To say that COVID-19 brought changes to the workplace is an understatement.

From employees working at home to video conferencing calls replacing face-to-face interactions, businesses are scrambling to find a way to accommodate their new workforces while still maintaining productivity and thriving in their sector of the economy.

According to a new survey, the pandemic triggered a “seismic shift” in how, when and where employees work, as well as record levels of individuals leaving their jobs. The Global Workforce Agility survey by the Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group, known as KellyOGC, found that many business leaders are unprepared for the changes.

Key findings from the survey of more than 1,000 senior executives across 13 countries include:

  • More than half (59%) of executives say their businesses will adopt a hybrid working model post pandemic, yet one in four believe their leaders lack the skills to manage the workforce they want to build.

  • Less than half of executives (49%) say they have a clear view of the optimal mix of talent required across all business areas, and 27% are unsure of what their employees want in terms of a post-COVID work environment.

  • Only a minority of organizations are using leading-edge technologies to respond to critical issues around workforce planning and management, including monitoring productivity and efficiency (44%), managing a remote workforce (38%), and predicting skills requirements (32%).

  • The majority (55%) report that talent from underrepresented groups has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – but fewer than half (43%) say they are executing a fully developed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy for their full-time staff, and only 19% have one for contingent labor.

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It’s not all gloom and doom, however.

The study identified a group of leading organizations – “Vanguards” – that report employee wellbeing and productivity have significantly improved within their organizations during the pandemic, alongside improved revenue growth over the past three years. KellyOGC said these leaders, which made up approximately 10% of respondents, are taking a strategic, long-term approach to improve the resilience, agility and wellbeing of their workforces, compared with the “Laggards” – respondents that report a decline in employee wellbeing and productivity over the past 12 months.

“Our research shows a majority of executives agree that talent has never been more important as a source of competitive advantage, yet they are ill-prepared to manage and support that talent,” said KellyOCG President Tammy Browning. “Given that we are in the midst of a ‘talent tsunami’ – with workers leaving jobs at record levels – this is a challenge leaders must face head on. The Vanguards provide a roadmap on key actions that will give businesses the edge they need to succeed in an increasingly competitive and fast-changing marketplace – ensuring their workforce is fit for a future in flux.”

The data, Browning said, uncovered four key dynamics of the Vanguards’ response to the pandemic that are helping them build a more agile and resilient workforce, and a more profitable business.

  1. Vanguards amplify workforce fluidity. They are more likely to have a comprehensive strategy for bridging skills gaps by employing new talent, bringing on contingent labor (62%) and implementing re-skilling initiatives (52%).

  2. Vanguards are building a better employee experience. Nine in 10 (91%) Vanguards say improving the employee experience is as high a business priority as improving the customer experience.

  3. Vanguards are improving diversity, equity and inclusion in their companies. While many still only pay lip service to DEI programs, Vanguards are around twice as likely as Laggards (67% vs 35%) to have fully developed DEI strategies in place for both permanent and contingent talent.

  4. Vanguards understand that adopting leading-edge technologies is critical to managing a workforce in flux. Many have already begun implementing new technologies to alleviate workload pressure and enhance efficiency (64% vs. 48% of Laggards), and nearly half are using technology to gain visibility of workforce utilization and to improve the recruiting process.

Businesses in our area may want to take note of these findings and ask themselves a question: Are they Vanguards or Laggards?