Workforce Planning for Competitive Advantage Post-COVID-19

July 16, 2020

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

As COVID-19 resets workforce assumptions, such as the rise in remote work, look to capture competitive advantage from new talent scenarios.

COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the workplace, it has likely changed forever the complexion of the workforce — and work itself. The opportunity and challenge for HR leaders is to respond and move from a static to an agile planning approach, one that can continually reshape the workforce to incorporate changes in business and skill needs during the pandemic and beyond. 

“In a reset talent landscape, the burning questions become: ‘What does differentiated talent look like? Where can we find it? And how do we put it together to gain competitive advantage?’” says Scott Engler, VP, Advisory, Gartner.

The good news is this type of workforce “futuring” — workforce planning for future strength, fueled by technology and labor market analysis — delivers greater flexibility, far beyond the constraints of legacy talent management processes and assumptions. 

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Unbounded talent in the wake of COVID-19

So what has changed so radically that flexible workforce planning is now an urgent need? 

New remote work norms are the most obvious shift. Gartner research shows that 48% of employees will work remotely after the pandemic, up from 30% pre-pandemic. But that isn’t the only, or even the most radical, shift in this time of transformation. 

More broadly, as organizations recover from the effects of the pandemic, many will reimagine key aspects of their business models. The imperative for HR leaders is to identify where and what the impact will be for their organization’s talent and skill needs.

“Organizations that can sense and seize on these new talent realities are going to secure a competitive advantage,” says Engler.

Talent is newly unconstrained

The location of talent is no longer geographically limited

New remote work norms mean talent is potentially available anywhere. As a result:

  • The competition for talent changes radically.

  • The options for acquiring lower-cost talent are expanding.

  • It’s easier to recruit diverse talent.

Remote work enables flexibility, productivity and cost savings 

It drives greater digitalization and compartmentalized workflows, and creates new opportunities to use distributed workforce models. Among fully remote employees, 48% display high discretionary effort versus 35% who are never remote, and 41% make a high enterprise contribution (vs. 24%). 

Roles, once the currency of talent plans, are breaking down into skill clusters 

These clusters determine an individual’s capabilities and change the way we think about building and buying “critical skills.” You’re no longer bound to an organization chart to assign critical workflows. Forty percent of employees say they frequently complete tasks that are outside of their job description, proving that roles are ill-designed to capture the skills required for today’s workflows.

You can more easily fill in skill gaps with gig and other contingent workers

Such workers are accustomed to working on multiple projects, teams and workflows. When asked which factors most contribute to a future-ready workforce, organizations most often ranked gig workers as the best way to add critical competencies.

Learn more: How to Use Analytics to Predict Skill Needs

New ways to secure and utilize talent

The focus of workforce planning becomes where, when, and how to secure and move talent and skills to critical workflows — drawing on talent inside and outside the organization. Those organizations that succeed essentially create new capacity by making talent more productive. 

To plan effectively for a post-COVID-19 environment:

  • Diagnose business conditions internally and externally. Assess the impact of the pandemic on your business model and discern how your skill needs have, could and should shift accordingly. Consider whether and how to design and build your workforce skills to influence or respond to an evolving/new business model. 
  • Identify critical skills — those you need to differentiate your organization and drive competitive advantage. Ask how your internal skill set looks compared to competitors. Ask how quickly you can amass the talent you need. 
  • Analyze the availability of skills, looking at:
    • Internal supply, while differentiating between roles and skills.
    • External supply, where such talent is located at what cost.
    • External demand, while assessing who is competing for the same talent and exerting demand cost pressure.
  • Create a talent plan. Creating a flexible workforce plan around both current and future skill needs takes a combination of build and buy strategies. Labor market analytics uncover key insights about the availability and cost of talent, which help identify an organization’s optimal locations and footprints for now and into the future. 

Remain predictive in your planning so your workforce can continue to drive strategic initiatives. Make sure to codify and communicate the opportunities to business leaders, so they know when, how and why your talent plan must evolve with labor market and business conditions.

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