The response to the COVID pandemic is drastically reshaping the workplace. We had the opportunity to speak with Brad Killinger, CEO of workforce analytics vendor Sapience Analytics about COVID chaos in the workplace and the need for visibility and data-driven insights.
You say we are seeing the biggest overhaul of work since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution – why do you say this?
The disruption we have experienced with COVID has been unprecedented. Practically overnight, the workforce transitioned to de facto Work from Home. This has allowed employers and employees to prove out the Work from Home model. The reality is most of these employees will likely work from home moving forward.
But the post-COVID workplace is more than a shift in where work is done, it’s a massive workplace reboot. Not only are organizations struggling to determine how to right-size and right-site the post-pandemic workforce, but they are also challenged to find new ways to manage the distributed workforce.
We’ve already seen companies radically shifting their operations and business models – reconfiguring manufacturing lines for jet engines to ventilators – from gym shoes to masks. So too, we’ve seen employees having to shift as coworkers have been furloughed or let go due to Reductions in Force (RIFs), and work volume has increased.
The ability to understand work activity and capacity in the organization has never been more critical as companies need to navigate, shift and pivot to adjust operations to match the organizations’ work capacity and talent base with the work volume and business requirements.
I also believe the composition of the workforce will be even more heterogeneous moving forward. Heading into this year, nearly 80% of enterprises experienced an increase in the utilization of contingent labor in 2019, according to Christopher Dwyer of Ardent Partners – a stat Dwyer believes could be even higher for the 2020 calendar year.
As businesses struggle to balance work volume and labor capacity, the contingent workforce is a welcome source of talent and skills for these businesses operating in uncertain economic times.
What is workforce analytics and how can it assist organizations in navigating the post-COVID workplace?
In a world where “management by walking around” is no longer possible nor effective, organizations need a data-driven platform to manage the remote workforce.
Considering the workforce is the biggest investment for most companies, time management and analysis of work activities and optimization of work processes should be the most outcome measured activity. Still, today most organizations are “flying blind.” If work activities are tracked, they are often done manually, as opposed to automatically captured and, as such, can vary in accuracy and even may be “guesstimates.”
Workforce analytics tracks employee application use and other work activities at various intervals automatically. The collection of time and activity tracking is then fed into a Business Intelligence engine to analyze the information to determine trends and other key predictive insights. The result is unprecedented visibility into the effort and utilization of people, processes and technology. This helps businesses ensure continuity, productivity, and management effectiveness in the remote workforce.
With this information, organizations can understand precisely what efforts and activities generate the most return on investment – and then prioritize those activities. They can also understand organization drag – what issues or processes are creating bottlenecks and even what resources are being underutilized.
Workforce analytics isn’t new, but it’s not exactly a “household name” in enterprises today like CRM or ERP – why do you think this is?
I think it’s because its role has been recently recast in the enterprise – where before it was a supporting actor, today it’s the starring lead.
Previously, anything related to labor or “the workforce” was the domain of Human Resources, who were mainly focused on recruiting, interviewing, hiring and firing and employee wellness. Today, organizations are realizing the need for strategic and holistic talent management strategies. A focus on employee experience and employee engagement – and the need to value and support employees – is now seen as crucial for success.
Enterprise workforce analytics adoption, use case and scope has moved to include measuring productivity and revealing key workplace insights. These insights are the foundation for process improvement, understanding work “wastage,” uncovering training and coaching needs and revealing employee engagement trends and opportunities. It’s now becoming critical to harness work data for the prediction of future work/talent trends, so businesses can proactively plan for what’s ahead in addition to learning from past performance. As such, workforce analytics has moved from an HR tool to a business transformation tool.
How can workplace analytics empower employees and employers in this new post-COVID “rebooted workplace”?
Given the fundamental shift to Work from Home due to COVID, workforce analytics can quantify work activity to help businesses ensure continuity, productivity and management effectiveness.
Bringing visibility to work activity provides fact-based insights into workforce capacity to enable organizations to improve workload balancing, improve the effectiveness of workplace communication and collaboration, and instill greater control and confidence in managing the remote workforce.
Employees can feel adrift in the new remote workplace. Workers need clarity on expectations and priorities; employers need accountability. The way to ensure both is to provide a digital workplace with the appropriate structure and guardrails so that employees have a clear understanding of work priorities and expectations. Equipping employees with the right tools to support productivity and engagement is every employer’s responsibility to ensure success in the remote workforce. A solid closed loop employee feedback framework is critical, so if an employee struggles, management can bring the proper training, resources and support to their aid. Given the additional stresses employees are facing given shelter-in-place orders, keeping a pulse on employees’ mental wellness is also critical.
You argue organizations need to shift from “time management” to “effort management,” can you explain this concept?
One “Silver Lining” of the post-COVID workplace is that "COVID Has Killed the Timesheet" -- meaning, no one's taking note of when Bob or Sally come into the office every day or when they leave -- because Bob and Sally now work from home.
And if Bob and Sally can excel in achieving their objectives and complete projects in 6 hours a day, do we really care how many work hours they are logging? A data-driven platform that provides an understanding of effort versus hours worked (i.e. time clocked in and out) is a marked improvement as it focuses on what should be the primary objective of any employer – ensuring employees have the proper support and tools to perform at their best and achieve. If not, understanding what issues exist so they can resolve them is vital.
The issue of employee privacy is often raised in conjunction with employee activity monitoring. Can employers gain work visibility while protecting employee privacy?
Can organizations gain visibility into work performance without infringing on employee privacy? Absolutely. The post-COVID workplace is an opportunity to make a progressive pivot. We need to reject savage employee surveillance via intrusive tactics such as video or sound capture, keystroke tracking, personally identifiable information (PII) sharing or location tracking. No one wants to feel as if they are under the watchful guise of a nanny cam at work. This can breed resentment – the antithesis of a productive values-based workplace.
We have led the charge to offer a factual data-driven view of employee effort without invading employee privacy – providing an enlightened approach to remote work management. In the post-pandemic world of work, we need to move forward, not backward. Respecting employees’ right to privacy is the right step forward.