Workforce agility is vital to the future success of organizations, but agility gaps are widespread, according to the results of a new survey focused on how companies are rethinking their human capital strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Globally, 84% of survey respondents view workforce agility—defined as the ability to quickly move employees into new roles or areas of the organization to support changing business needs—as very important or extremely important to the future success of their organization following the onset of the pandemic.
However, while widely viewed as vital to future success, only 39% of survey respondents currently view their workforces as very agile or extremely agile, according to Aon’s Accelerating Workforce Agility and Resilience.
The survey was conducted from Aug. 17–25, 2020, and a total of 2,004 human resources leaders and professionals responded globally.
“This workforce agility gap—between what employees and teams can handle today versus what will be required of them in the near future—is significant and represents a major challenge for companies looking to reshape their business and human capital strategies,” says Pete Bentley, chief commercial officer for Aon’s Human Capital business. Bentley adds that, “this gap is remarkably consistent across regions and industries.”
When survey respondents were asked to assess 10 key factors needed to build and maintain an agile workforce, the ability to attract and retain diverse employees and create an inclusive culture ranked near the top. Globally, 86% of respondents said this factor was very or extremely important, ahead of factors such as identifying employees with key digital skills, introducing new career paths and developing flexible compensation programs.
Only two other factors rated higher than diversity and inclusion―technology infrastructure and communications tools. Another top factor is the ability to assess and identify employees with adaptability, collaboration and communications skills. Globally, 85% of survey respondents said this factor was very important or extremely important.
As more companies announce plans to expand or extend remote working arrangements for employees, they are also providing new tools and programs to improve the productivity and wellbeing of their remote workforce.
“The degree to which firms are focused on improving workforce agility and making remote working effective is incredible,” explains Michael Burke, chief executive officer for Aon’s Human Capital business. At the same time, however, he notes that companies continue to struggle with many of the acute challenges presented by the pandemic, such as assisting working parents when schools are closed or employees who are caring for elderly family members. “Companies with best-in-class responses are looking at these issues holistically to serve their people from every angle,” he says.
For example, Aon’s survey found that 71% of respondents globally said their companies are actively investing in tools and technologies to support remote collaboration, followed by 58% of respondents who said their companies are providing employees with more wellbeing tools and programs.
Additionally, 42% of survey respondents said their companies have already enhanced, or are actively considering enhancing, allowances and reimbursement policies for remote employees in response to the pandemic. This includes covering cell phone, internet and home office expenses—and in most cases these enhancements are being provided on a temporary basis.
Aon further notes that nearly 60% of survey respondents say their companies have taken some action to support working parents who may not have the ability to send their children to on-site schools or other childcare facilities.
However, most of these efforts are currently tied to enhancing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and expanding networking groups for parents. The firm emphasizes that the prevalence of new or temporary programs to provide direct assistance to parents to cover childcare, tutoring or e-learning costs remains low.
Other findings show that 35% of survey respondents indicate their companies have changed, or are actively considering changing, their time-off policies in response to the pandemic. Among these companies, 32% created additional emergency paid leave policies beyond what is required by law to cover caregiving, illness or quarantining in 2020. Another 10% of companies created policies covering both 2020 and 2021, while 5% created permanent policies.