As discussed in a previous post, unless you know what your workforce really needs, a lot of what happens in your business won’t make sense. You’ll see your most prized talent leave for a new career, you’ll struggle to focus skills programs where they’re needed most, and you’ll wonder why your workforce has mixed feelings about home working. How can you better understand your people?

AI for personalization

Data analytics may hold the answer. Of course, HR professionals and business leaders have long used data to understand trends and adapt accordingly. What’s new is the sophistication of the technology.

For an example, we need look no further than the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to understand the most important needs of the workforce. This goes well beyond just charting the skills they have, identifying the skills they need and then mapping out how to bridge the gap. Rather, businesses need to understand their people holistically – what they value, where they are in their lives, and what they ultimately want from their work – and then to identify which services can deliver against these demands.

Tailoring workforce planning

Take, for example, one of the paradoxes mentioned in my first blog: that people appreciate working from home, but don’t want to do it the whole time. Most of us can understand this. When working from home, the boundaries between home and work life are blurred. And while that can mean positives in terms of avoiding daily commutes and being able to spend more time with family, it can just as easily mean negatives, such as missing out on the much-needed downtime that can come with a train ride into work, or increased workloads as people struggle to fit their work commitments around family time.

Based on the 2020 Accenture Global Digital Fluency Study, just 14% of companies are digitally mature and were not prepared for the abrupt transition to remote working. This makes it harder to map a route forward that matches the needs of the workforce.


Of workers are working remotely


The total amount of work time that people want to spend working remotely


Of workers say they don’t want to work from home at all

What’s more, many people miss the personal connections that come with working in a shared workspace. While some have thrived working from home, many have found the experience isolating and stressful and that is impacting their mental health. According to one study, conducted during the first wave of the pandemic, 64% of people experienced problems sleeping due to anxiety and 48% found themselves working irregular and long days. A third reported feeling lonely.

It’s little wonder that most people now say they don’t want to work from home the whole time. Research Accenture conducted in November suggests that the optimal time people want to spend working remotely is around a third of the total. Thirty percent say they don’t want to work from home at all.

The challenge facing business leaders is that it’s never been harder to map a route forward that matches the needs of the workforce, nor more important that they do so. Time is of the essence. As vaccine rollouts accelerate the return to work over the course of 2021, leaders will need to understand the new normal fast to ensure they are creating working environments that drive stickiness and help people to be more creative, engaged and productive.  

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Mapping the mind

AI can help leaders address many of these challenges. Here’s an example. I’ve recently worked with a company that provides neuro assessment capabilities. It provides earphones that employers can give to their people to wear throughout the working day. The devices measure the brain function of the wearer and reveals useful data such as exactly when during the day they’re most focused, when they’re most receptive to learning new things and when they should take a break.

It’s possible to use this data to come up with individualized work plans and to provide people with the tools best suited for their needs. Of course, for large companies that employ thousands of people this sort of individualization might be impractical, but the same devices can be used on smaller cohorts to generate general insights that can be used more broadly across the workforce to create better environments and opportunities for all. With AI, things that have traditionally relied on intuition can now be analysed scientifically to help create an optimal working environment for individuals.

As firms look to leverage the benefits of data analytics, it’s essential that their people are brought along on the journey and that they can see clear upside when their data is used. I believe that if the appropriate care is taken to demonstrate exactly how data applications benefit the workforce, people will be happy to sign up to them where the benefits are worthwhile. 

As long as personalized services are built on a foundation of trust and transparency then most organizations should be able to deploy them to a workforce that’s eager to use them.

Moving on from the past

In part, the paradoxes emerging in businesses today are a result of working practices being stuck in the past, when the world has moved on to a new era where change is constant.

Data will help organizations move into this new era. It will underpin the return to work and the move toward the hybrid working models that people clearly want and which, until the virus is completely under control, will be a necessity. We have learned over the past year that people don’t need to be physically present in an office to be productive, and that a hybrid model can drive benefit for the company and the individual from a cost and a stickiness perspective.

As businesses try to create the optimum hybrid model for their workforce for creativity, engagement and work-life balance the insights that AI can deliver will prove critical. Such insights will help organizations and individuals alike make the best possible decisions and leverage a more tailored approach to working to make people feel more fulfilled, in control and empowered. They will also help businesses to continually keep pace with the changing requirements of their people and adapt accordingly.  

AI will also provide the basis on which other emerging technologies, such as mixed reality, will provide new options of how people’s demands can be met (imagine, for example, virtual offices replacing their physical alternatives; providing people the opportunity to work from home, but to then dip into the office at a moment’s notice simply by putting on a headset).

It’s clear that the business environment is going to continue to change, and businesses that can get ahead of the curve will be well placed to create the new experiences that your people demand. Businesses that leverage data analytics at scale will be at the forefront of this change and will therefore most likely have the first pick of the best talent.

See more Workforce insights.

Yaarit Silverstone

Senior Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential, Global Strategy Lead & North America Lead

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