Oxford Economics, SHRM and SAP Survey Finds Pandemic Has Bifurcated Today’s Workforce

Human resource (HR) managers across global organizations expect to be faced post pandemic with a bifurcated workforce of remote and on-site workers, creating challenges balancing employee needs, organizational goals, policies and culture, according to a survey released today by Oxford Economics, the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) and SAP SE.

Some 78% of U.S. respondents and 63% of non-U.S. respondents said they expect flexible work policies to be a talent differentiator, according to the report “The Future of Work Arrives Early: How HR Leaders Are Leveraging the Lessons of Disruptions.” However, more than half of U.S. respondents and 38% of non-U.S. respondents said that establishing a culture that supports remote employees will be one of the top three challenges when the pandemic subsides.

The report also found that despite employee readiness to learn new skills, few HR leaders are planning to invest in learning programs for reskilling and upskilling over the next 12 months. Outside of the United States, only 38% of respondents plan to invest in these programs. That drops to 22% among U.S. respondents.

“While HR leaders across the globe ranked maintaining productivity as their biggest challenge, it’s critical that we not lose sight of long-term strategies around learning and reskilling, and diversity, equity and inclusion,” SAP SuccessFactors President Jill Popelka said. “The urgency for more agile processes, easier access to data and the ability to support remote work is accelerating digital transformation. It’s critical that leaders develop a culture of continuous learning and inclusion. This will enable workforces to drive needed transformation projects, even during a period of unprecedented change.”

More than 80% of U.S. respondents said they were likely to recommit to corporate culture and value, and practice inclusive hiring and promotion. However, when compared with other countries, commitment in the United States to take specific actions toward these goals is less than other countries. For example, only 46% of U.S. respondents said they are likely to adjust wages or salaries to address pay inequities, compared with 85% in China and 64% in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, only 47% of U.S. respondents said they are likely to change structure or benefits to foster inclusion, compared with 73% in Mexico and 67% in Spain.

Additional key findings from the report include:

Challenges to Maintain Productivity Could Delay Long-Term Planning in Reskilling

  • Maintaining productivity given new ways of working is ranked as the biggest challenge for HR leaders. In BrazilChinaMexico and Spain, more than 60% of HR leaders cited this as the biggest challenge.
  • Remote collaboration tools will see the most investment, ahead of analytics, technologies to ease the return to work, such as testing and tracing, and learning programs for reskilling.
  • Additionally, organizations are taking a buy-versus-build mentality, with most hires in the coming months expected to be new to the organization, rather than promoted within.

Remote Work Persists, Creating a Two-Tiered Workforce

  • Overall, organizations globally agree that remote work will be a talent magnet in the coming years and is viewed by many as a long-term investment. For example, 64% of U.S. respondents and 57% of UK respondents say they expect to have greater flexibility regarding remote work as a result of COVID-19.
  • However, respondents in ChinaIndiaMexicoSpain and Germany face different circumstances and were most likely to say their employees can work from anywhere but do not have the technology or environment they need. In these countries, respondents were the most likely to say they are investing in remote collaboration tools and mobile platforms.
  • Service and field workers, general staff and customer service workers are also less likely to have the environment or technology to work remotely, compared to functions such as HR, sales, marketing and finance.

“This has been a year of dramatic challenges for organizations around the world, and human resource executives have been at the forefront of navigating their organizations through this unprecedented time,” said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr., SHRM-SCP. “To realize the future of work, human resource executives and their colleagues on the leadership team must accelerate their efforts to establish culture, invest in talent and address diversity, inclusion and equity to drive their organizations forward. While HR executives continue to work through these difficult times, there is a great opportunity to lead meaningful change for the workplace and beyond as the report shows.”

The report surveyed HR leaders across 10 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Spainthe United States and the United Kingdom. The full report, “The Future of Work Arrives Early: How HR Leaders Are Leveraging the Lessons of Disruption,” and the U.S. country report are available to download.

Image credit: Unsplash.


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A former IT administrator, Olivia is a passionate student of technology innovation with a particular enthusiasm for pioneering IoT, AI and security products and strategies. Olivia is also an avid cyclist and a closet artist.