The pandemic and the consequent lockdown have been a watershed moment in our lives. This is something we will all remember for a long, long time to come. Organizations across the globe had to invoke their Business Continuity Plans (BCP) literally overnight. Very soon we realized that the traditional BCP approaches are only partially effective in this new backdrop. One had to think out of the box to come up with quick solutions on the fly, to keep business going, without compromising the safety of people who were running the show. The situation was akin to a tightrope walk; balancing interest of all stakeholders – Employees, Customers, and Shareholders.
But then as someone said, “You never let a crisis go waste”. People were forced to try out innovative ways to survive, and in some cases, scale up their businesses during these challenging times. From a sentiment of frustration and despair, people quickly transitioned into the new normal. In most cases that I know of, the transition was not as difficult as it seemed it would be. People had to shed their deep-rooted beliefs and adopt to newer way of doing things. Whether it was out of willingness or lack of it, people did not have a choice. Change management in a normal scenario would have taken its own course, but the lockdown just accelerated adoption of the newer ways of doing things.
The best part in all this is that the work paradigm has changed and a new normal has emerged. And this new normal is here to stay at least in the medium term.
Let’s look at what this new normal is and what kind of opportunities it throws open with this new way of working.
The biggest change I see is that the concept of “time” and “space” at work has been seriously challenged. While a lot of progressive organizations had flexi working options even before, the lockdown took it to an entirely new level. The concept of wanting full time employees who have to come to office from 9 am to 6 pm, under supervision of the manager has undergone a change. I do understand that for certain roles this is not effective, but there are numerous jobs within most organizations that can be offered as a flexi job. Now, since it has been tested for almost a year, there is no reason for one to complain that it doesn’t work. Yes, a 100% WFH (work from home) has a few challenges too, but then it’s manageable.
In a world where there is a fight to attract scarce talent from the market, the flexi working, any time – anywhere work model, and the flexi staffing option took centre stage during this pandemic. This allowed organizations an access to a diverse talent pool that was otherwise not being explored. In fact, it has also provided a great opportunity to accelerate the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda.
This new normal pose a very interesting question – What linkages do the new normal have with the Diversity and Inclusion agenda? And is there an opportunity to accelerate D&I in the new normal?
There is enough research to support the benefits of diversity at the workplace. Right from more ideas, better processes, broader range of skills sets, diverse experiences and perspectives to increase in productivity.
We must remember that diversity is an outcome and it is important to nurture an inclusive culture to promote diversity. Inclusion in the workplace means creating an environment that is collaborative, supportive, and respectful such that employees can participate and contribute more. In organizations with deeper and broader inclusive culture, each employee feels included, supported and tolerated. An organization that promotes an inclusive culture will find it easy to attract and retain a set of employees that are different from its usual homogeneous talent pool.
With an increasing lack of right talent, businesses are in danger of falling into a void where they simply can’t find the right talent they need. While on one hand there is scarcity of talent and a war to attract the best talent from the market, on the other hand, organizations prefer to plug and play candidates and continue to fish for talent from the same pond – instead of looking for a newer talent pool. This is when the diversity agenda takes a back seat and organizations end up having a homogeneous talent pool. This talent gap is particularly scary when we consider the state of diversity across companies.
In the new normal, post-Covid, the emergence of Flexi staffing and Flexi working has opened up access to Gig workers and to a diverse talent pool that organizations were earlier not keen to absorb.
Another interesting trend that we saw during the lockdown and continues even now is the exploration of ways and means to upskill and train people using digital and/or virtual tools. As a result of the lockdown, in-person classroom training was impossible and most agile and progressive organizations accelerated newer ways of training their staff. Virtual ILTs, Digital – Online / Mobile learning, Simulation based learning, Learner Community groups, online courses, online expert talk sessions, etc saw an encouraging adoption by employees. These methods made the entire training and upskilling process scalable as well as cost effective. There has been a paradigm shift in terms of the way one looked at training.
The potent combination of access to a wider talent pool, flexibility of time and location of work, flexible employment contracts and availability of tools to upskill talent using digital/virtual tools, not only helps address the talent gap, but also presents an opportunity to make real inroads to improving diversity and inclusion, in this new normal.
For example, women professionals who had to take a career break to attend to children or elderly or ailing family members, can be attracted back into the workforce. Even if they’ve been out of the workforce for a while and have not kept up with the latest skills, you can retrain them into successful employees. Similarly, talent pools from specially- abled groups, retired professionals, other industries etc. can be upskilled and deployed at the workplace based on the available flexibility with the new way of working.
The new normal post pandemic is super exciting. It has thrown open a golden opportunity to embrace inclusion and accelerate the diversity agenda and give organizations the required edge by changing their entire talent landscape.