How IT can (and must) take a central role in unifying the global workforce

Speaking from the TED stage, HR consultant Rainer Strack poses an interesting challenge: “It sounds counterintuitive, but by 2030, many of the world’s largest economies will have more jobs than adult citizens to do those jobs.”

He goes on to simulate labor supply and demand for the 15 largest economies in the world, representing more than 70% of the world’s GDP, noting that, while many countries will still see a labor surplus in 2020, by 2030, “we will face a global workforce crisis in most of our largest economies.”

To understand how this shortage could be filled, Strack’s firm surveyed 200,000 job seekers across 189 countries about what motivates them when looking for work. Surprisingly, salary was not their only motivation.

IT and the global workforce infographic

Though the implications of Strack’s data may seem more relevant to human resources professionals, it is IT workers – particularly strategic, forward-thinking CIOs – that need to be paying attention to these shifts. After all, as we’ll attempt to prove in this article, it is IT that truly has the power to unify the global workforce that’s subject to these trends.

The Role of IT in Workforce Management

Deloitte authors Atilla Terzioglu, Martin Kamen, Tim Boehm and Anthony Stephan make an important point regarding our understanding of the role of IT in their Tech Trends 2017 report:

“No one still thinks of IT as a back-office support department – now everyone looks to IT as an integral part of overall strategy. But where should CIOs begin? First, they need to think beyond their own experiences and domain expertise and begin viewing IT through a wider operational and strategic lens.”

If IT is to be a part of the wider operational strategy of workforce management, it must first understand how that workforce is changing in order to anticipate the tech needs that will be required to support it in the future.

Strack’s data above gives some indication of how the workforce will evolve in the coming decades, but there are other trends at work as well.

Kavi Guppta, writing for Forbes, notes that “Everyone will, in some capacity, work remotely.” He goes on to explain:

“Not everyone will work from home or in cafes and random public spaces, but the majority of us will work virtually or at a physically significant distance from other teams and employees. The key will be that all individuals inside an organization will have access to remote work options.”

At the same time, there’s evidence suggesting that, not only do we have more individual workers than ever before, the loyalty of these potential employees has eroded beyond what we’ve seen in the past and employee retention is continuing to present challenges. Gyan Nagpal, speaking at the Emerging Markets HR Summit 2015, shares that:

“Employees are more aware, assertive and empowered. So much so, that employment today is a daily decision. If we combine this trend with another one (i.e. the deliberate depreciation of job security since 1982), it points to a massive erosion of loyalty on both ends of the employment equation.”

Taken together, these trends indicate that we’re looking at a global workforce that:

  • Values job culture above compensation and other benefits
  • Expects both a certain amount of mobility and the tools to support it
  • Lacks the same loyalty that previously united workers and their employers

Supporting these employees can be complicated by the fact that the new accessibility of remote work options – and the increasingly-global nature of business in general – can result in cross-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Unifying workers whose stated preferences seem to defy unification is a monumental undertaking for organizations and their human resources teams – but it’s one that IT can support, or even lead.

Building a Tech Stack to Support a Global Workforce

Consider many of the challenges illustrated above. Employees expect the ability to work in a free, flexible manner, while at the same time desiring positive work cultures across global constituent groups with very different understandings about what “culture” entails.

In many ways, these aren’t HR issues at all. They’re IT challenges.

HR best practices abound for building culture across wide-spread groups:

  • Regine Buttner of DHL recommends remaining rigid on standards, but flexible on execution, suggesting that “Managing your global standards centrally can ensure that your quality standards meet important benchmarks.”
  • Author Michael Solomon offers the importance of consistency in a more global, flatter marketplace. “What will distinguish companies from one another? The vision of the organization and how clearly its values are integrated into the business function. In other words, how effectively those values can be translated and implemented into a powerful corporate culture.”
  • Globoforce’s Fall 2014 Mood Tracker survey emphasizes the importance of internal relationships on employee engagement with the finding that “When we asked (participants) to be reflective, 74 percent agree that they have a shared history of memories and experiences with their current work colleagues, and 89 percent say that work relationships are important for their overall quality of life.” Facilitating these relationships must, therefore, be a key priority for HR teams.

However, despite HR’s role in developing these policies, it is IT that chooses and deploys the tools needed to execute them across a global workforce. As a result, as you build and/or update your tech stack, keep the following guiding principles in mind.

Tech as a Central Repository

While we won’t use this article to recommend specific tech tools – knowing, of course, that every organization’s needs are different – it’s critical that, in 2017 and as we go forward, your technology stack includes tools that function as a central repository for internal policies, procedures and expectations.

Take Buttner’s suggestion above that organizations use a rigid set of standards to facilitate global workforce development. Holding everyone accountable to a centrally-held set of mandates is important, but it’s impossible if you lack a technology that allows you to store these codified guidelines in a way that’s accessible to all of your employees.

Tech Tools That Facilitate Flexibility

Enabling the kind of remote work employees expect is a technology requirement as well. Depending on the needs of your company, this could involve everything from remote desktop access to the retrieval of sensitive data from a personal computer or mobile device.

connecting unified staff with your IT team

(Source: Connect Solutions)

Your concerns here must be two-fold. First, there’s the usability angle. Employees must not find your remote-work arrangements so burdensome that completing required tasks becomes a hassle.

At the same time, though, security must be a top priority. Enabling remote access automatically puts your organization at risk, relative to your ability to secure and manage all internally-held devices – especially when you consider that more data security breaches happen due to human error or system failure than acts of malicious intent.

The best tools balance user experience with security considerations, which you can support by building security awareness into your company’s culture.

Using Tech to Build Culture

On the subject of culture, use technology to help employees form meaningful connections – whether they’re seated side-by-side or halfway around the world from one another.

Tech tools in this context can take a number of forms, including:

  • The use of a central repository for company statements on mission, values and culture
  • Text and video chat tools that enable remote communication
  • Project management and collaboration systems that allow for real-time updates between team members
  • Code base management tools to enable collaborative upgrades, updates, revisions and feature requests
  • Scheduling programs for teams, supply chain and more that enable instant insight into team productivity

This list isn’t comprehensive. Listening to your teams, their managers and their needs will help you identify the appropriate tech stack combination.

The Importance of Nimble Technology

PwC shares the fascinating statistic that, “It took 76 years for the telephone to penetrate half of all US households. The smartphone has achieved the same in less than a decade.

Change is coming, and it’s coming fast – which makes it all the more important that your team prioritizes nimble technology that allows you to be flexible and responsive to its evolving needs. With every tech tool you add to your stack, think 5-10 years down the road. Ask yourself, “Is this likely to support my needs in the future?”

Now is not the time to be locked into legacy technology, so consider your answers to this question carefully.

Unifying a Global Workforce with Forward-Thinking Technology

In its conclusion, the PwC 2017 Megatrends report on Technological Breakthroughs emphasizes that, “!Technology is no longer simply an enabler that supports more efficient processes which in turn secure competitive advantage. Technology is increasingly the source of competitive advantage itself.”

One of the ways technology can act as your company’s competitive advantage is by facilitating the implementation of the HR policies needed to support a global workforce. Considering technology in this light will guide the decisions you make as you build out your tech stack, now and in the future.

How are you using technology to support your company’s HR requirements? What other strategic advantages does your tech stack have? Leave us a note with your thoughts in the comments below: