With files from Pragya Sehgal 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sense of urgency around digital transformation, leading to previously stonewalled projects getting greenlit and sighs of relief from executives knowing employees can help keep the corporate ship running from their homes.

Recent IBM research shows that 55 per cent of survey respondents – mostly C-Suite executives – say the pandemic has created “permanent changes” to their organizational strategy. Roughly 60 per cent say COVID-19 has “adjusted our approach to change management” and “accelerated process automation,” with 64 per cent acknowledging a shift to more cloud-based business activities. More data from Microsoft suggests that just over half (54 per cent) of Canadian business leaders feel confident their company will be able to adapt to whatever the upcoming year might hold.

But despite the technology resilience that’s on display, IBM Canada president Claude Guay wonders what impact a largely remote workforce can have on a company’s cultural wellbeing.

“When it comes to the informal team building that used to happen, I think it remains to be seen if we can get to the same level with the virtual world …and a lot of executives across the country are asking the same question: From a cultural standpoint, are we going to see mental health issues rise over the long-term?” he asked.

The work-from-home movement sweeping the country appears to have left some scars already. Burnout is becoming an increasingly common workplace experience as professionals remain isolated from coworkers, friends, and loved ones.

An Amazon employee asked users on Blind – an anonymous professional network with 3.6M verified users, so take the data with a grain of salt – if the current work from home situation has improved or worsened their work-life-balance. Out of the 5,500 users across major companies who answered, 57 per cent said their work-life balance has gotten worse.

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Companies are acknowledging that the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon and businesses and leaders need to work towards combating the worsened work-life-balance, indicated Tina Dacin, Stephen J.R. Smith Chair of Strategy and Organizational Behavior at Smith School of Business.

“Employers need to be concerned about the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees. It’s important to reflect and ask themselves a few crucial questions to help employees manage their work-life balance, including how they can fulfill the need for camaraderie among their employees and what improved health and wellness benefits they need to offer,” Dacin said.

Back at IBM, the corporation quickly realized during the early days of the pandemic that it had to develop guidelines and principles around working from home, says Katherine Faichinie, IBM Canada’s director of Human Resources.

“These principles and guidelines include things like ‘it’s okay not to turn your video on for every meeting, because you may not be ready to do that every day’; ‘It’s okay if your family members and children appear on video during a meeting because they’ve come to ask you a question’; ‘It’s okay to ask your colleagues to excuse you from a meeting or change the time of the meeting because you have something you need to do at home,’” she explained.

Missing the mark

A new IBM study released last week, which surveyed C-suite executives, HR leaders and employees in 20 countries, including Canada, shows that COVID-19 has permanently shifted the expectations employees have of their employers. Most notably, employees now expect their employers to take an active role in supporting their physical and emotional health and providing training for the skills they need to work in new ways.

The data shows a significant disconnect between leadership and employees. Seventy-four per cent of global executives believe they’re providing the right amount of communication support for employees working during today’s new normal, but fewer than half of employees agree.

Technology alone doesn’t solve the problem, but the added capacity that big tech is laying down in Canada to help cloud adoption accelerate will help companies gain access to the required tools to support employees properly, Guay says. IBM Canada last week officially launched its new IBM Cloud multizone region (MZR) in Toronto. The MZR in Canada adds to IBM’s existing data centre capacity and becomes IBM’s first MZR in the country.

Modernizing HR portfolio technology with cloud computing is action area No. 7 on IBM’s list of action items for HR departments. IBM research* also shows that only 30 per cent of HR staff within companies have skills and capabilities in AI, a number Guay says will have to go up so companies can help facilitate, among other unique challenges, the virtual onboarding of new hires especially as the second wave of COVID infections show no signs of slowing down, particularly in Ontario.

*Registration required for the report.

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