Writing for InsideHR,  Angela Colantuono, Vice President, SuccessFactors ANZ, highlights how there is often a misconception that, during tough times, businesses need to focus on utilising and maintaining their existing talents and skillsets. However, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that reskilling & upskilling employees can be a huge differentiator, especially in terms of a businesses’ ability to pivot and adapt. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has totally transformed the employee/business relationship over the past year, as a more remote workforce adopted digital platforms as their primary mode of engagement. While this was initially thought to be fleeting, it’s now becoming more obvious that many of these fundamental changes are set to stay.

Although as businesses start to adopt a more hybrid working style, Australian HR leaders might be underestimating some of the challenges of the post-pandemic ‘new-normal’. According to an Oxford Economics x SHRM survey of HR leaders across the globe (commissioned by SAP SuccessFactors) around 47 per cent of Australian leaders see increased employee demand for remote work as one of the top long-term impacts. 64 per cent also indicated flexible work policies to be more important in their ability to attract and retain talent moving forward.

Despite this, though, only 23 per cent agreed that the majority of their workforce can work remotely and have the necessary technology environment to do so effectively. This discrepancy is alarming and indicates that employers need to make more investments in return-to-work technologies, such as test and trace mechanisms and remote worker management systems.

Australian businesses also have some work to do when it comes to issues of maintaining an engaged workforce, reskilling and upskilling, and talent acquisition, which have all changed immensely since the start of the pandemic.

The changing nature of employee engagement

Mass movements of employees into home offices and more remote locations has triggered a paradigm shift when it comes to how organisations maintain employee engagement and morale. It’s easy for employee bases that are more distributed and isolated to become disengaged and unenthusiastic, with productivity slipping as a result.

It’s never been more important to check-in on employees, not only to make sure they’re still engaged but also to touch base on their wellbeing. Despite this, Australian leaders are significantly less likely than other countries to be conducting regular pulse surveys to gather employee feedback (25 per cent).

This leaves many organisations in the dark about employee sentiment, as the workplace continues to evolve. We’re in a situation where everyone is adapting to a new mode of working, so employees are still figuring out what’s important to them. Organisations need to understand where they could be more effective and productive and one of the best ways to establish this is through setting up an employee listening strategy and conducting regular pulse surveys.

Rethinking talent acquisition policies

COVID-19 has pushed workers out of central offices and into homes or more remote working spaces. Employers need to consider this in their talent acquisition strategies and processes, as not only is there a wider pool of available and suitable talent but the environment is also far more competitive. It’s now possible for candidates to pick up positions in entirely different cities or even countries, so organisations need to do a lot more to stand out.

There are three important steps employers need to take when crafting new talent acquisition policies for a hybrid working environment, which are:

  1. Identify skills gaps – employers need to take stock of the available skills across the entire organisation to identify weak points and assess what’s needed
  2. Increase internal mobility – this goes back to reskilling and considering where training opportunities could be used to fill talent requirements
  3. Use technology to scale up hiring and on-boarding – this is an important step as it will allow organisations to more effectively define their purpose and differentiating aspects to candidates and new employees.

Organisations need to put themselves in candidates’ shoes if they are going to compete for top talent post-pandemic. In our findings, 64 per cent of respondents believed that COVID-19 will make flexible work more important to attracting and retaining talent, with financial stability of the organisation (62 per cent) and work/life balance (59 per cent) also top of mind.

However, many employers may be underestimating the importance of compensation – which takes precedence for responders in other countries – with only 43 per cent of Aussie employers flagging that as a major focus.

Australians lagging on reskilling and upskilling initiatives

There is often a misconception that, during tough times, businesses need to focus on utilising and maintaining their existing talents and skillsets. However, the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that reskilling & upskilling employees can be a huge differentiator, especially in terms of a businesses’ ability to pivot and adapt.

Take NAB, who used the pandemic as an opportunity to convert thousands of training programs to run online, supporting the upskilling and reskilling of its 40,000-strong workforce. Emphasising digital and data skills, the bank found a range of synergies across the organisation and permanently improved its overall workplace training and delivery.

World Economic Forum report found that at least half of all employees will require reskilling and upskilling by 2025, with the potential to boost GDP by $6.5 trillion. Furthermore, Deloitte’s 2021 Human Capital Trends report called out workforce talent and skills development as one of the key trends for businesses that were maintaining agility and continuing to thrive.

This imperative has not been reflected in our study, as only 34 per cent of Australian employers expect to invest in learning programs for reskilling and upskilling (compared to 38 per cent of global respondents). Australian’s are also significantly less likely to make major operational or strategic changes over the next year, and – as a result – may be overlooking the necessity for expanding employee skill sets.

Australia’s global position as having handled the virus extremely well may be playing a role in spurring employer complacency on training initiatives, with a belief that a return to normality may be on the horizon. Although considering the permanent effects on the economy and new hybrid ways of working, faith in a return to ‘business-as-usual’ is misplaced. This will only be exacerbated next month, as the JobKeeper initiative runs its course.

Overall, businesses need to recognise that the pandemic is more than just a blip in history, it will have a lasting impact that must be catered for in the long-term. With the right technology, employers can ensure that workforces remain engaged and the right talent is always at their fingertips.

This article first appeared on Inside HR
To find out more about how SAP  can improve the employee experience in the post-Covid world, visit the SAP Australia HR and People Engagement homepage