How COVID is changing HR’s approach to workforce planning

While COVID-19 caused some knee-jerk responses by employers a year ago, HR leaders have since been making pivotal, strategic changes to address their enterprise workforce planning (EWP).

Stacey Harris

“We are seeing lots of new ways that organizations are rethinking their approach to long-standing management practices for their workforces,” Stacey Harris, chief research officer and managing partner with Sapient Insights Group, said recently during a live LinkedIn Q&A with HRE.

Employers right now are all banking on promising practices in some of the biggest trending areas of workforce planning–skills versus job-based management; remote workforce management; operationalizing diversity, equity and inclusion; health and safety management; and pay flexibility. The outcome of those practices will have a major impact on EWP, Harris noted.

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For example, the skills versus job-based management conversations are especially important today, with more organizations remote or with limited on-site staff, Harris, also one of HRE‘s Top 100 HR Tech Influencers, noted.

Related: The new workplace: How 2020 changed HR forever

“The old mantra of the right person, right place, right time–assumes that there is a single job and single place that everyone fits, rather than a series of work experiences that develops the employee and supports the needs of the business at any given time,” Harris said. “A more fluid work model can only be accommodated with a skills-based management model–something that is not well-defined or supported yet by the existing technology.”

COVID-19 put a spotlight on this issue, as research found that 65% of organizations that needed to assign workers based on skills versus job roles simply did not have up-to-date data available to rely on that strategy, she added. That prompted many to reassess their approach to EWP.

In fact, she added, according to Sapient’s recent data, 36% of organizations practiced EWP in 2020, an almost 30% increase from the previous year.

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“COVID-19 required over 50% of organizations to redistribute their workforce, and many organizations did use multiple data sets, and run multiple forecasts and what-if scenarios before making decisions that would impact employees,” she said. “The second driver was definitely the focus on the need for real social justice conversations and a real look at their internal data to assess if a company’s actions were matching their external language.”

Looking ahead, Harris added, employers’ approaches to EWP will include a focus on integrating better data, finding tools that can reduce their manual work and figuring out better ways to share workforce planning data with managers.

“But,” she added, “COVID-19 forced everyone to realize they could do it–when it was needed.” Harris’ comments echoed much of what she predicted when keynoting at the fall HR Technology Conference.

Going forward, while EWP is still a newer category of HR science, the process needs to be maintained not as a once-and-done practice that outputs data, but rather as part of the entire business planning process. And HR technology will play a bigger role in workforce planning.

Organizations that made major system transformation efforts over the last few years and invested in more data collection have more usable data, she noted, which will require less data cleaning and programming. “We are also seeing more HR technology platforms actually being used as part of the toolset of solutions for workforce planning,” Harris added.

In addition to EWP, technology is also playing a greater role in employee engagement, as the remote workforce grows.

See all of HRE’s coverage on employee engagement

“We saw a 20% increase this year in the use of pulse surveys capturing any number of items from employees, including their work sentiment, perception of their health and safety, work-life balance concerns and everything in between,” she said.

Additionally, she noted the average number of communication methods used to reach employees jumped from an average of two in 2019 to four last year, with the use of social networks and mobile growing the most.

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Nick Otto
Nick Otto is HRE’s former senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.