#MercerChats Rewind: Transforming the Workforce and Workplace through the Pandemic and the Future of Work

#MercerChats Rewind: Redesigning the Work Experience in the Future of Work

Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts and external thought leaders, subject matter experts and influencers for an online discussion of the most pressing issues in the future of work and health. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our April 2020 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and the best insights shared.

In times of crisis, everyone is looking for a guide. Whether you’re an individual looking for support, a team looking for direction, or a whole organization looking for purpose, we all need someone to show us the way when the world turns upside down. This has never been truer than today, when Coronavirus has changed everything that we know overnight and upended even the simplest parts of everyday life.

If you’re looking for solace, take heart in the knowledge that everyone – from CHROs in Melbourne to pensions managers in Manchester – is feeling disoriented. It only takes a quick scan of social media to see that everyone is having a hard time predicting what’s next, but this is no time to wait and see how the dust settles. Every day, every hour, decisions are being made that will reshape how the world works once the pandemic has passed, and each of us – as companies or as individuals – need to continuously measure our surroundings to determine where we fit in.

At Mercer we’re always reading the tea leaves to understand what tomorrow will bring, so we brought some of the world’s keenest observers of HR and management trends together on social media to discuss how senior leaders can navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for the future of work. Throughout our conversation, it became clear that leaders should be strategic in accounting for their own priorities of today and tomorrow, all while not losing sight of the big picture. Here are some of the key takeaways from that conversation, which I hope can help you as you look to plot your own course in the weeks and months ahead.

Account for Today: Support Your Employees Through the Pandemic

When we’re in the thick of crisis, it can feel impossible to take any action at all. This is a classic paralysis by analysis scenario, where competing voices pull leaders in all directions and inaction is the result. But doing nothing isn’t an option, because while COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the world around us, employees are looking to leadership for answers, clarity and, above all, comfort.

As almost all of our panelists expressed this same sentiment: that leaders and managers have a duty and opportunity to support their people through this unprecedented situation. Whether that is through a proactive, clear communication strategy or through short-term benefits and policies aimed at helping your most vulnerable colleagues endure the pandemic, there is so much that employers can do to help their people during these times. Top employers are viewing this as an opportunity to support the individuals who support their business, and everyone else would do well to take note.


Look to Tomorrow: Reskill and Reshape your Organization for Future Needs

Once the most acute needs of your workforce are accounted for, leaders can turn their attention to how they’ll deploy that workforce in the future of work. The day will come when offices are open and new projects are ready to start, and leaders need to consider the preparedness of their organization when it’s time to get back to work.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a continuation of a broader conversation about reskilling and upskilling workers for the future of work that’s been evolving for years. Amid the disruption of the Coronavirus, we’re seeing greater urgency in this transformation, with conventional wisdom being challenged and new approaches being validated. For instance, the overnight pivot to remote working and digital meetings calls into question the need for traditional workspaces, and the emergency diversion of talent to areas of immediate need show how adaptive people really are.

As a result, leaders across organizations should look for success stories and new efficiencies gained during the pandemic. There are so many lessons to learn from this grand, forced experiment, and some of them may be transformative as we move into the new world of work. Consider the leaps and bounds being made in e-learning and how this could be leveraged to revolutionize career training and reskilling programs around the world. There’s promise in new technologies, practices and policies tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, and leaders would be wise to look for which ones will stick with us long after the virus is gone.


Play the Long Game: Live Your Values When They Matter Most

At a certain point, leaders need to look beyond their own balance sheet, prospectus, and forecasts to understand where they stand in the context of the world around them. This goes beyond promises of corporate responsibility or the push to win the PR cycle. It comes down to every leaders’ fiduciary responsibility to steer their organization through the pandemic in a way that leaves them in a position to thrive on the other side, and one simple hack for that is letting your company’s culture and values guide you.

From shareholder value to employment brand to government relations, every organization is under greater scrutiny as the world watches to see which employers falter as they navigate the economic and human crisis of COVID-19. It’s not just about whether your business will be left standing when the world returns to work: it’s whether anyone – employees and clients – will want to return to you. Already we’ve seen dozens of employers announce layoffs and salary cuts, only to walk back their decision when it was met with pushback. With public sentiment firmly entrenched on the side of workers, employers must be mindful of how they comport themselves throughout the crisis, and leaders would be wise to consider how they can serve their community.


Conclusion

If you came looking for a definitive, step-by-step guide for how to help your business power through Coronavirus and come out stronger on the other side, I’m sorry to report that I don’t have a crystal ball. But if the collective wisdom of our #MercerChats panelists and participants tells me anything, it’s that there are actions leaders can take now to better prepare themselves for whatever comes next. That is:

  • Support those who support you – Employers rely on their workforce to come to work and deliver for them every single day, and even in the midst of the greatest challenge of our lifetimes, they’re still showing up. Leaders should honor this commitment by reciprocating with the support they need.
  • Look for positive changes amid the tragedy – Business leaders love to note how the pace of change is only accelerating, and COVID-19 just put rocket fuel into the engine. Look for how the world of work is evolving in real time to meet the challenges of today, then apply those lessons to the possibilities of tomorrow.
  • Don’t lose your sense of self in the panic – Top employers are recognized as top employers for a reason. Safeguard your hard-earned brand equity by making decisions that suit your entire organization, and consider how you’ll greet employees and clients as they return after the pandemic has passed.
Danielle Guzman
by Danielle Guzman

Global Head Social Media & Distributed Content

Global Head of Social Media & Distributed Content