Social distancing guidelines have led many employees to remain at home and work remotely far more than normal, leaving offices and work sites basically empty. The global economic downturn, currently in its early stages, has already resulted in huge numbers of layoffs, forcing many individuals into unemployment and their former employers to make do with fewer resources.
Even before the pandemic, major players in the construction sector have had trouble sourcing enough qualified workers to effectively run their projects and operations. Many companies expect their employees to move themselves and their families—often internationally—to chase job opportunities, and workers are increasingly dissatisfied with that arrangement. This will become especially clear after the social distancing guidelines are relaxed or abandoned altogether. Most office workers will have spent months at home, and many will wonder why they must return to the office. Many more will doubt the need to relocate for their next job, opting to execute their new role remotely instead. Companies will need to have answers ready for these requests, and the right answer may just be “yes.” This arrangement is certainly better and more flexible for the employees, but the real benefit will be to their employers. Once they embrace the reality of remote working, the physical location of new employees will matter less than their ability to use and adapt to new technologies, and the shortage of skilled workers will disappear as the applicant pool broadens to include the entire industrialized world. Companies that fail to recognize this opportunity may lose their best people to competitors who do.
Employers also have an opportunity to enhance their remote learning offerings by adopting lessons learned from the education sector’s response to the pandemic. Every student, from kindergarten to post-doc, has spent the back half of this educational term learning remotely in two distinct ways, both of which are adaptable to corporate learning. The first is by turning caregivers into teachers by providing them with teaching materials and a rough idea of how the content should be taught. This is already done at many companies through “train the trainer” sessions culminating in localized training courses or informal trainings—such as “lunch and learns”—where the freshly-minted instructors pass on their new knowledge, but the practice could be expanded by providing those materials directly to employees. Through videoconferencing, employees can train each other in small, focused groups, with teaching responsibilities either shared among the attendees of a single lesson or passed between them from session to session. The second technique in broad use by the education sector is an extension of the traditional in-person training, where a single presenter delivers a lesson directly to students. Videoconferencing can improve this as well, and new entrants into that space, like Zoom, have raised the bar for interactivity, a clean and modern user interface and video quality. Either option enables companies to upskill their employees without spending huge sums of money on travel and accommodations, and both are preferable to computer-based trainings from the perspective of knowledge retention and attendee engagement.
In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of the white-collar workforce around the world, but many of the adjustments that companies have made present opportunities for modernization. The smartest employers will seize this chance to close long-standing gaps in their workforce, while conferring benefits to themselves and their employees alike.
Albert Brier is a Senior Project Manager with more than ten years’ experience supporting industrial and commercial construction projects across the globe. Albert is a certified Project Management Professional and a member of the Project Management Institute.