Empowering employees for a ‘future ready’ business

By Georgia Wilson
Vinod Kumar, CEO, Vodafone Business, discusses the impact of COVID-19 and how businesses can become future ready...

At the start of 2020, no business could have predicted the year would be defined by a global pandemic, unprecedented national and international lockdowns and huge economic upheaval. Beyond the terrible loss of life COVID-19 has caused, it’s in our businesses and economies where the impact of this global pandemic is being felt. 

The reality is that we are now gearing up for the biggest economic crisis in recent years, and this is making the business community nervous. However, I am a strong believer that in every crisis there is opportunity. And the bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity. 

As we move into the ‘new normal,’ companies are using this as a catalyst to reinvent their ways of working. In some cases, this means pivoting to entirely new business models to shore up their future in a post-COVID world, seeking to reduce costs and improve employee and customer experience along the way. Businesses are indexing more on digital interactions, rather than physical, having realised that they can continue at almost full functionality, remotely. 

In light of this realisation, employee expectations have shifted in a big way, with increasing demand for more flexibility when it comes to work schedules and locations. While many reaped social, physical and mental wellbeing benefits by working from home, it confirmed for others that they get their energy and creativity from being around people. The lockdown experience has highlighted the fact we all work differently. We cannot return to binary expectations of office hours; a flexible model is key. 

Businesses appear committed to listening to this demand. Vodafone Business’ recent Future Ready Report found that 77% of companies now see promoting employee wellness and mental health as key business values— up from 71% in November 2019. Of the ‘future ready’ businesses surveyed — i.e. businesses that are considered to be ‘very well prepared’ for the future, 90% reported taking some form of action to give their employees extra support during the pandemic and to support their return to the office.

Improving the employee experience

COVID-19 has shifted many business’ goalposts on what they can and will achieve for the year ahead, and at the same time has exacerbated many other existing challenges. However, one thing that remains a constant success factor is retaining and training talented staff. Talent, creativity and diversity of ideas —wrapped in a culture that supports all three —will give one business the edge over another. But with shifting employee expectations, approaches to talent retention and training need to be refreshed and given more of a focus than ever. 

Skills wise, 43% of businesses we spoke to felt that recruiting for the right tech skills would be one of their key challenges in future. Alongside this trend, employees are viewing training, technology and flexibility as more important than ‘career prospects’. 85% of ‘future ready’ businesses expect ‘appealing to core values’ will become more important to attracting and keeping staff in the future. 

Across the board, businesses are also looking at increasing international recruitment efforts and considering more neuro-diverse candidates moving forward. Many of the ‘future ready’ companies we spoke to are re-thinking their approach to recruitment by tapping into a much wider talent pool to drive a creative and diverse outlook. To fill skills gaps and futureproof their teams it’s important that businesses act now to create a clear strategy for attracting and keeping people from a diverse pool of ages, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and neuro-diverse groups.

We find, through analysing the behaviours of our ‘future ready’ businesses, that the more companies embody a strong core value set and a level of flexibility that recognises the needs of a diverse workforce, the better set up they will be to weather further storms on the horizon.

Become a workforce ready for the future

Businesses all over the world are moving into a new era. We’re seeing a massive rewriting of the social contracts between employers and employees, between businesses and their customers, and between citizens, businesses and governments. 

We’re only at the start of this new era but it’s clear from our research that ‘future ready’ businesses are already leading the way. Incremental changes won’t cut it. Leaders need to be bold and decisive to make changes and get ahead of the competition. This window of opportunity won’t last forever.  

Technology will play a key role in powering and enabling these changes, but we need to humanise it. This means designing technology to be better for humans and better at interacting with humans — enabling us to harness, rather than be ruled by, tech. We expect technology to be deployed more thoughtfully and purposely to improve or replace outdated systems and to fundamentally improve people’s lives.

This is the ultimate test of the “growth mindset” of individuals and organisations. The last few months have been tough and challenges remain, but the opportunity is now to rip up the rulebook and re-examine the way we work and interact in the business world. It’s time to listen to our employees, to try new ways of doing things, to experiment and to learn. 

Only then will businesses be confident that through working together, a new adaptable, ‘future ready’ workplace will be created.

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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