Double the number of pre-COVID 19 executives now focusing on transforming work

On the back of workforce disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic company directors are taking action to reimagine the future of work with human capital issues at the top of their agenda, according to a new report from Deloitte.

Executives are shifting preparedness strategies from planning for the familiar to instead streamlining processes to develop human-centric models that allow organizations to better adapt to ongoing disruption.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global and Middle East Human Capital Trends report, The social enterprise in a world disrupted, examines how organizations and leaders can leverage the lessons of this pandemic to reconsider work, shifting from a focus on surviving to the pursuit of thriving.

Completed by more than 3,600 executives in 96 countries, the report included responses from more than 1,200 C-suite executives and board members, in addition to other management functions. Business respondents (56 percent), including 233 CEOs, outnumbered HR respondents (44 percent) in the survey – underscoring the growing importance of human capital in organizational decision-making, according to Deloitte.

The report showed that human capital issues are at the center of leaders’ thinking, with 17 percent of executives saying that their organizations would focus on planning for unlikely, high-impact events moving forward, as opposed to just 6 percent before the pandemic.

Nearly half (47 percent) of executives said that their organizations planned to focus on multiple scenarios, notably up from 23 percent pre-pandemic. To effectively deal with multiple possible futures and unlikely events, the importance of real-time workforce insights and data as they set new directions has become even more critical.

The most important factor was a new focus on capabilities of employees. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of executives identified “the ability of their people to adapt, reskill and assume new roles” as a priority to navigate future disruptions.

Only 17 percent of these same executives said that their organization was “very ready” to adapt and reskill workers to assume new roles, pointing to a substantial disconnect between leaders’ priorities and the reality of how their organizations support workforce development.

“No longer are human capital issues relegated to HR. Amid disruptions, organizations in the Middle East and across the world either sink or swim based on their workforce’s capabilities like collaboration, creativity, judgment and flexibility. It’s clear that workforce and human-centric matters are top priorities for C-suite and board leaders,” said Roshik Shenoy, Consulting Partner, Deloitte Middle East.

The report also showed that executives in the Middle East are increasingly shifting away from the optimization of automation and moving toward re-thinking how to best integrate humans and technology to complement each other and drive organizations forward.

Sixty-one percent of executives say they plan to focus on reimagining work in the next one to three years, compared to only 29 percent before the pandemic, the report revealed. COVID-19 has heightened leaders’ awareness of the potential benefits of this approach, including higher productivity, increased agility, and greater innovation.

During the pandemic, organizations utilized team structures to enable greater adaptability, which allowed them to better survive an unpredictable year, Shenoy explained. Executives in this year’s survey recognized that the use of technology and people is not an “either-or” choice, but a “both-and” partnership. The top three factors for transforming work were organizational culture (45 percent), workforce capability (41 percent) and technology (35 percent) – factors that must all work together for an organization to assemble effective super teams, he added.

“It’s not about replacing humans with technology. When deployed thoughtfully and effectively, technology can change work so that it makes the most of workers’ distinct capabilities and gives team members new methods to learn, create, and perform in ways that achieve new outcomes,” said Shenoy.

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