The Adaptive Workforce Comes of Age – Overnight

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Apr 15, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Every year, my team at Ultimate Software analyzes research on macro-level social and economic trends to make predictions about the future of work. Just three months into the new year, we’re facing a massive disruption no one could have predicted: a global pandemic that has changed the way we work overnight.

This is an unprecedented time for businesses, but it underscores the importance of one of the major trends in our predictions: the need to develop an adaptive workforce. Adaptive workforces are characterized by the ability to respond easily, quickly, and effectively to change in the workplace. In this period of uncertainty, leaders must act quickly to support newly remote or displaced employees and arm them with the skills and tools necessary to be successful during this challenging moment and in its aftermath. Here’s how HR leaders can help employees develop these skills:

Modeling overcommunication

For the second year in a row, the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that across the globe, fewer than 50% of people trust their governments and the media. Amid this crisis in trust, however, employers are surprisingly and increasingly more trusted than the government by nine percentage points — meaning there is an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate leadership in a global crisis. How will businesses boost trust in this trying time? Transparency and thoughtful communication. A recent example of this proactive communication is that many organizations issued travel bans for their employees several weeks before governments implemented social distancing recommendations for their citizens.

Employees are understandably concerned about their jobs. Many are juggling childcare and other complications while working remotely for the first time. Keeping them in the dark about business decisions will only exacerbate these fears, affecting their performance and creating a stressful anxiety around what bad news might come next. HR leaders must work with executive teams to establish clear communication strategies that keep employees informed as business priorities shift.

When leaders model overcommunication, employees are likely to do the same. With so many newly remote employees, it’s even more crucial. HR professionals should encourage employees to check in with their teams regularly to keep everyone informed about work and scheduling, but also to be cognizant of their emotional state and wellbeing. Communication and empathy are essential adaptive skills critical to the health of the workforce in a rapidly-changing environment.

Tech experimentation is your friend

Many organizations that are brand new to remote work have scrambled to quickly find and implement collaboration technology tools like Zoom or Slack in response to shelter-in-place orders or work from home guidance. HR leaders should work closely with IT and operations teams to ensure smooth rollouts and provide copious resources to help employees work through any learning curves.

To find the right solutions for your teams, don’t be afraid to experiment. Some tools may be more useful for certain employees than others, but you’re likely to find a few team members who become power users, uncovering tips and tricks that will help the organization as a whole. These adaptive experiences help the workforce build resilience. It’s a quality individuals and organizations are sure to need in the coming months.

Encourage personalization and self-awareness

Shifting to remote work during a public health crisis is very different from a gradual, planned remote work rollout in a normal setting. Consider this extraordinary circumstance an opportunity for your people to reflect more deeply on what they need to be successful at work. HR must help leaders resist the urge to limit everyone to a single form of communication. Facilitate discussions between teams about how individuals prefer to collaborate, whether through email, video chat, or phone.

As an example, it’s easy to overlook how mandatory video calls may be stressful for neuro-diverse individuals, which can lead people to shut down during a time when compassion and communication are paramount. Other employees may discover they need to block off time for focused work in the morning when they are feeling fresh, or later in the evening after they have put their kids to sleep. HR teams should remind managers and employees that, though they are working together toward the same goals, all people are different. Hitting arbitrary goals for a given day is less important than ensuring your people are set up for long-term success in a way that works for them personally.

The best is yet to come

While it’s difficult to predict when this period of crisis will end, we do know that it will eventually pass. When it does, the steps HR and executive teams take today to support their people will have a significant impact on the workforce that emerges on the other side. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I am confident that this moment presents a chance to develop and strengthen a more resilient and adaptive workforce for the opportunities to come.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.