The pandemic has changed the way people think about work, including where, when and who they work for. Flexible working policies were already influencing employment decisions long before the pandemic, but now they are a given: more than one-third of European white-collar workers are predicted to remain remote full-time.
While remote working is more productive for many, individuals can sometimes feel cut off from colleagues, making it harder to keep employees motivated and engaged.
This is where companies need to ensure the appropriate use of communication and collaboration tools. Regular one-to-one contact to check in is important, helping teams to stay engaged and connected. Keeping employees up to date about the changing public health advice or plans to open the office is key to minimising their uncertainty. Setting up dedicated communications channels and tools, and potentially looking at using AI Assistants, means teams can benefit from all the latest information and HR advice at their fingertips, 24x7.
Companies also need to look again at the workforce skill set, following the rapid adoption of digital technologies over the past year. Figures from McKinsey confirm that even before the pandemic, AI, automation, and other technologies were already creating major shifts in required workforce skills, suggesting that by 2030, up to 375 million workers (14 percent of the global workforce) would have to switch occupational categories.
Many of these jobs will require specialised skills – and one growing area of research is the value of neurodiversity within a digital workplace, where there is a greater need to solve complex problems, constantly innovate and think creatively to face the next cybersecurity or AI challenge.
Neurodiverse people see the world from a different perspective. People who reason differently help to come up with new ideas and overcome biases. Companies will also need to consider how they can identify and celebrate the unique skills provided by neurodiverse colleagues, both within the recruitment process and the day-to-day.
According to a study of neurodiversity in the workforce, these steps are incredibly important. For example, change the interview process to avoid ambiguous and broad questions that can be a disadvantage for neurodiverse talent — instead, it is much more appropriate to give them a task to perform. Providing autistic employees with specific equipment, such as headphones will help to reduce auditory overstimulation. Those with ADHD may also require minor adjustments to their work environment, such as having quiet places to work and flexibility in their work schedules. Standard good practices, such as a written agenda and minutes for meetings, would also support them.
Business culture is set to evolve. One of the main benefits of working from home or remotely is that people have become far more comfortable with the tools and processes that can deliver online training and education. This confidence presents a great opportunity for companies to reconfigure training and introduce new programmes to support a cohesive, remote and diverse workforce.
Rather than having to set aside whole days for onsite learning, managers can introduce short learning modules that employees can access as and when. Training and development become part of the standard working week or month rather than an interruption. This is not just about individual learning; collaborative tools can also play a role in training people to learn how to work effectively together when they are remote.
Digital tools like virtual and augmented reality can completely change the delivery of training programmes. For example, with AR tools, individuals can learn how to take on complex tasks in high-tech factory settings remotely. The immersive experience is also being used to address unconscious bias in the workplace. Vantage Point, for instance, is using VR headsets in its training program to tackle racial discrimination. Employees are immersed in scenarios based on real events, where they watch a scene of discrimination unfold and are asked how they would respond.
Companies using digital tools such as VR to improve understanding of many areas of unconscious bias can also improve the recruitment process and find the diverse talents and skills required in a digital business.
The digital workplace has changed radically over the past year; many employees have used new tools for the first time and embraced the benefits they offer. As companies now move from the tactical shifts in working practice required during the pandemic to a more strategic digital business, digital tools will play a key role in supporting employees, building new skills and reinforcing the diverse culture required for long term success.
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