We’ve all done a lot of hoping this past year. Hope that the pandemic will end. Hope that vaccines will be developed and distributed quickly. Hope that we will get our way of life back. But government, nonprofit and higher-education institutions need more than hope when it comes to talent management strategies.

There’s no return to normal

The pursuit of talent—acquired or grown—has been a top-of-mind issue for these organizations for years. But it’s become more complex in the post-pandemic world because of all the uncertainty around the return to work. Namely, when will the return happen? And when it does, what exactly will it look like?

No one can answer these questions with certainty. Interestingly, our public service workforce research1 reveals that 69% of public service workers globally think their agency is investing for remote work to become the new normal. And 61% of public servants think that their job can be done remotely as effectively as it can be done face-to-face.

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The return to work will not be a return to normal. I expect that we’ll see an evolving mix of fully in-person, fully remote and hybrid models for the foreseeable future.

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Nevertheless, we can only be certain of this: The return to work will not be a return to normal. I expect that we’ll see an evolving mix of fully in-person, fully remote and hybrid models for the foreseeable future. People in the office will have social distancing and safety protocols. Those at home will rely on virtual collaboration tools. And job seekers will navigate some kind of distanced recruitment process.

This uncharted territory raises so many philosophical questions. What skills are needed to work in these different ways? How do organizations evaluate and value in-person employees versus those working in a remote or hybrid model? How can organizations be equitable in rewards and promotions? What’s technology’s role in all this? The list goes on.

What’s shaping return to work

Many organizations facing these questions are taking a wait-and-see approach fueled by hope. They hope their legacy systems and talent acquisition processes will work and are not investing in extensive reskilling. They hope that vaccine administration and herd immunity will ramp up in a few months. They hope that with normalcy on the horizon, they won’t have to answer these questions.

The hard truth is that wait-and-see strategies aren’t really strategies at all. Doing the work of the people can’t wait. Public service organizations must engage the talent they have and recruit the talent they need. Organizations should explore three issues when developing their talent management strategies for the never normal return to work.

  1. Culture: Creating community

Workplace culture has taken a hit during the pandemic. With people working remotely, the machinery of culture doesn’t happen organically. Without this powerful social fabric, employees can struggle to develop relationships and feel disconnected from each other and from the organization. This dynamic can create a ripple effect on career path, rewards and recognition, inclusion and employee well-being.

With so many pressures confronting public service organizations, there’s a risk that leaders write off culture as a low priority. This is too big of a risk to take. Agencies must cultivate culture in their talent management strategies. Our recent research highlights the importance of creating a culture that supports human potential. It’s about making employees “net better off” by fulfilling expressly human needs that build trust, enhance the employee experience and help people thrive.

  1. Technology: Bridging barriers

Technology has become a lifeline for ways of working during the pandemic. Public servants have had to improve their TQ to perform even the most basic tasks. Almost half (48%) say they learned to work with new collaboration tools during lockdown. Agencies will expand their use of automation and intelligent technologies, and the workforce will need to continually evolve to work with machines.

As agencies prepare for this fast-approaching future, they cannot ignore the digital divides that exist in the workforce. This is a significant issue in recruiting right now. Interviewing without proximity is a challenge—in everything from having necessary connectivity to reading social cues and body language. The irony here is that common wisdom says that remote working broadens the talent pool. But the technology divide could prohibit the very workers agencies need from even jumping in.

  1. Workforce: Grasping generations

As agencies work through these issues across culture and technology, there’s another layer to factor in. It’s something that colors every talent management decision they make. Generational difference. I read somewhere that there are five generations working in the workforce today. Each has its patterns and preferences that drive how people work.

Consider this study in contrasts—and what it means for talent management and engagement. I’m generalizing a bit, but the example makes my point. Baby Boomer and Gen X workers have built their careers working together in person. But for many Millennials and Gen Z workers, the traditional “water cooler conversation” has always been virtual. So it’s no surprise that these groups are going to respond differently to cultural cues and want to use enabling technologies in very different ways.

Forget one-size-fits-all

As we anticipate the return to work, the world of work has become much more individualized. Every employee’s and every recruit’s experience—where, when and how they work best and what they need to succeed—is more unique than it ever was. The way forward is with a talent management strategy grounded in how an organization wants to be perceived and the channels, behaviors and tactics that will engage their employees and attract their future workforce. Now that’s something to be hopeful about.

Let’s continue the conversation. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and stay tuned for upcoming blogs.

1“Public Service as a Career of Choice” Survey, September 2020

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Ryan Gaetz

Managing Director - Consulting, Accenture Workday Education & Government​ Lead

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