Restrategize, rebalance and restore: making humans feel whole again is the key to navigating this difficult year: experts

About 12 months ago, an escalating coronavirus outbreak was declared a global health emergency, impacting every sectors virtually overnight.

The impact can be divided into four broad segments: Employee Experience & Remote Work; Retail & Consumer Behavior; Security & Risk Management, and Government and Customer eXperience.

So much has transpired in those dramatic months that we can now take a step back and take stock. Analysts from market research firm Forrester have done just that, and they have shared their findings here …

Employee experience & remote work

  • Can innovation survive workforce distribution?
    While the overall experience with remote work has been positive, many stigmas and challenges persist. Despite many employees saying they are more productive from home, companies still do not have the leadership and management experience to handle remote work, so that will remain a challenge this year. How will managers ensure that remote and office workers are treated equally, given access to projects, promotions, and other opportunities?

    Companies also still have doubts as to whether they can innovate in a remote work model. The prevailing wisdom is that innovation slows down with remote working, but that is not necessarily true. If organizations do not provide enough resources for employees to innovate, then yes, innovation will suffer, but a fully-developed anywhere work strategy makes room for and prioritizes innovation.
  • Balancing the ratio of hybrid and fully remote workers
    This year, organizations can set some key priorities. First and foremost is rethinking how they use office space. Will they bring people back en masse? Will it be a hybrid scenario, and if so, should they decrease real estate and invest in new layouts like hot desking? Secondly, they are thinking through the ramifications of a hybrid workforce, specifically what level of investment they should make to reimburse or provide a stipend for full-time remote workers, and whether that is different from a hybrid worker’s benefits.

    The third area is technology. Companies are starting to prioritize technology investments like Zero Trust Network Access, modern device management, and mobility tools to enable employees to work from anywhere. At the same time, they are also trying to improve collaboration capabilities with tools like digital whiteboarding.

—Analyst Andrew Hewitt

  • Cultivating change resilience
    We continue to live in an environment of significant uncertainty and transformation. The pandemic is one example but there are other systemic risks that are continuing to impact organizations as they think about how they do business. There is a need for leaders to create a culture of change resilience that helps their organizations respond more adaptively to this continuously fluid state of change.
  • A rethink of traditional human resource management needed
    In the HR technology space, we continue to see significant complexity in terms of the ability of organizations to see and understand their workforce. Contingent labor lives in a different system from full-time employees. There has been explosion in the number and variety of point solutions including performance management, wellness, engagement, talent acquisition, learning, and more. In order for leaders to have visibility into their total workforce, including full-time employees, contingent, vendors, bots, and all of the other resources that do ‘work’ in the organization, these systems need to be integrated in meaningful ways that allow the organization to make better decisions related to their people.

—Principal Analyst Katy Tynan

  • Two remote-work factors that cause burnout or morale loss
    The shift to remote work through the pandemic got organizations moving on the basics for their employees to be able to function in a remote-working environment—but they have not yet cracked the code on the underlying factors that lead to burnout or on replacing the some of the elements of a healthy workplace social environment that they lost. In Forrester’s data, the strongest predictor of burnout is lack of recognition for hard work and accomplishment, and the second strongest is: organizational changes that affect employees have them feeling down. Working remotely makes both of those things worse as it is harder for employees to feel uniquely seen and valued for their contributions, and remote workers are also more likely to feel under-represented and less visible in organizational changes, relative to their office-based counterparts. These two factors can easily combine to create a sense of hopelessness and intensify feelings of burnout, without deliberate attention to counteract them. Forrester is helping organizations understand the key elements of engagement, burnout, and collaboration better so that they can create a more holistic anywhere-work strategy with a greater chance of long-term success.
  • Do you research: formulate and communicate a holistic workforce strategy
    For 2021, the first thing we are recommending is that organizations get clear about what their intentions are for their anywhere-work plus office-based work mix. From those decisions, develop a clear, holistic strategy for what their employee experience will look and feel like, in terms of technology, culture, leadership, and social environment factors. The strategy should be informed with organizational behavior and psychological research for best results.

    Employee experience (EX) peaks when employees can make progress every day toward the work that they believe is most important, and so their efforts should be focused on creating an environment that is conducive to them knowing what is most important and feeling like they have the resources both within themselves and within their organization to do it.

Principal Analyst David Johnson

Retail & consumer behavior

  • The dilemma of betting more on a losing horse or cutting your losses
    E-commerce has obviously been the big story. Retailers have had to shift faster than ever and some have done really well as a result of that shift. Other small merchants like restaurants continue to suffer for other reasons.

    The big worry for all retailers is how much longer the pandemic will last. That unknown has seen many making large capital investments that would transform their businesses. The other question to consider is: Will e-commerce orders just fall off a cliff once people go ‘back to normal’ (whatever that means)?”

—VP and Principal Analyst Sucharita Kodali

  • Beware of subliminal post-pandemic stress behavior in consumers
    Because of the pandemic, consumers now expect more digital interactions throughout their omnichannel paths to purchase, but they also care more about local, ethical, and environmentally friendly brands. I think consumers’ experiences in the past year will redefine how they behave, consume, and engage with brands as the economic and social crisis peaks later in 2021. Consumers will increasingly feel frustrated, distrustful and disappointed, and they will exhibit contradictory behavior. Social empathy will drive loyalty and long-term performance for companies. Failure to untangle consumer contradictions will reduce brand equity by billions.

    The main challenge for B2C brands in 2021 will be to truly understand customer emotions, to pivot to a digital relationship that transcends apps and websites, and to reimagine the role of emotion in both physical and digital customer experiences. The real change is happening below the surface. And consumers often cannot even voice out these changes.

—VP and Principal Analyst Thomas Husson

Security and risk management 

  • Avoid over-optimistic business continuity planning
    The pandemic highlighted the interconnectedness of risk categories and how an unforeseen crisis in one area can have a cascading effect across the enterprise. Presently, firms realize they need to get better at expecting the unexpected, but many have not gone far enough to put in the necessary processes to make significant impact in case of another event of this scale. Partially because they see this pandemic as a once-in-a-hundred-year flood that will not return for another 99 years.

—Senior Analyst Alla Valente

  • After emergency spending, now is the time for vendor and cost consolidation
    Security leaders have been absolutely fundamental to the effort to keep business running without compromising security in the longer run. As we emerge from the immediate crisis, we have seen that they are hampered by being asked to do more with less and have to find ways of stretching their budgets to achieve the same or more security goals, all while working remotely.

    Last year also saw some security professionals making emergency technology purchases to react swiftly to the emerging crisis. While considered necessary at the time, with budgets and value for money for security being continually challenged, CISOs will want to take a step back and re-evaluate whether these purchases are right for the long term. I expect to see a lot of bonfires of redundant security tools happening, with a continued drive towards vendor consolidation and security simplification efforts.

    One year on from the start of the pandemic, CISOs are under pressure to deliver value for money for spend, with workforce shortages, hiring freezes and a more distributed and bigger attack surface to defend themselves against. To say they have a big load on their plate would be classic understatement.

    Priorities have shifted to more operational matters in the SOC, and CISOs are now heavily involved in efforts to modernize IT and enable the future of work by helping accelerate the shift to the Cloud. This has raised interest amongst security leaders in the Zero Trust model for security, as prior models have proved themselves inadequate for securing a remote workforce in the pandemic era.

Senior Analyst Paul McKay

Governance and CX 

  • When it comes to CX and EX, there is no turning back on improvements
    Governments are (re-)discovering the pitfalls of digital customer experience (CX), including widely reported cases of seniors who are unable to navigate websites. And some of those that did not have responded with lackluster call centers that are not helping enough. You cannot leave people behind—especially the most vulnerable.

    Also, CX and employee experience (EX) improvements in the government sector (mostly digital CX and flexible/remote work arrangements) must not slide back to pre-pandemic situations. There is no ‘OK, the pandemic is over so let’s go back to the before times.’ Figure out what temporary changes should be permanent and make them so.

—VP and Principal Analyst Rick Parrish