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Frictionless talent mobility in the post COVID-19 workplace: Are you ready?

Frictionless talent mobility in the post COVID-19 workplace: Are you ready?


By 'frictionless’, we mean removing HR as an intermediary between the hiring managers and the candidate, says Vikas Verma, Executive Director, Head of Strategic HR and Digital HR, United Overseas Bank Singapore (UOB).

All views expressed are personal.

As I write this in mid-2022, it is with hope that we can look back and reflect on the life-changing experiences we have gone through during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, many of our future decisions will be signposted by our COVID-19 experiences; be it the healthcare crisis, supply chain disruption, or the devastation of the tourism economy, the list goes on.

On the work front, organisations witnessed digitalisation at an unprecedented pace just to cope with the overnight disruption of lives and livelihoods, as many participated in the biggest human resource experiment: working from home. At the same time, we witnessed the rise of the platform economy, with anything and everything from groceries to meals and logistics services now housed on and transacted on online platforms.

In the human resources space, the buzz is all about making hybrid working work. However, beyond the surface, I observe a tectonic shift in talent management that will likely change the way we look at people and jobs at the workplace.
And I am hopeful that it will be for the better.

We have seen for years how job design considerations, or the lack of it, showed little or no consideration towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. According to McKinsey & Company (2021), "the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men".

Older workers too experienced similar displacement due to the rapid digitalisation of jobs. COVID-19 has disrupted some of the long-held assumptions about the choices we can give to our employees and the ways we can design the jobs.

There are four triggers that led to a massive rethink in talent management.

1. Digital transformation on steroids. The pandemic made it very clear that organisations have two choices: perish or digitalise. The unprecedented adoption of digitalisation led to surge in need for newer skills at the workplace, which in turn led to a greater need for reskilling, redeployment, and hiring with shorter lead times. “Companies need to quickly rebalance workloads from areas that see decreased demand to others with increased need” (Bersin & Enderes, 2021).

2. The rise of the platform worker. To begin with, the gig economy was already growing. It was the pandemic that made it mainstream. According to Brian Kropp, the Distinguished Vice President of Gartner, “our research finds that 32% of organisations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure” (Baker, 2021).

A good mix of permanent employees and gig workers has the potential to offer the agility that organisations are demanding to meet the rapid digitalisation needs.

3. Jobs became mobile. With borders closed and the pressing need for the right talent to meet digitalisation needs, businesses started to move jobs to the locations where the talent was, rather than expecting the talent to move to the location of the job. With outsourcing we also knew that jobs can be moved to a cheaper location with abundant talent for cost arbitrage. What’s different now is that organisations don’t need scale. With platform workers, even one job/task can be made location agnostic.

4. Changes in employee experience and expectations. A lot has already been written about it even as we deal with 'the Great Resignation'. “It's a candidate's market, and employees are going to go elsewhere if your organisation is not meeting their expectations” (Advisory Board, 2022).

Interestingly, the change is not just about working from home. In many cases, our fundamental beliefs about why we work have changed, such as many parents spending more time with their children for the first-time during work-from-home. We have discovered a new way of working and it seems to be working for most parts.

None of these triggers are new. But it’s like our tendency to stick to fossil fuels despite the availability of alternate fuels. Societies, organisations, and humans often need a crisis to change course. I believe that COVID-19 has provided the stimulus that has the potential to fundamentally change how we define and manage talent at a workplace.

What does this all mean for organisations, and what are some of the new talent management practices we will witness in times to come?

One theme that I do want to talk about is the opportunity to really make talent mobility frictionless. Today, talent mobility continues to be plagued by high search cost, long lead times, and often, mismatch in skills of the candidates and the job.

With business needs, change in employee expectations, and the acceptance of platform workers, it’s the perfect time to make the talent market frictionless by democratising talent mobility both inside and outside the organisation. By 'frictionless’, I mean removing HR as an intermediary between the hiring managers and the candidate.

Even as I say this, relying on traditional talent mobility to create a pool for future succession is likely to continue, but there is an opportunity to add two new models to get work done at scale.

First is the internal marketplace where employees can try gig opportunities to either pick up a new skill or hone existing skills. Exemplary organisations already implementing this include Schneider Electric and Unilever, who are “using talent marketplaces to facilitate an internal rebalancing of their talent, helping employees find work within the organisation where it is most needed” (Bersin & Enderes, 2021).

However, it now seems to be right time for large-scale adoption to replace the traditional career paths that are rigid and too siloed to meet today’s business and employee needs.

Second is the addition of new forms of employment along with traditional hiring, i.e., adding platform workers (gig workers) to the sourcing strategy. Job sharing and location-agnostic jobs will give the speed and cost efficiency that organisations expect in this era of rapid changes.

Third is the flexibility that allows workers to transition from one model to another depending on their life stage. A good example would be when a new parent has the option to transition to gig work from full-time employment, and then back to full-time once they feel ready to commit as a full-time worker.

Another example could be that of unbundling a job such that the work can be done by two workers from two different locations through job sharing.

While there are organisations that have published case studies on setting up internal marketplaces, and even as we see the rise of gig workers in different sectors and regions, wider adoption will be far from a walk in the park!

A most frustrating challenge could include dealing with business leaders who are still stuck in the past when it comes to the definition of work and how it gets done. These are the leaders who want their customers to interact virtually from anywhere, but when it comes to their workers, they still believe that workers must be in office for productivity’s sake.

While it’s true that not all jobs are same, the point is that the same job is different now. Even planes can be flown without pilots now! We call them drones. Surgeons can perform surgery remotely. Leaders must be educated on the impact of digitalisation and how jobs can be redefined and reconfigured. It not only makes good business sense, but it can also support the organisations’ agenda on inclusivity and diversity.

A separate but related challenge is the transition from jobs to skills. Educating managers on how to think about skills when they have been trained to think about jobs will not be easy. This requires a fundamental shift in how we look at education, assessments, and work.

Like jobs, education too needs unbundling. It’s already happening in pockets and will yet take time, but this shouldn’t deter organisations from making a move towards skills-based work.

If the organisation doesn’t have a robust skills framework, there is good news. Several industry associations worldwide have developed skills frameworks that can be readily adopted thanks to the "future of work" push by the World Economic Forum, which aptly summarises the need to redefine work.

"Anyone with internet access can download the course material for a Harvard degree, take part in the 'gig economy' or do an office job from home. That's a profound and very recent change” (World Economic Forum, 2022).

Despite the challenges, there is no better time than now to realise the vision of a frictionless talent mobility future to create a win-win situation for organisations and workers alike.

Read alsoEmployee mobility: Boon or bane in 2022?


- Advisory Board. (2022, February 28). Advisory Board. Retrieved from Advisory Board
- Baker, M. (2021, April 20). 9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19. Retrieved from Gartner
- Bersin, J., & Enderes, K. (2021). The New World of Talent Mobility: Flexibility Rules. Josh Bersin.
- McKinsey & Company. (2021, March 8). Seven charts that show COVID-19’s impact on women’s employment. Retrieved from McKinsey & Company
- Sara Zargham, S. M.-J. (2022, February 28). Employee expectations are rapidly evolving. Here’s how your organization can respond. Advisory Board. Retrieved from Advisory Board
- World Economic Forum. (2022). Jobs and Skills. Retrieved from World Economic Forum

About the author

An internationally experienced HR leader with over 20 years of proven track record of partnering with board members, business leaders, and HR peers to design & implement effective people solutions, Vikas has worked across UOB, Aon, Unilever, IBM and ICI. He has gained rich exposure about people challenges and opportunities in ASEAN, South Asia, Australia, and the Middle East & Africa

All views expressed are personal.

Image / Provided (author Vikas Verma)

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