Why CHROs need to seize this moment

A conversation with Deloitte global human capital leader Erica Volini

Erica Volini future workforce

For human resource leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic is more than a crisis with immediate needs. It’s an opportunity to lead the discussion about reimagining work.

That’s one message Erica Volini, global human capital leader at Deloitte, gets across in her Knowledge 2020 presentation, and in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report. In an interview with Workflow, Volini shared her thoughts about how CHROs can lead during a transformative moment for every industry.

What do you think are the biggest lessons right now for CHROs?

First, we’ve seen the true potential of the workforce. We’ve seen workers adapt quickly to new ways of working and into new roles and responsibilities. That’s something that we need to leverage going forward and embed into the organization’s DNA.We’ve also seen the power of how humans and technology can come together to solve massive problems. For example, we have technology for contact tracing that can help us, but it can’t do it on its own. In the U.S., we’re looking for more than 300,000 human contact tracers to make it really effective. We have validated the needs for humans at work, which hopefully takes us out of the rhetoric around “robots are taking all the jobs” that we’ve all been inundated with.

Third, we’ve learned that well-being is a serious issue not just for some workers but for all of us. This crisis has spurred a call to action for organizations to really focus on well-being—not just to invest in well-being programs on the side, but to think about how to integrate well-being into the work itself.

How can any organization better integrate wellness into work itself?

Last year, Microsoft Japan did an experiment to reduce to a four-day work week. That’s a great example of how to think about designing work for well-being simply by asking, “Why does the work week need to be five days?”

You can also look at how you compose and schedule teams. Can you pull people together who have different schedules so that you have greater coverage without overburdening workers? The composition of teams is a big way in which we can care for well-being while also increasing productivity. The key is making sure it is embedded into the way work is done every day.

What advice do you have for CHROs as they plot out a return to work?

One of the main steps is to reflect. Reflect upon all the actions that have been taken, reflect upon what they’ve seen workers have the ability to do. Instead of just restarting work in the same way that it was before the pandemic hit, think about what you want the future of work to look like.

We have to recognize that, if we come back to work and replicate the way we were working before, we’ve missed an enormous opportunity. The pandemic has provided a window into what could be done and what workers have the ability to do. Not capitalizing on that and resetting is basically wasting a moment. If there was ever an opportunity to transform work, it is now.

And let’s use this opportunity to translate the value of HR to be exponential. HR needs to shift its focus from full-time employees to the full workforce and ownership of the work itself and extend its influence from the function to the enterprise and ecosystem as a whole.

Reskilling and upskilling have been huge priorities in recent years. Do you expect that to shift as companies tighten their belts?

To me, now is really the time to double down on that investment. The economy will pick back up at some point and workers will look around and say, “Which organizations invested in their workers for the long-term? Which ones gave them the opportunity to advance their capabilities and their skills?”

We’ve also seen the power of how humans and technology can come together to solve massive problems.

In time, we will be back to a competitive talent market. The organizations that win the war for talent will be the ones that invest now and never stop investing. The fact that our 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report said that only 16 percent of our 9,000 respondents were planning on significantly increasing their investment in continuous learning over the next three years, while at the same time having 53 percent of those same respondents acknowledge that between half and all of their workforce will need to completely change their skills in the same timeframe, makes it clear that we have a disconnect that needs to be addressed.

Watch Erica Volini’s full presentation at Knowledge 2020 to learn more (free registration).