The COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden large-scale shift to remote work have created a unique opportunity for talent analytics to demonstrate its value, write Gartner’s Jasleen Kaur and Aaron McEwan.
A key theme that has emerged from the way organisations are responding to COVID-19 is “putting people first.” That’s exactly where talent analytics should focus, enabling business leaders to make informed decisions that will sustain the business in the long-term while retaining talent that will position it for a fast recovery.
To do this, talent analytics needs to leverage diverse internal and external data sources to identify critical decisions the business needs to make and ensure that they are made correctly, both for the business and employees.
Most talent analytics functions rely on business leaders to identify critical questions that talent analytics can answer. However, in a time when business leaders are themselves surrounded by uncertainties, talent analytics can help them make future talent and business decisions more confidently.
There are five ways it can help.
- To inform critical staffing and workforce planning decisions.
Many organisations have had to make tough decisions in recent months to lay off, stand down or reduce the hours of employees. Others have had to ramp up hiring rapidly to handle exponential spikes in demand. Organisations are making these contingency decisions without knowing for sure whether or when the situation will return to normal or even what “normal” will look like.
Talent analytics can use internal data on skills needs and external perspectives to inform workforce planning decisions, considering not only labour costs and immediate needs, but also the critical skills the organisation needs to retain to continue operating in the mid-to-long term.
- To enable employee performance and productivity in a remote environment.
It is nearly impossible for managers to directly see what their remote employees are doing and what challenges they’re facing. This is a perfect opportunity for talent analytics to support stronger employee-manager relations.
Most organisations have invested in virtual communication platforms like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and of course, everyone uses email. These technologies generate a wealth of data on how employees communicate and collaborate with each other. Talent analytics can analyse digital communication patterns and utilisation data to understand how employees collaborate and with whom, as well as the barriers they encounter along the way.
For example, managers might find out that their direct reports are not completing assigned tasks on time because they are collaborating too much. Gartner research shows that employees who receive more than seven informal requests for help per week are more likely to report friction in their work environments that keeps them from getting their work done.
- Manage employee engagement and well-being.
Analysis of employee communication and connections not only helps organisations manage employee performance but can also help support employees’ mental well-being by identifying those experiencing collaboration fatigue or isolation. This is not about analysing what employees are saying, which can easily cross the line from reasonable employee monitoring to an invasion of privacy, but rather monitoring the tone employees use in their communications.
Analytics can also help detect when remote employees are overworking. In late March, for example, early data showed that U.S. employees had been spending an average of three additional hours per day on business VPNs since the pandemic began. Internal data, including information as simple as how many work emails are being sent after 6PM, can alert managers to burnout risks.
These techniques have traditionally focused on supporting managers, but the data can also help employees to manage their own productivity in real-time. For example, Microsoft Outlook now provides its users with weekly reports about their collaboration patterns and networks based on their calendar data.
- To determine how to bring employees back into the workplace
Business leaders are now asking when employees should return to work — or in the case of remote workers, to their physical workplaces. Most organisations are relying on government directives. However, analytics can use other external data sources to determine whether infrastructure like public transport, schools and childcare facilities are operating at adequate levels. Organisations can also survey employees to gauge their confidence in returning to work and understand any concerns or misgivings they may have.
- To maintain ethics and integrity in extraordinary circumstances.
Yes, the shift to remote work makes a lot of new data available. But collecting employee data just for the sake of having it is always ethically risky and often counterproductive, especially right now, when employees are already stressed about their health, family and job security. It will also harm the organisation’s reputation when those practices inevitably become public knowledge.
Think about what specific business decision you need this data for. Be transparent with employees about what you are measuring and why, and how you intend to use it. Gartner research shows that many employees are comfortable with their organisations using this data if HR has clearly communicated how the organisation is using it and employees have confidence that it will help improve their experience and performance on the job.
None of these five strategies are new to talent analytics, but their application has been limited, as most organisations never had the resources or impetus to invest in them. The pandemic has forced massive numbers of employees to shift to remote work, and many of them will continue to work remotely after it has passed. This opens doors for talent analytics to expand its reach and impact throughout the organisation, building foundations for many years to come.
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