforce transformation would accelerate in the next three years. In Australia and New Zealand, only 22% of respondents said they had already transformed their workforce extensively, while 58% said they had done so ‘somewhat’.

The researchers state that COVID-19 may become known for significantly accelerating this workforce transformation in Australia and New Zealand.

Shared features of a 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.

According to the researchers, this creates an environment where people are more fulfilled in their work and know that their contribution is meaningful. However, the study also found that 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% of firms.

Resistance to change was a common barrier to workforce transformation for 38% of respondents, followed by a lack of understanding of what constitutes the ideal workforce according to 35% 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, the researchers state.

Regardless, according to the survey, COVID-19 has propelled the businesses around the world into workforce transformation as they face the challenge of shifting business operations to remote working schemes. This has put pressure on businesses still relying on legacy systems to deliver a robust employee experience.

The researchers state the need for organisations to become more resilient and scalable due to rapid market changes means that workforce transformation is one of the most important priorities for modern businesses.

Fujitsu Australia and New Zealand head of portfolio for Digital Workplace Services Ramy Ibrahim, says, “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.”

Going forward, he says, “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.”

Fujitsu states that even once the immediate threat of COVID-19 has passed, organisations may find themselves looking to create a new type of workforce.

According to the company there are four ways businesses can mitigate issues associated with workforce transformation.

Number one is to let strategy inform the makeup of the workforce. That is, the overarching strategic goals must drive decisions around skills needs and training, the use of temporary labour, or where staff should be located.

Next, businesses must 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, and the organisation-wide vision should be communicated clearly to gain staff buy-in, the company states.

Third, it is important to 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, Fujitsu states.

Finally, businesses should 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.

Ibrahim says, “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.”

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