The shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic are rippling across the globe, rocking markets and monumentally shifting the way industries, organizations, and workers are operating.
Millions have been laid off or furloughed, and those who haven’t have—for the most part—shifted to a work-from-home model. Organizations have scrambled to keep up through a mixture of remote programs and cost-cutting measures like hiring and promotion freezes, furloughs, layoffs, and, in some cases, closures.
While it seems like the world of work has turned upside down because of recent events, the truth is that the novel coronavirus has simply accelerated and exacerbated certain changes that were already underway. As history and research both show, prior to COVID-19 the number of gig workers and remote workers was already on the rise.
For instance, between 2010 and 2020, the number of employees who worked remotely at least once a week increased by 400 percent. Plus, telecommuting increased by 22 percent between 2017 and 2018, and a 2019 survey by Buffer revealed that 99 percent of respondents would work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers, if given the option.
The freelance economy was already on the rise as well. One survey revealed that 47 percent of companies preferred hiring on-demand workers over full-time workers to fill open skills gaps. Plus, in 2016, freelancers made up 35 percent of the workforce and were expected to make up 40 percent of the workforce this year, before the COVID-19 crisis. (This percentage will be significantly larger in the wake of layoffs and furloughs prompted by coronavirus.)
In other words? Long before COVID-19 swept the globe, the writing was on the wall. However, the outbreak has rapidly accelerated things, leaving many organizations to quickly figure out a way forward. Here’s a look at how companies will adapt, what employees will expect, and how HR managers should prepare.
How COVID-19 Impacts the Ways Companies Will Adapt
COVID-19 has led many companies to recognize that in today’s fast-moving, unpredictable business environment, being truly agile means having the ability to survive turmoil on a large scale. And one of the most critical components of developing that agility is through the workforce—specifically through hiring and managing on-demand talent.
“For many years, people viewed contract, freelance, and gig employment as ‘alternative work,’ options considered supplementary to full-time jobs,” noted the 2019 Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report. “Today, this segment of the workforce has gone mainstream, and it needs to be managed strategically.” And these conclusions were drawn by the researchers at Deloitte before there were any signs of the current crisis on the horizon.
The trial-by-fire lesson many organizations have learned over the past several weeks is that while a great culture and benefits certainly help attract top talent, the truth of the matter is when a situation as dire as the coronavirus rears its ugly head, it won’t be the company perks that save a business. Instead, it will be a workforce composed of both in-house and on-demand talent that can expand or contract at a moment’s notice.
After all, it’s not just COVID-19 that has thrown the markets for a loop in recent years. With three significant market and industry crashes in the last two decades alone, the ability for organizations to scale up or down quickly to pivot with market changes makes or breaks their ability to survive.
How Employees Will Alter Their Expectations
After the COVID-19 crisis subsides, we can expect to see significant changes in employee expectations as well, specifically in work flexibility.
For example, it’s likely we’re going to see employees calling for flexible work on a much larger scale than before the outbreak. COVID-19 has ushered in a work-from-home revolution blazing new trails in terms of work hours and working from home. According to Gallup, “Three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted.”
So employees who’ve had a taste of a shorter commute, greater freedom, and a better work/life balance aren’t going to let these things go so easily. What’s more, about half of all workers have jobs that could be performed at least partially remotely, according to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Bottom line: the work-from-home revolution has swept the globe and introduced benefits that employees likely won’t be willing to give up.
How HR Managers Should Prepare
It’s no secret that in recent years HR has been asked to step up to the plate by reimagining the organization’s approach to talent acquisition and talent management, especially when it comes to the alternative workforce. This means fully capitalizing on resources like gig workers, freelancers, and on-demand workers.
“For organizations that want to grow and access critical skills, managing alternative forms of employment has become critical,” said the 2019 Human Capital Trends Report.
In the wake of the most recent economic shake-up, it’s more critical than ever for HR leaders to approach their roles with an innovative, business-first mindset—both in terms of creating more flexible working arrangements for current employees, as well as leveraging freelancers as a long-term solution.
“Organizations that take [the on-demand] workforce seriously can build strategies and programs to access and engage talented people wherever they may sit in the labor pool, driving business growth and extending the diversity of the workforce,” according to the 2019 Human Capital Trends Report.
This means not only ramping up programs to support a flexible workforce but also by creating an organizational skeleton and operating model that allows the business as a whole to maintain that required agility. And in this sense, many businesses still have a long way to go.
Before COVID-19, only 8 percent of organizations “had established processes to manage and develop alternative workforce sources,” reported Deloitte, while 54 percent of organizations “said they either managed alternative workers inconsistently or had few or no processes for managing them at all.”
However, this doesn’t mean it’s too late in the game for organizations to integrate programs and software to help. Solutions that give management the ability to hire and track on-demand talent in one place open the door for firms of all sizes to build and manage an alternative workforce that expands and contracts at a moment’s notice. And it’s this agility that will make the true difference between those who emerge from this crisis as winners and those who don’t.
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