A recent study showed the vast majority of surveyed Australians said their organization had effectively handled new ways of working in response to COVID-19 (80%), and was well prepared to address the changing work environment (78%).
That said, Australian executives may be underestimating upcoming challenges. Less than half (47%) expected COVID-19 to increase flexibility for remote work over the next year. They did expect that maintaining productivity given new ways of working (49%) and establishing a culture that supported more remote employees (44%) would become top challenges for businesses, but at a far lower percentage than many other countries in the survey.
The study collected feedback from employers and employees in 10 countries, including Australia. It was conducted in partnership with SAP SuccessFactors, Oxford Economics, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Deliberately Design for Employee Engagement
Speaking during the HXM Digital Summit, Sarah McCann-Bartlett, CEO of Australian HR Institute, said that her organization’s research revealed challenges as companies moved to hybrid work. While most organizations in Australia fall somewhere along a continuum between onsite and remote work choices, having a hybrid model that equally engages all employees can be more difficult.
“There’s concern among some HR practitioners about creating a two-tiered system in the workplace, and that employee engagement among those who can’t work remotely will drop. Some are considering other flexibility benefits they can provide to support the work/life balance of these employees,” she said. “We need to give it the thought, time, consultation, project management, training, and engagement that we would any change project. Envision your future and deliberately work towards that.”
Don’t Leave Out Culture Change
Just because it’s possible to have workers all remote does not mean that’s necessarily the most productive working model. McCann-Bartlett advised companies to make hybrid work decisions in the context of the corporate culture.
“For those looking at moving to a new workplace model, culture change has to be part of this process. she said. “This is even more urgent for Australian organizations to focus on building much healthier and more inclusive ethical cultures.”
Think Digital First
Most of the surveyed Australian leaders were satisfied with the technology they have for new ways of working, but they may not be accommodating all workers. For example, less than 23% said that most of their workers had the necessary technology and environment effectively work remotely. Customer service workers (54%), general staff (51%), and service/field workers (51%) were especially disadvantaged in this area.
“HR needs to think digital first. It’s one people strategy that leads with digital,” said Jason Averbook, CEO and founder of Leapgen. “Digital starts with a mindset and vision. Second, it’s how do I understand my people and how they work, how do I make sure I’m designing for them and not HR; third, that HR develops not processes, but employee journeys that generate feelings which create the employee experience. And fourth is the technology.”
Holistic Employee Experience
With the advent of digitalization, employers have the tools to find out what workers are going through and act on their input. However, in the same survey, Australians were significantly less likely than respondents in other countries to conduct regular employee pulse surveys (25%).
“One of the biggest learnings from the pandemic is that humans are more important than ever, and I hope this stays with us in every country. It’s time to start checking in with people instead of checking up on people, enabling people instead of monitoring people,” said Averbrook. “Those organizations that listen and act are going to be key. We need to design the employee experience for the whole person — physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual.”
Bridging the Workforce Learning Gap
The report also found that although companies viewed reskilling as a long-term talent investment, just 30 percent expected to invest in learning programs for reskilling and upskilling over the next year vs. 38 percent in other countries.
“Reskilling is very pertinent because we’re looking at potential labor shortages in a number of areas,” said McCann-Bartlett. “The border has been shut for over a year with no skilled immigration and a reduction in foreign students…who stay on and take up roles in Australia. If we don’t focus on this, the skills our workforce needs are not going to be developed.”
The Future of Work Is Now
Organizations can take advantage of the massive appetite and opportunity for change by designing employee-centric HR strategies.
“People realize we have to be much more agile in fragile times,” said Averbook. “That takes an understanding of the employee. We have to stop counting heads and make heads count. Then based on employee persona, we can say some work can happen in the office, at home — we design for the mindset of the organization.”
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This story originally appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.