Ask the Experts: What to Consider Before Shifting Positions to Remote

December 09, 2020

Contributor: Teresa Zuech

In considering remote and hybrid workforce options, don’t leapfrog key considerations about what skills your organization needs to grow and transform.

A few months into the pandemic, a Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees would likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19, up from 30% before the pandemic. Now, organizations are increasingly looking at how to embed remote work into workforce planning, either for the short term, or more radically as part of transformative hybrid-workforce models.

“ Many organizations are considering planning their workforce needs based on critical skills rather than roles”

Remote work offers opportunities to snag previously untapped pools of critical skills, such as those needed to drive digital transformation, and provide employees with the kind of flexibility many now expect — potentially helping to improve your appeal to in-demand talent. Handled effectively, remote and hybrid workforce models can also deliver benefits in cash-strapped environments.

Read more: How to Look For the Right Digital Skills

But despite the potential benefits, HR leaders still need to build and articulate the business case to business leaders as they expand the conversation about the potential for positions to be remote. That means tying talent to strategy before deciding its location.

To learn more, Smarter With Gartner asked Gartner experts for more insights — in particular, how HR leaders can use data to inform their decisions on which skills and roles are critical, and what to consider before shifting positions to remote.

First, identify the skills of the future

Ashley Tatum, Vice President, Advisory 

Even before considering whether a position will be remote, you have to determine what skills that role will require. You can’t assume that your business leaders know how business transformation will actually translate into skill needs. Incorporating labor market insights on skills life cycles and adjacencies and incorporating them into regular conversations with business leaders, hiring managers and among HR peers will enable a much more rapid adjustment to our ever-shifting world.

Skills required for individual roles are certainly changing more frequently than ever before, making roles less stable. In response, many organizations are considering planning their workforce needs based on critical skills rather than roles.

“ By focusing on skill clusters, for example, you get new options outside the org chart — and potentially in remote positions”

In addition, because of the pandemic, organizations now realize how critical talent can be — and that criticality can be defined by workflows, capabilities and positions.

The question becomes, what’s next? How do we enable organizations, leaders and employees to adapt to rapidly changing organizational needs? Again, the answer is to look at the external labor market for trends. Doing this helps us answers five key questions:

  • What are the hiring trends in our industry?
  • How will automation impact our business?
  • How will jobs change and evolve?
  • What are the new and emerging skills?
  • Are there adjacent skill sets and roles that are easy transitions, and will allow us to build talent pools internally?

Answering these questions is a key first step in deciding which positions might be located remotely. By focusing on skill clusters, for example, you get new options outside the org chart — and potentially in remote positions — to assign critical workflows. 

Read more: Lack of Skills Threatens Digital Transformation

Gartner shows the percentage of employees working remotely, pre- and postpandemic (projected).

Ask what competitors are doing

Scott Engler, VP, Advisory

Regularly checking in with competitors, market leaders, etc. can provide powerful insights to help businesses push through their next phase of growth. Building the capabilities for a more dynamic workforce hinges on the ability of HR teams to proactively and strategically help the business engage with both the external and internal labor markets at macro to micro levels. 

When it’s something new, the quickest and easiest way to start to generate insight is to look at what’s happening in the external market. For example, to ramp up digital capabilities quickly, you’ll need to answer questions such as:

  • What are others doing?  
  • What skills are they hiring?  
  • Is the market being swayed by macro trends, such as the increased use of robotics? 

“ Identify early threats to talent acquisition and retention and make opportunistic adjustments ”

Generating data-based insights around these questions helps you zero in on the specific talent you need to adapt to the new environment and ultimately to grow. 

From there, you can determine how the requisite pools of talent align with your current footprint, and whether critical skills and activities can function remotely. By tracking hiring trends (volume, talent profiles) of key talent competitors, you can understand the locations and remote work profiles your traditional and nontraditional competitors are hiring in critical talent segments.

You can also identify early threats to talent acquisition and retention and make opportunistic adjustments to tap into remote or nontraditional (part-time, gig workers and contractors) workforces.

Download eBook: Understand 5 Key Shifts in Workforce Trends

Strategic sourcing

Christopher Long, Senior Director, Advisory

How can HR leaders set realistic expectations with hiring managers and enable them to make informed decisions about who and where they hire?

Having the ability to establish foundational labor market knowledge with leaders and hiring managers within the organization means you can drive both productive and strategic conversations about what talent to acquire and how. 

By painting a realistic picture of supply, demand, cost, and diversity of talent for given skill sets and roles, business leaders can make educated decisions about where they should invest in certain skill sets, how they might be able to build certain skills internally or if there are other work arrangements that might enable access to larger talent pools

The cost-benefit analysis of where to find strategic talent, how much it will cost and what can be done to create an advantage in the market are essential when trying to find talent in a highly competitive market while capitalizing on the cost-saving opportunities presented by remote work.

For example, you can benchmark against advertised salaries in real time to adjust compensation according to changing market conditions, as well as considering nontraditional workforce locations and options.

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