As the pandemic continues to reset the way we work, people remain at the centre of every business. But with the IT skills gap widening, organisations need to rethink the workplace to attract and retain top talent. Those that get it right will emerge from the crisis more agile, attractive to prospective employees and ahead in the battle for talent. Donna Bain, SVP People and Development, Westcon-Comstor looks at the impact of the coronavirus on HR and the new normal of work.

COVID-19 has shifted where employees, customers, suppliers and organisational ecosystems physically exist and interact, and the new ways of working are here to stay. A recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees are likely to work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. And Slack’s Future Forum survey of its own clients found the majority never want to go back to the old way of working. Only 12% want to return to full-time office work, and 72% want a hybrid model moving forward.

The shift is beneficial for business

This will be a challenge for some businesses in 2021, but there are a number of beneficial ripple effects. Research has consistently shown that people who spend some of their typical working week outside the office have higher workplace satisfaction, job commitment, engagement and score higher on indicators of innovation. Gallup research shows that those in a hybrid model appear more deliberate with how they use their time, have better awareness of what their colleagues are working on and have higher job satisfaction overall.

Remote work also enables the ‘democratisation of opportunity’ and movement of skills around the globe. Businesses can now recruit the best talent regardless of where they live, especially from groups that are under-represented in their area or for skills that are locally less available.

Ramp up training and invest in remote work

With the skills gap widening in IT, organisations are under pressure to attract and retain the best people in a rapidly changing market. Workers also now expect the ability to work flexibly and the autonomy to match work to their home situation. They want better work-life integration, in-career training and personal development, a diverse and inclusive workplace culture, and a greater choice of how, when and where they work.

Beyond flexible work, employees will expect to see workspaces purpose-designed or reshaped to be safe but vibrant and diverse to foster collaboration and productivity. They want roles and structures designed around outcomes to increase organisational agility and flexibility. And they want to see their employers invest in their development through cross-functional knowledge and training.

The future of work is the future of worker wellbeing

Great workplaces always supported more than just work – now people want health and wellness built in. As workers reprioritise the importance wellbeing, employers must nudge healthy behaviours and support psychological wellbeing. Across the globe, many workers have found that their home environments provide better access to the outdoors and better environmental comfort. As lockdowns ease and offices start to open, HR teams must establish how their offices and workplace policies can support this.

Most issues facing today’s workplace weren’t created but exacerbated by COVID-19. We now value space and the experience of being together more than ever – whether that’s in person or virtually. Workplaces matter as somewhere to come together with each other for a common purpose. And for employees, choice, privacy, inclusion, development and wellbeing are top of mind.

2021 is an opportunity to redefine your business

As work trends continue to reset in 2021, HR leaders should use this moment to create a better experience for their people, improve collaboration and productivity, and reduce costs. It’s an opportunity to rethink what their workplace looks like, and create spaces where employees want to be and can do their best work. The coronavirus is an accelerator for defining the role of the business, remote working, re-skilling, skills-based hiring and the transformation of the workspace itself.

It’s our role in the channel to drive the technological shift to enable this, but it will require a cultural shift from within too. The challenges and opportunities for transformation are extensive and wide-ranging but businesses that do it well will drive engagement, achieve organisational agility, maintain alignment and empower teamwork. This will be a real competitive advantage in the new era of work.