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Data-driven workforce planning = business agility

The remote workforce is here to stay. At the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide either mandated or encouraged working from home. And now, the total global percentage of remote employees is expected to double in 2021, and 76% of employees worldwide say they want to continue to work from home.

The remote workforce is here to stay. At the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide either mandated or encouraged working from home. And now, the total global percentage of remote employees is expected to double in 2021, and 76% of employees worldwide say they want to continue to work from home.

This trend isn’t likely to recede even in a post-COVID-19 world. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that by 2025, about 70% of the workforce will work remotely at least one business week each month.

For organizations looking to operate with agility, these seismic shifts prompt some critical questions when it comes to workforce planning. What do these changes mean for traditional office space? What effect will they have on workforce efficiency and productivity? What impact will a work-anywhere world have on talent acquisition, development, and retention?

Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is for certain: Decades-old workforce planning processes will be of little help. As such, decision-makers must start thinking about how they can prepare for what’s next.

Don’t Let Workforce Planning Be Your Organization’s Weakest Link

Corporate executives have historically viewed the practice of hiring in terms of headcount and cost per hire. This limited perspective is pervasive in part because it has been perpetuated by traditional planning processes, which are mired in manual, laborious tasks, stale and often incomplete data, and fragmented communication and decision-making across departments. While traditional planning processes are often familiar and relied upon to establish a plan for the year or quarter, the pandemic has shattered any notion that this static environment is still sufficient for workforce planning in a modern world.

This is true especially now that the role of human resources (HR) is experiencing a transformation. Even before the pandemic became a daily challenge for HR executives, Deloitte coined the term “exponential HR” to describe a broader and more comprehensive scope of influence for HR that extends to a company’s complete ecosystem. This term also describes a shift in HR’s perspective, widening its focus on employees and the organization to workforce planning and even the nature of work itself. In this more dynamic and strategic scenario, HR ingests analytics and market trends, and assesses its skill set and technology needs, as the company scales and plans for the future.

Yet many organizations find their workforce planning environment to be disconnected. In these enterprises, finance takes a headcount-focused view (along with its attendant cost considerations) while HR focuses more on building the ideal workforce (which incorporates skills and capacity planning, succession plans, talent sourcing plans, and more). Disconnected workforce planning is characterized by siloed decision-making, misaligned goals and priorities, and ultimately bad hires that don’t suit the needs of the company’s growth and future plans. Relying on traditional planning limits HR’s ability to adapt to the dynamic realities of the business. And that’s a big problem.

Business Agility Demands Integrated, Continuous Workforce Planning

The truth is, if you’re not operating with agility, you’re ultimately failing the business. This is likely why a growing number of HR leaders have adopted an integrated workforce planning approach.

Rather than saddling HR leaders with a siloed and misaligned environment, integrated workforce planning equips them with the ability to plan their workforce in sync with all other business plans—corporate strategy, financials, operations, departmental budgets, and forecasts. This creates a comprehensive and dynamic workforce plan in sync with strategic corporate goals. And ultimately, it helps HR teams transition from tactical headcount planning to more strategic workforce planning that puts the right people in the right place at the right time.

HR teams who’ve embraced integrated planning can assess the current situation more accurately, anticipate changes, pivot quickly, and increase business agility.

Harnessing the Power of Scenario Planning

As the workplace evolves, there’s hardly a more useful component of integrated planning than scenario planning. Scenario planning allows HR leaders to model various what-if scenarios based on an array of potential outcomes. Now more than ever, the ability to quickly and easily iterate and develop multiple contingency plans is emerging as a competitive advantage for businesses wanting to maximize the potential of their workforces.

The types of workforce planning scenarios can range from modeling immediate needs to understanding the long-term implications of hiring, outsourcing, development, remote workers, and more. With a modern workforce planning environment, you can develop scenarios for:

  • Reskilling and upskilling costs. As digital transformation and market conditions change the roles of existing workers, decision-makers will need to model the full implications of reskilling or upskilling to address skill gaps.
  • Remote workforce productivity. Measuring how productivity may be impacted by remote work may lead to new metrics and benchmarks.
  • Build-buy-borrow skill sets. Organizations must map the cost-benefit analysis of either building, buying, or borrowing (or, most likely, a combination thereof) the skills needed to meet current and future work challenges.
  • Employee retention. Determining the financial and operational pros and cons of various retention and development efforts will become increasingly critical as the rise of remote work gives employees more options than ever.

While most HR leaders will model the best, worst, and most likely case scenarios, the beauty of a modern, integrated planning approach is the ability to quickly and easily course-correct and recalibrate a model to see the resulting cost and timing impacts as a measure of plan effectiveness. Scenario planning empowers HR to work with the actuals from HCM, CRM, and other enterprise applications, along with external contextual data, to make the most informed, strategic decision possible—and to implement new scenarios rapidly as conditions change.

Planning for Disruption

Although capabilities like scenario planning may seem far away from where your particular workforce planning processes may be today, the reality is that once you deploy a modern, cloud-based planning solution, you’re already well on your way toward becoming a more agile and strategic HR function. And with change and disruption now the rule rather than the exception, there is little time to waste.

Get the eBook “Plan Your Resilient Workforce: A guide to achieving business agility with strategic workforce planning”

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