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WHAT NEW SKILLS ARE REQUIRED FOR THE 'DISTANCE ECONOMY'?

Author: Julie Jarvis

Published date: 2020/08

Screenshot 2020 08 28 At 09

With COVID-19 changing every aspect of our lives, the rulebook on working practices has well and truly gone out of the window. Workers across all industries and sectors have to navigate the new ‘distance economy’, with leaders tasked with matching them to new roles and activities, while effectively managing the process. 

Here, we explore how leaders can re-skill and upskill their workforce to deliver new business operations in the post-pandemic era. 

Conduct a skills audit 

Carrying out an audit of a company’s operations and the support that is required to remain productive is the logical place to start. Ask yourself, do the skills we currently have support the new demands of the business? It’s likely to result in a large number of restructurings, downsizing and re-skilling to ensure the right people are in the right roles. 

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) reported that Stoke-on-Trent City Council conducted a rapid workforce skills audit to figure out where people should be best redeployed and how to make use of their skills. The exercise saw back-office library staff redeployed into social care, with the full backing of the workers involved in the move. 

Align people with technology 

The pandemic has highlighted the need for digital solutions to help maintain contact with customers and employees, as well as to keep processes moving. As a result, we’ve seen digital transformation projects accelerated to ensure those employees that are able to work from home can avoid returning to the workplace for the foreseeable future. 

The introduction of new technologies will inevitably reinvent the nature of work and disrupt certain jobs and the way they’re performed. Such disruption to the workforce needs to be addressed, with employees prepared for how their output and day-to-day tasks will change. 

The NHS experienced a major digital shift that staff had to get to get to grips with. After a successful pilot of its eConsult solution on the NHS app early in the year, it had planned a national rollout to around 1,200 GP practices by the end of June 2020. However, by 30 April 2020, eConsult was available to more than 2,200 practices, covering 20 million patients. The uptake in this technology meant that clinicians had to learn how to conduct safe and effective remote diagnoses. Now, eConsult is set to be a permanent fixture, with the NHS hoping to build on this progress after the pandemic. 

Acknowledge the new working week

While office staff were provided with the tools to work from home uninterrupted, other industries have had to accept a new reality. Construction workers, for example, have had to adapt to new social distancing measures on-site. The new normal, whether that’s adhering to one-way systems or wearing PPE, may seem like a minor shift, but it’s a massive step for the workers whose job structures have been the same for many years. As such, employers that fail to address the significance of such changes may see a dip in productivity and employee wellbeing. 

It’s, therefore, necessary for organisations to maintain a dialogue with employees and treat any changes as an open discussion rather than a blanket instruction. By keeping employees involved in process changes and providing them with the opportunity to have their say, adjustments will be accepted and implemented much more quickly and effectively. 

Don’t cut L&D budgets! 

According to recent research from the CIPD, only 29 per cent of organisations have a clear learning & development (L&D) plan in place for employees. The report also stated that 21 per cent don’t use any technology to support learning activities and instead rely on classroom-based training. 

Couple these stats with the fact that budgets are continuing to be cut across all areas of businesses, and there’s a concern that L&D will take a backseat. Why is this a mistake? Companies will not actually make a saving, but merely delay their investment, especially considering that the current crisis will see an exponential skills shift. 

Rather than waste time and sacrifice the efficiency and resilience that you could develop now, allocate L&D budgets to make skills a priority in your journey to the new normal. Armed with what you’ve learned from your skills audit and any technological implementations, you will have an idea of what your L&D strategy should look like. Then, if you haven’t already, invest in making all L&D practices digital to ensure your remote workforces don’t miss out. 

Help is at hand 

Over the coming weeks, PRS will serialise our Great Expectations 2021: What questions will you be asked? series, which offers advice on how you can bolster your employer brand and be ready to face some tough questions about how you treated your workers during the pandemic.