It is without a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about great changes in the world that we know today. For example, the tourism industry, estimated to be worth around 712 billion US dollars in 2019, has crashed into the abyss in the past months (UNWTO, June 2020).
Conversely, industries in digital communications, data management and online conferencing are booming, with companies like Zoom, seeing its number of users jump from 10 million to 200 million within the span of just three months (Reuters, April 2020).
These great shifts in the world brought about sweeping changes in the workforce and the way we work, providing HR professionals around the world new ways of thinking, and opportunities to revolutionise practices within their spheres.
However, at the same time, it presents its own set of challenges to test the agility of their companies, and the ability of the human mind to reimagine possibilities relating to the way our work is done.
First, with the sudden rise of digital communications as the main mode of work, companies are beginning to realise that they may no longer need to be limited by geography and that they have the world’s talents at their fingertips if their culture and work practices can accommodate remote teaming.
This poses huge potential for them to diversify their workforce, and tap on talent from around the world, who might otherwise have been limited by commutes or timezone differences.
With this new development, HR teams can now plan their talent pipelines differently, considering the best candidates globally to bring into their organisation based on the skills they need to meet their business strategy.
This definitely is a huge opportunity for companies, as research by JoshBersin Academy has shown that out of 450 global companies surveyed, companies with a diverse workforce are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their markets. Studies have also shown that diversity within the workforce leads to companies making better business decisions (Cloverpop, Oct 2017).
In addition, the simple fact that companies have a greater number of people to choose from in their hiring pipeline results in a much higher likelihood that they would be successful in hiring the right person, who has the right fit for the job. While there are certainly challenges posed by a fully-remote workforce, the upside for diversity and merit-based hiring is huge.
A second emerging trend today is that of employees being able to live and work from any location in the world. Many Fortune 50 companies, such as Amazon, Dell as well as Johnson & Johnson, has been progressively moving in this direction, and will definitely see an acceleration of this trend post COVID-19.
Being able to live and work anywhere facilitates greater mobility of staff members, enabling better staff retention, and also potentially increases the ability for a business to operate in markets without having to set up physical office spaces. Other than the obvious cost savings that this way of work offers an organisation, research has also shown that it brings about other benefits as well.
For example, Harvard Business Review reports that businesses with a workforce located across different locations diversifies their risk, and allows the business to be more resilient towards economical disruptors such as social unrest.
In another article by Forbes, companies are also reporting that by working with digital nomads, they are able to hire individuals for a short time, and take advantage of one or two highly specialised skill sets that these people bring with them (Forbes, Apr 2020).
However, while work boundaries are no longer limiting the talent pool, there are complexities that companies will need to take into account as they move towards these changes.
First, companies would need to consider different government work policies from various countries as they attempt to hire talents from around the world. For example, some questions include:
● Would a company need to be registered in a country to hire someone from a particular location?
● How does personal and corporate tax work in this case?
● What does a global employment contract for staff that is not limited by geography look like?
● What do staff benefits, work visas, health plans and insurance look like for someone who is moving around to work in different locations
Beyond these points, there is also a need to consider how to onboard staff, manage organisational culture and determine how work teams are structured—Leaders need to ensure that the conditions are still created for collaboration.
Last, considering the diversity and geographical distance mentioned earlier as benefits, staff are not likely to have met physically, and therefore the company needs to ensure a concerted effort to promote mutual understanding and build a collective sense of purpose among the staff towards the work that they do.
The above will surely test the agility and adaptability of HR professionals around the world. Individuals in the field who are most creative, and able to work out innovative solutions to the managing a global, fluid and mobile workforce will craft for themselves a highly valuable HR expertise that will likely remain relevant for the years to come.
The race is on, and it is up to the HR professionals of today to challenge themselves to new ideas and facilitate the unfolding of a future where this new way of working becomes the norm.