Podcast: Ultimate’s Cecile Alper-Leroux on Employees’ Post-COVID Expectations

Female Employee

Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I’m talking with Cecile Alper-Leroux, Vice President of HCM Innovation at Ultimate Software. She’s an economic anthropologist by training and has been working in HR technology for more than 20 years. We talked about what HR and HR technology may begin to look like as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. And by the way, Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report.

Cecile, thanks for being here.

The first question that I’ve got for you is given the coronavirus, and we’re in the midst of the crisis right now, obviously it’s going to have an impact on work. As the dust settles, what do you think the world of work is going to look like? What are the big changes that we’re going to see?

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Cecile Alper-Leroux: It’s the question that so many people are posing. … I think that, depending on the organization that people work for and how employers actually reacted in the initial phases of this crisis, will actually have a lot to do with what the world of work will look like. I can’t think about the world of work without first thinking about the people. I think people’s relationship with their employers will absolutely be made or broken based on how they were treated, what was prioritized, whether or not they felt that they were prioritized through the crisis, and then how they were communicated with.

Today, there’s this crisis of trust: governments have been accused of being slow to react, and this has been building for many years. But the past two years, interestingly enough, employees actually trust their employers more than they do the government or other institutions, media, etc., that generally are the places where people sought truth and information. An interesting example is that, for my company, there were travel bans and warnings issued long before our governments ever made any kind of moves or restricted people’s movements. … I know that my employer had my best interest in mind early on. And that will absolutely have an impact because employers have become a lifeline for people in this time. And so that expectation of trust is going to be crucial for companies as they reemerge from the crisis.

I think people will have changed, and benefits and supply chains will have changed as part of this new world of work. That means HR digitization, for example—if it hasn’t been a priority—will become one of the most important things that organizations can do. So that’s a long way of looking at it, but I do think that we will be in a totally different world of work.

Certain things have happened: over communication, outreach, the resilience of an organization, the sense of being taken care of or being hung out to dry—there’s an expectation that will have come from all of that. Organizations that will have done well will have taken care of their employees, will have digitized, and will have communicated and stayed connected with employees. Even in a remote environment or when people are being rehired, furloughed, or laid off—how those layoffs were handled and how that was communicated is going to be crucial.

Mark: What new demands do you expect to hear from employers as we get back to work? Will their priorities shift, and how?

Cecile: Without a doubt. … There are three phases: reaction, redefinition, and then reemergence. In reaction, organizations are focused on ensuring that people and their systems are not at risk, that they’re secure and they’re reactive in terms of digitalization strategy. Do we have enough accounts? Do we have bandwidth? Through furloughs and layoffs, can we handle those and are we managing those as appropriately as possible? But that’s very much reactive.

As we start to move on … is this idea of redefining, planning for the future, rehiring, and actually rethinking our workforce plans. What’s the right balance? Will people be able to continue working from home? Some organizations might’ve thought remote work would never be effective, and many are finding it can be. Starting to hire for resilience, there’ll be pressure on HR solutions or different vendors and systems vendors to be able to help organizations model for resilience and fungibility. … What’s going to become clear is, as organizations become more adaptive, adaptive organizations are more comfortable with more modeling and more scenarios playing out.

The third phase of reemergence is when you have an adaptive organization that’s proactively experimenting. That becomes part of how an organization operates.

New business staffing and workplace models are also going to be in place. Listening to the voice of employees and giving employees more choice will be crucial to their engagement. Organizations have to consider things like embedded multichannel connectivity for everyone and recognizing not everyone wants to be on video—and it’s not just about bad hair days. Some people might have real anxiety associated with that, so we have to consider those things. Also, HR service delivery being totally embedded in an HR solution will become mission-critical to ensure connection and continuous communication. The demands on solutions that were seen as nicer to have will become crucial and essential. Resilience testing for your workforce and having connectivity be part of not just work systems but also HR systems, so that people are always connected and know what’s happening, will also become essential.

Mark: We’re recording this in the middle of the crisis. Are there any other observations you’d like to make about the pandemic and employer’s reliance on technology and how they’ll impact it?

Cecile: We’re being almost overloaded with “how can we work remotely” when probably, for many of us, we’ve already had this flexibility. For those of us who are still able to work, that’s a wonderful way of reaching out. But there are two things we are missing through all of this isolation.

One: how do we better plan for those individuals who actually are not able to work or those individuals who have been furloughed? What kind of communication, connection, and lifeline exists for those individuals? When we do reemerge—even though right now there’s an unprecedented level of unemployment on a global level—there will be an eventual shortage of certain skills. So this is an opportunity to be rethinking: how can we develop some of the skills of the future that we will need longer term, and how can we provide that into the community that may not be strictly speaking associated with our own organization? How do we do more outreach?

Two: Not to be overly positive in the face of a lot of tragedy—but a lot of people will come out of this thinking, “I actually really, really loved the opportunity to spend more time with my family in some cases.” Yes, it’s stressful to have to be a teacher at the same time if I am working remotely, but how do we capture some of those positives through all of this, as well? You don’t want to be blind to the suffering around us, but if there is some way to paint and gather the positive stories, that will also be crucial to moving us forward, especially when we face the next crisis.

Mark: Cecile, thank you.

Cecile Alper-Leroux is Vice President of Product and Innovation at Ultimate Software, and this has been PeopleTech from the HCM Technology report.

To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at ww.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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