Workplace inequality in the wake of the global pandemic

Remote working is not a new concept, becoming increasingly commonplace for many, but recent events have made this less of a choice and more of a must.

Whilst there may in fact be advantages for both the individual (no commute, better concentration, more private time) and society as a whole (less transport, lower pollution), there are also clear challenges. The need for better internet infrastructure, investing in the necessary hardware and software, but also the need to ensure that all employees can continue their daily tasks, as well as their personal growth and career development.

One size doesn't fit all

It’s easy for companies with a huge number of white-collar workers to adjust to home working – it’s simply business as usual. But this crisis highlights that when we talk about technology and its application for HR, it works in favour of office workers, to the detriment of blue-collar workers.

This isn’t a new revelation. Having attended a lot of HR-related conferences and events, they are centred around how technology can support employee development, performance management, and learning at work. But very often, the examples and use cases are related to different kinds of office employees, from developers to sales and service people, or any type of job where you spend time at a desk and with a computer.

What coronavirus illustrates is that anyone with geographical constraint is at risk of being left aside by technology. If you’re a factory or logistics worker, cashier in a supermarket or any local store, it’s difficult to do your job remotely, and all this talk about working from home to avoid being sick may seem like some kind of cruel joke.

Customising the fit

No organisation can afford to overlook the importance of its workers, especially not right now, and with many companies already struggling to recruit and retain blue collar workers, they need to be paying particular attention to these employees. Obviously, in a crisis situation like the one we’re currently facing, the first concern is to protect their health – this should be a given.

But beyond these hopefully unique and unprecedented circumstances, how can technology support all employees, wherever they work, and whatever the tasks they perform?

The objective should be the same as with white collar workers. Technology essentially aims to support employees to work better – be more efficient and productive and to enable them to maximise their strengths and skills. And the same should hold true whether they are in an office, on the factory or shop floor or even on the move. Investing in all staff to help improve and acquire new skills is not only about opening up new career opportunities but also the means for safeguarding and boosting the development and growth of your business. The fact that these employees aren’t in an office, however, will definitely impact the way you need to do this.

Investing in the design for the future

Clearly, for these workers, any investment you make in technology has to be mobile first. Luckily, this isn’t as complex as it used to be. The number of active phone users in the European Union is now above 50%, and android-based smartphones and tablets have become more affordable. This means that even if your organisation is unable to provide work phones or tablets, you could opt for a ‘bring your own device’ strategy, allowing for workers to use their own. Cloud-based applications also often use individual logins so tablets, for example, can be shared in a breakout room or communal space if needed. You will just have to make sure that the factory, shop or warehouse has adequate WiFi.

Beyond the tools to aid learning you also need to provide these workers with the means and resources. That means making training easily available on those mobile devices. Make sure that you have relevant training on one easy-to-access platform, offering a range of training courses and learning content to suit different needs. When your employees are taking that break in the coffee room from the shop or factory floor, for example, there should be quick, digestible learning they can tap into – whether it be how to handle that difficult customer they just served or in the current climate, better practices for staying safe.

As well as the employees themselves, managers also need to be able to keep an eye on employees’ progress and to see what training is being used the most, proving the most useful and where there may be potential weak spots and training gaps to be plugged. This is also the means to ensure that your employees aren’t just learning the skills for now but that they will also need in the future.

Most importantly, let your employees learn. Grant them the time and opportunity to utilise these tools for their development.  In the same way that re-stocking the shelves may be a standard go-to daily task, make undertaking some learning an integrated part of their work too.

Blue collar workers represent a huge talent pool, who are often overlooked, despite having key roles. They likely already possess a huge amount of knowledge about your company, and work in direct contact either with your products (in factories, for example) or with your customers (such as in stores). By making technology work for them as well and giving them access to development tools and opportunities, you will enable these employees to share their skills, improve overall knowledge across your organisation and best of all, bolster your business success.

Geoffroy De Lestrange is Communication Director EMEA at Cornerstone OnDemand

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