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By Guest Blogger Amanda Cole, Vice President of eTeki

Our recent virtual round table about COVID-19’s impacts on the IT industry started with a simple question: What adjustments have you made given the physical distance forced by COVID? While this resulted in a spirited discussion about the challenges created by the pandemic, it also brought to light a number of silver linings.

The panelists were

  • Bala Nemani, CEO of Amzur Technologies;
  • Sam Velu, eTeki director of Key Accounts;
  • Diana Valenzuela Allen, Senior manager of the Program Management Office and Business Analysis at Ultimate Software;
  • Rose Schamberger, Senior director of Engineering at Frontdoor, Inc.;
  • Tyrone Smith, People Operations and Global Workforce Analytics leader at Ryan LLC.

They explained how stay-at-home orders have thrust digital transformation onto businesses that may have been ill-prepared to manage all-remote workforces. As a result, some organizations are struggling to preserve company culture and track worker performance in this new environment. 

But that is to be expected during such a massive transition, and not all the consequences are negative. Some may even help us challenge existing biases, enhance employee satisfaction, and promote important workplace initiatives.

The Impacts of Working From Home

Naturally, business becomes more complicated when teams are spread across different geographies (especially when workers and leaders aren’t used to remote work). 

“I’ve never worked from home,” Bala said. “So the line is blurred between the personal and work life … there is a lot more time spent at desks, and we need to tell [employees], ‘Hey, go take breaks … go for a walk, go exercise, take a coffee break,’ things like that.”

Working from home might not be the magic bullet for work-life balance we always thought it would be. Employees who do not establish clear boundaries between their professional and personal lives may be tempted to work beyond scheduled hours, potentially harming their wellbeing and increasing the risk of burnout. But some leaders are wondering if other factors could balance this out.

“I had one of my managers telling me the other day that productivity has improved,” Bala said. “And overall team collaboration and team synergy and culture has improved, and I was like, ‘How did we do that?’ We used to deal with personality differences, conflicts, and so forth in the teams, and now … all of those are gone working from home.”

Should We Try to Go Back?

If remote work increases productivity and reduces interpersonal conflict, it’s no surprise that some leaders are considering making this shift permanent. Is it too early to invest in that new future? What if you divert funds into setting up new ways to work, then COVID ends and everything returns to normal?

“It’ll never come back,” Bala said. “COVID just pushed us maybe four or five years, maybe three years into this situation. We were going this way. We were heading the way of working from home … I don’t see it ever going back again.”

If that’s true, we’re only seeing the beginnings of a complete paradigm shift in workplace dynamics. Changes will be felt at the organization level and throughout the economy, affecting the methods we use to choose leaders all the way down to entry-level hiring processes. 

“HR is going to go through a transformation,” my colleague from Sam Velu from eTeki said. “It is a disruptive change because a lot of these things are coming together … you will see a lot more diversity hiring, and those things where people are saying, ‘Oh, they don’t fit into our team culture’ … now, I don’t think the team culture comes into play. It’ll be the company culture because they are remote.”

Remembering the Human in a Remote World

Sam brought up an interesting point: Will disruption to traditional recruiting borders be a boon for hiring and workforce diversity? We aren’t limited to local talent points anymore. In a remote world, we can hire from anywhere, finding the absolute best fit for the role, regardless of locality—which could be great for a number of HR initiatives. 

“I think diversity will actually improve because of the remote situations and work from home,” Bala said. “Now you have reached across the country, and even outside the country as well. Finding people with a diversified background will be easier in my opinion.”

So, industry leaders are making clear connections between diversity in hiring, wellbeing among employees, and the technology that enables remote work. All good news, but this huge shift still draws companies into unfamiliar territory. What can we do to prepare for new problems and conflicts as they inevitably arise?

“Twenty years ago in the U.S., we were focused on the family,” Sam said. “And we moved away from that … [but now] I think now companies will spend more time and money on wellbeing and wellness programs and all those other aspects and mental health … I think we will be working toward making sure that the human part still remains in a technology-driven economy.”

Maybe there is something you can do after all to safeguard your workforce in these confusing times: Each time you chat over Slack or jump on a Zoom call, try to remember the human on the other end of the line.

A better understanding of skills gaps and mismatches is critical in order to impact the current unemployment rate. Just as there needs to be increased investment in skills data and assessment, there must be more investment in rigorous research within companies — will that be enough? Certainly not! My years in the public sector taught me the return would be only impactful if investment is also made at the city level, state level, region level. We need to be able to better assess the labor markets and employer needs today and in the future. Do your hiring managers have the ability to determine what is needed for more strategic and effective approaches? Which interventions would work? Which wouldn’t impact, cost-benefits, and being worthy of taking to scale?

Watch our recorded webinar here and let us know your questions.

Amanda_cole

Amanda Cole
Vice President of operations

Amanda Cole has more than 15 years experience developing innovative programs staffed by non-traditional workforce including freelancers, paid & unpaid interns, boards of directors, special event volunteers, and skill-based volunteer programs. The annual value of services rendered for the largest programs exceeded $18M. She is a communications professional with superior facilitation and training skills, an engaging public speaking presence and a fanatic about synergistic business relationships.

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