As many countries around the world emerge from the first shock of the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions slowly lift, many employers in the GCC are quickly learning that returning to the workplace does not equal returning to life as it was pre-pandemic – and that it is actually more complicated than locking down. 77% of organizations across UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have placed employee health and well-being as a key priority while they undergo changes, while 71% will increase their flexible work options, according to Mercer’s The Shape of Talent report.
While employers look for ways to preserve their employees’ health and well-being, keeping them energized and productive, they will have to balance empathy and economics even in the face of tough decisions. Furthermore, leaders are pivotal in driving this organizational change. 59% of respondents indicate leadership to be a key employee group in need of skilled talent in the coming year, with design thinking/innovation (62%), digital leadership (55%) and change management (54%) as some of the top-ranked skills required. Technology will play a major role in business transformations as the catalyst of cross-geography knowledge sharing; IT departments will need to build global communication and content-sharing infrastructures to enable seamless interactions between employees.
The report highlights that 52% of companies have indicated cost reductions as the primary driver of current transformations. This inscribes itself within a larger desire for agility and efficiency, which will characterize organizational operations well beyond the pandemic. Additionally, 64% of organizations have opted to place a stronger focus on developing and promoting talent from within, as opposed to recruiting externally.
According to Maxime Jallageas, Senior Associate, Talent Management at Mercer Middle East: “Cost-side pressures faced by organizations in the GCC permeate their internal structures. In an effort to eliminate redundancies and to enable efficiency and agility, firms are reevaluating departmental relationships as well as means of communication and lines of authority.” 42% or organizations are planning to move support functions to shared services, 35% to eliminate certain roles/functions and 32% to flatten the organization structure.
Additionally, and accelerated by COVID-19 as well as the need to adapt to the new normal, organizations are becoming aware of the potential of flexible work on both productivity and their bottom lines. 57% believes that in 2021 the work will predominantly be done remotely, compared to 19% in 2020. This can include job sharing, adjusting start and finish times, compressed working week, occasional work from and permanent work from home.
Return to a New Normal
Globally, as the pandemic unfolds in stages, economic recovery will also likely happen in stages, but it is clear that as employers progress on return practices, they will need to continually revisit their relevance for changing times. While each organization faces unique sets of challenges and variations by location, there are distinct issues that are top of mind.
“Organizations faced with a global pandemic of such wide sweeping impact cannot predict what a ‘new normal’ will look like, but they can predict the challenges they might face,” said Martine Ferland, President and CEO, Mercer. “This uncharted territory has pushed employers to consider who should return to the worksite, when and under which conditions; how work gets done digitally; what it takes for employees to be mentally and physically prepared to return to work; and what measures are critical to ensure success in these turbulent times. To be as prepared as possible, it is critical to build a risk mindset, thinking through what protocols and policies as well as what range of reactions employees may have and how to implement necessary changes. Leading companies are taking a fresh look at how best to return, with one eye firmly on how to use this reset as an opportunity to reinvent.”
The ability to adapt quickly will be vital; employers will need to deploy a variety of proven channels for effective communication, while also providing tools and support for managers to accomplish these goals, according to Mercer’s Return to a New Normal.
The near- to medium-term will be a rollercoaster as employers digest the full emotional and economic consequences of the pandemic and anticipate new waves of contagion. Employees will require energy and confidence to thrive – whether back in the workplace, still at home or embarking on assignment. Sustainable organizations are paying attention to make sure progress is not lost in areas such as D&I and pay equity.