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For the past several decades, technology in the workplace has allowed organizations to reimagine the way they work and manage talent.

How to Adapt and Retain Talent in the COVID-19 Workplace

For the past several decades, technology in the workplace has allowed organizations to reimagine the way they work and manage talent. One of the most impactful changes has been how advances in technology allow individuals to collaborate across different locations and time zones. Video conferencing capabilities, digital collaboration software, smart device connectivity, and cloud-based human capital management solutions have transformed the viability of a mobile workforce from posing a cumbersome challenge to an efficient and beneficial option for many businesses and their employees.

According to the 2020 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, technology helps engage employees, supports employee productivity, and allows HR leaders to focus on strategic endeavors. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, HR technology trends for 2021 reflect a COVID-19 era workplace and beyond. Businesses have had to rely on technology more than ever to adapt to the pandemic, and many changes are expected to endure. The future success of an enterprise may depend upon employers understanding:

  • How employees are responding to virtual work environments;
  • How the pandemic is shaping the future of work environments;
  • How companies can leverage this new work environment to acquire top talent regardless of their location; and
  • What benefits and adaptions small and medium businesses can make to compete with larger companies.
     

How the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to incorporate remote work

While a remote workforce has been trending upward for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a definitive catalyst. To keep their doors open while complying with social distancing and health mandates, many businesses have had to expedite the speed and adaption of a remote work strategy. Did they rise to the challenge? There has been a tremendous mainstream shift to a remote workforce

How the coronavirus pandemic is shaping the future work environment

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, local and state mandates required many businesses to adapt or temporarily close their doors. The immediate shift to accommodating remote workers has been impressive. It's also revealed that much of the work that many employers believed could only be done in a physical office could, in fact, be accomplished remotely. Improvements and access to technology played a significant role, and the success of a remote work environment is shaping a future of expanded remote work. Companies are discovering that technology is eliminating proximity to a central office as a recruiting and hiring barrier to landing top talent. For these companies, the pandemic has brought the future of work  into the now.

Removing location restrictions

Companies that are moving to a virtual workplace can expand their reach and access to a larger pool of talent. By removing location restraints, these businesses become viable employment options for individuals who normally would eliminate the possibility of working for a company due to obligations to relocate or be part of a daily commute. Remote work also helps alleviate additional costs a worker would otherwise have to account for — gas, vehicle wear and tear, parking fees, traffic hassles, time spent commuting, etc.

Adopting artificial intelligence for talent optimization

The 2020 labor market quickly went from competitive to an environment where millions of U.S. workers had either been laid off, furloughed, or pushed out of employment as businesses have shuttered their doors permanently. With so much talent now available, the emphasis for recruitment is shifting to talent optimization, part of which is making sure the person is aligned with the role they’re being hired for.

Companies with resources are relying on artificial intelligence (AI) tools to optimize the recruiting process by matching talented candidates with specific roles, increasing diversity, and reducing the time it takes to fill jobs. AI technology can go beyond tracking hard skills and can assess candidates' career aspirations and personality factors.
 

Change the role of the office

The COVID-era work environment has made it clear that a physical office is not as critical to as many business operations as employers once thought. This leaves opportunity to re-envision and adjust the role an office plays for a more productive and healthier work environment. Businesses can establish different levels based on an employee's position and role within the organization, including:

  • Fully remote.
  • Hybrid remote (split between in-office and working remotely).
  • Hybrid remote by exception (majority of work occurs in-office with option to work remotely if needed).
  • On-site (not eligible for remote work).

Working remotely is a skill  and employees may have to learn new proficiencies with the technologies that allow them to stay connected. The first two options allow an employer to expand recruitment efforts because the emphasis on geographic location is either reduced or eliminated. In the hybrid model, an employee could commute in once each week, biweekly, or even monthly. Depending on the flexibility afforded by these arrangements, the opportunity exists to improve employee engagement and productivity while saving an employer money.
 

How can small businesses adapt to retain talent?

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent, smaller businesses may need to adapt to a new dynamic to compete with other companies for quality candidates. Use the following tenets as a guide to identify specific tactics that can ultimately help you adopt a new mindset and competitive edge.
 

Offer enterprise-level benefits

Competitive benefits not only give your business an edge when bringing on top talent, but they’re also an incentive to retain your current staff. Consider the value of offering sought-after voluntary benefits such as group health insurance, retirement services, and financial wellness resources to help fuel your recruiting and maintain a quality workforce.
 

Affordable health insurance

The availability of affordable health insurance may be a significant factor for both potential new hires considering coming on board and your current staff. But while you may understand the advantages of offering group health insurance as part of your benefits package, you’ll also need to consider plan costs, setup, and ongoing management. Fortunately, businesses of all sizes can find insurance plans that are within their budgets and help match those of larger companies. Some of the leading providers also offer support and resources to help set up and manage the plan, making it even more convenient to offer group health insurance as part of your company's benefit offerings.

Retirement plans

Many working Americans are now placing even more value on their employer offering a retirement plan. Financial wellness overall (see below) has become a top priority for many. This is an opportunity for employers to offer a retirement plan that helps attract job candidates, retain a quality workforce, and stay competitive for top talent. As with health insurance plans, there are many options on the market, including basic 401(k) plan options that may make sense for smaller operations. Now may be a great time to set up a new retirement plan, as the passage of the SECURE Act  gives more incentives for employers to establish plans, earn tax credits, lower their tax liability, and help their employees save for their non-working years.

Financial wellness programs

The value of having financial wellness resources for employees has only been amplified in the wake of the pandemic. Many Americans contended with financial insecurities before the coronavirus (e.g. not enough money saved in case of an emergency, lack of preparedness for retirement years). The pandemic’s financial toll on individuals and businesses continues to amplify the importance of being financially sound and prepared. A financial wellness program is built to help participating employees improve their overall financial health and knowledge, and can positively impact their engagement levels, productivity, and mindset at work. It could also differentiate your business from other employers in your industry.

Embrace flexibility and work/life balance

Establishing a positive work environment has been a perennial challenge for employers. Both the office and its layout have long been heralded as important anchors for performance and collaboration. Yet employees often struggle with the balancing act between work and personal responsibilities, which can lead to stress, anxiety, a negative impact on productivity, and a strain on overall health. By creating a flexible work environment, employees may find it easier to maintain a healthy work/life balance by completing their work in a timely fashion, perhaps even improving productivity, without sacrificing personal responsibilities.

Provide nontraditional benefits and incentives

Employers have a huge opportunity to position their business as a desirable workplace and strengthen employee loyalty by offering perks, benefits, and incentives that fall outside what is considered a traditional benefit. There are many creative options that can be adapted to remote workers and hybrid situations. Consider:

  • Catered team lunches or outdoor picnics.
  • Half-days once per week (or another cadence)
  • Professional development budget (classes, books, etc.)
  • Employee resource group (support and resources)
  • Paid volunteer time
  • Employee assistance programs ;(EAPs)
  • Wellness programs
  • Employee appreciation activities
  • Virtual happy hours
  • Tuition assistance
  • Paid time off
  • Gift cards (local restaurants, sporting events, concerts, outdoor adventures, etc.)
  • Organized group activities (hike, kayak, outdoor yoga, painting class, etc.)
  • Free coffee and/or tea (arrange to have delivered to remote workers, e.g. one bag each month)
     

Adjust management style

Giving employees the flexibility to work remotely means managers don't have instant access to staff or the ability to observe how an employee spends their time. Instead of micro-managing, the emphasis shifts to quality of output and productivity. To accomplish this, the management strategy must be built around employee trust and empowerment, which can result in better work and increase the likelihood of retaining talent. However, when performance issues arise, you should address them swiftly using the documented policies and procedures your business has outlined for managing remote employees.

Create a purpose-driven culture

Instead of work for work's sake, employees tend to be internally motivated and nurture teamwork when a business has a clear sense of purpose that everyone supports. When employees feel a business's activities and strategies are aligned to this purpose, they are likely to feel increased satisfaction with their own contributions and efforts. Creating a purpose-driven culture means shifting the focus away from the number of hours and face time and more on rewarding and celebrating overall outputs and outcomes.

Conclusion

The time for a transformed work environment is no longer a trend that will arrive sometime in the future. The pandemic has expedited a colossal shift in the workplace. Businesses are discovering that adapting to a remote work environment has led to employees finding new levels of satisfaction, efficiencies, and productivity. Businesses that take the time and effort to understand the COVID-19 era work environment may be better positioned to find and retain the best possible talent for success and longevity.

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