Great insights on how to navigate the Digital Workplace Beyond the Pandemic

BrighterMonday has partnered with various like-minded industry players to equip young professionals seeking to join the job market with the soft skills they need to succeed in their future roles. This has greatly increased their chances of getting a job and set the tone for success in their career.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major shifts in the workplace. At the forefront of the business leaders’ mind sits the questions: “Is today’s approach to work and workforce transformation sustainable? Are we equipped to transform this organisation for success within the fast-rising digital age? Are our existing processes and practices agile enough to withstand the unpredictable future?” The digital workplace revolution is in full swing and organisations need to move with agility, speed and accuracy to remain relevant while effectively meeting the evolving demands of customers.

BrighterMonday is notably East Africa’s largest online career platform and recently celebrated 15 successful years in the industry. We speak to BrighterMonday Chief Executive Officer, Emmanuel Mutuma, about the ongoing changes in today’s relatively-uncertain business environment and how people and businesses can quickly adapt to ensure continued success. 

The Future Is All About Technology

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room: What is the future of the workplace post pandemic?

Emmanuel: I believe the future is already here and we must shift our mindset to accommodate our new reality and live successful balanced lives. The workplace is drastically changing and organizations are looking to work smart towards maintaining growth and profitability amidst the uncertainty. The pandemic has amplified the importance of digital transformation across Africa, accelerating digitisation within organisations and driving the fast-rising demand for workflow automation to support virtual workplaces.

The current times are challenging the skills that were previously considered essential in the workplace. Can you tell us more about this?

Emmanuel: Historically, employers maintained similar demand for top five key skills when hiring: communication, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and ability to work under pressure. However, there has been a global shift and employers are keen on additional skills to support the evolving business environment. This can be broken down into soft skills and hard skills.

Some of the high-in-demand soft skills include adaptability & agility, emotional intelligence, growth mindset & willingness to learn, creativity & innovation, and critical thinking. These are softer human elements that are character driven and we have found them critical in identifying the right talent for the right workplace culture. BrighterMonday has partnered with various like-minded industry players to equip young professionals seeking to join the job market with the soft skills they need to succeed in their future roles. This has greatly increased their chances of getting a job and set the tone for success in their career.

The trending hard skills, especially following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic include digital & coding skills, data literacy & analytics, technology skills, security & governance skills, and problem solving. We urge professionals to find a balance between their career development courses and attaining these skills to remain competitive within the fast-evolving workplace environment.

Then how can people and organisations position themselves for success amidst the uncertainty? 

Emmanuel: Adopting technology and digitalisation is the most obvious catalyst for both organisations and professionals seeking success in the current environment. When we speak to organisations looking for talent to support their growth, two key things stand out as major pain points:

First is the struggle of finding the right talent. At BrighterMonday, we prominently promote your role to the right, targeted job seekers including those actively searching and those currently employed through our Best Match solution coupled with other products. We leverage our large pool of 1.2 million professional candidates within our database and further distribute through other high-value channels such as Google & LinkedIn. This has proven to be extremely effective for job roles at all levels (entry level to executive level). 

Second is the struggle of choosing the right talent. Employers find it difficult to objectively make the right hiring decision. At BrighterMonday we qualify, test and rank the best applicants using a combination of a world class skills assessment solutions and an artificial intelligence (AI) engine to pick out the best-of-the-best candidates.

All this is delivered with speed and transparency on our exceptional hiring application platform which tracks and stores all necessary data. We leverage on technology to engage and harness information from all key customer touch points, analysing the data to understand millions of candidate profiles and matching them to the right employers.

For our business, the pandemic has only accelerated the use of technology. We’ve fully adopted AI to match and shortlist candidates, digitally streamlined our communications, operations and recruitment processes from talent sourcing, interviews, onboarding, assessments and training. We’re literally fully operating virtually now!

Being a long-established online-based organisation, how has digitalisation affected BrighterMonday? 

Emmanuel: Our value proposition challenged the traditional recruitment norms within East Africa. The traditional job application process required shortlisting piles of physical CVs for extended periods of time, followed by physical candidate assessments. From the onset of our business, we leveraged the incoming digital age to future proof our business and drive effective, efficient, convenient recruitment processes for our customers. As a forward-thinking, customer-centric business, we have heavily invested in technology to offer diverse solutions with the ability to easily scale up. 

After the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kenya, we were able to set up our business remotely within just a few hours, ensuring our customers experienced business as usual. Because we had already digitalised our processes and workflows, what seemed a challenge for other recruitment organisations, was very simple for BrighterMonday. Our focus remains on improving our customers experience and helping them achieve their goals by equipping them with the right talent to evolve. 

Does innovation have a role at BM and what benefit does this provide your customers? 

Emmanuel: We continuously innovate our products and solutions using technology to improve the process of finding and hiring the right talent and to create additional value for our users. This ensures we always stay ahead of the markets’ needs.

Our Best Match solution, for instance, qualifies, tests and ranks applicants using a combination of world-class skill assessment products; it’s seamlessly integrated AI engine then picks out the best-fit candidates from the pool of applicants. This process is completely automated which provides accuracy, efficiency and speed. 

Our Product development team is tasked to progressively improve our customers’ experience. For example, with various updates on our website and application procedures, jobseekers can now only submit applications to jobs they qualify for. This enhanced system automation ensures that a jobseeker saves time by only applying to roles they are likely to be considered for, which in turn enhances the quality of applications for each job posting. 

We saw the implementation of General Data Protection Regulation which affected many businesses globally and catalysed similar regulations across the world including Kenya’s Data Protection Act in 2019. What did this mean for a data-driven business such as BrighterMonday?

Emmanuel: The key data protection issue was to give the authority back to the user (owner of their personal data). We have ensured full compliancy with data laws by disclosing our intended use of our customers’ data and providing the option to delete or retrieve all their data at any time from our system. All data on our system is encrypted so that in case of a breach, our customers’ information is protected. In accordance with the law, we appointed a data protection officer who ensures we remain compliant to changing requirements and acts as the middleman between the users, systems, organisation and the regulator. 

Hybrid Models Taking The Centre Stage 

People are the heart of a business; however, we can’t ignore the 4th Industrial Revolution is upon us. How has the global push towards digital transformation impacted recruitment processes?  

Emmanuel: From a talent vantage point, the greatest impact is the monumental shift to remote working driving global recruitment. This has expanded the talent pool and thanks to technology, people can work-from-home anywhere in the world. According to Forbes, 26.7% of Americans will work from home in 2021, compared to 7% who had the option to work from home in 2018. Global technology giants like Twitter and Dropbox announced their shift to permanent work-from-home setups and Facebook declared remote working for 50% of their employees for up to ten years. 

Most organisations are adopting a combination of remote and onsite working, allowing more flexibility for their employees. Ultimately, flexible working improves motivation, increasing employee retention, loyalty and happiness. However, it comes as a double-edged sword for employees as the shift to remote working has greatly increased talent availability in the job market. Employers are no longer seeking the best talent within a localised region, instead they want the best globally. A company seeking a program developer or digital marketer can now hire experienced, highly-skilled individuals based anywhere in the world. Not only does this save on employee-related fixed costs but also provides diversity and inclusivity which are all necessary advances for continued business growth. 

Let’s be a little bit imaginative here, Emmanuel. In your opinion, how far do you see technology going to replace the human workforce? We are already seeing systems replacing people in several industries, for example the driverless Uber’s. 

Emmanuel: Repetitive roles will be automated and replaced by technology systems. This improves the speed of delivery and accuracy for roles humans have mastered. Now, with increased speed, greater efficiency and undeniable accuracy, businesses can consistently serve more customers and are likely to increase retention, unlocking the maximum customer lifetime value. This is certainly great news for businesses!

As redundant roles are replaced by automated systems, digitisation brings with it a whole new untapped market for career and business prosperity. For example, according to Globe News Wire, the global Digital Content Creation market size was estimated to be worth USD 11 billion in 2019 and expected to reach USD 38.2 billion between 2020 and 2030. Here in East Africa, the digital content industry has only but touched the surface. 

The jobs of the future include roles like content creator, digital marketer, AI & data scientist, cybersecurity & virtual reality experts, data protection officers, just to name a few.

Linking Marketing To HR Disciplines 

You started your career as a Marketer. Can you briefly share your career journey to-date?

Emmanuel: Yes, I did; Marketing is my passion. My educational background is in IT but I was fortunate enough to know I wanted to follow my passion while leveraging my knowledge of IT. I strongly feel the success of any business largely depends on how effectively it communicates with target customers. Consumers buy and interact with products from brands they love and are proud to be associated with. Similarly, I wanted to take ownership of my career and do work that I would be proud of, fully cognisant of the steep learning process to gain success within the field.

At the time I joined BrighterMonday as Marketing Executive, there was a vacant position in the Marketing department for a Manager. Once I joined, I worked my fingers to the bone and managed to influence the firm to keep the Manager position vacant for internal promotion, providing myself the opportunity to grow into the role. It was also a time of transition where the business was acquired by One Africa Media, which later became ROAM, backed by Ringer. Within four years, I had moved from Marketing Executive to Manager and then to the Head of Marketing. In my 5th year at BrighterMonday, I was appointed CEO. 

“HR personnel are perhaps among the best marketers an organisation has, though they are never seen that way.” What are your thoughts on this? 

Emmanuel: Indeed, I am not an HR professional, but I have many friends in the industry and have learnt a lot from them. I can claim that now, I can think as HR from those engagements. HR shapes the perception of the business from within (internal customers/staff) and drive the policies and culture of the organisation. 

Similar to a Marketer, HR finds the best way to communicate with staff about policies, processes or onboarding with the goal of acquiring and retaining the most productive workforce to meet the bottom line. Personally, I always have valuable insights from HR on my decision table.

With the increasing competition for the best employees globally, HR’s need to compete for talent the way Marketers compete for customers! This could mean developing a human-oriented online recruitment process, building employees’ brands to help them amplify key messages, engaging with touchpoints more strategically e.g. website career pages, social media job ads, etc. and perhaps making use of contextual advertising. All in all, I think in the new digital age, HR and Marketing will need be more seamlessly connected and speak as one unified voice.

Throughout your career, you’ve been actively engaged in both Marketing and HR. What is the relationship between the two functions towards building effective and efficient recruitment processes? 

Emmanuel: HR has been the most important stakeholder in building our business. Our success can be largely attributed to our in depth understanding of HR pain points and building relationships with HR professionals that help us develop solutions targeted to alleviate real recruiting problems. We engage them through various channels such as focus groups, partnership initiatives and industry events. Our HR partners are the first to test our new products and with their valued feedback, we iterate until we have a final go-to-market product. 

Disrupt Or Be Disrupted

Outside of business as usual, people now recognise that brands have an opportunity to make a bigger, more positive impact in a Covid-19 world. How can employers, and job seekers stand out post-Covid?

Emmanuel: BrighterMonday, throughout its 15 operational years, has established a strong network of over 40,000 employers in various sectors and industries and supported over 1.2 million jobseekers through their professional journey. 

When we speak to jobseekers, four things stand out about the most-preferred brands they would like to work for: A positive, appealing employee-centred work culture – professionals will increasingly look to join organisations embracing remote-working, flexible working hours with progressive health programs including mental health; Open communication channels with strong, relatable business goals – people want organisations that give off a sense of pride by establishing great reward and recognition culture, care for the community, sustainability initiatives, etc; Diversity and inclusivity culture – equal opportunity employers, fair staff policies, gender and race equality, etc.; and Growth culture where the employer has training and career development initiatives.

To attract the right people, our platform helps organisations tell their brand stories. We also run the BrighterMonday 100 Best companies to work for segment, which provides a standard from which businesses can benchmark to improve their corporate culture positioning. Our team helps professionals create powerful digital profiles using key words. This boosts profile visibility and increases the chances of the jobseeker being shortlisted for an interview. We also provide valuable insights to both employers and job seekers on the changing business environment to help them up-skill and re-skill to remain relevant.

Beyond Covid-19, what are the challenges you foresee businesses experiencing in managing their human resources. Can you offer some free advice to businesses as they transition into the new norm?

Emmanuel: The two challenges I foresee are: First, the Rise in skill gaps: Through continuous, structured training and development programs to up-skill staff, preparing them for cross-functional roles and responsibilities, businesses can be better prepared for the future of the workplace. HR can also consider inter-department training, job shadowing as well as global recruitment to supplement or train their workforce; 

Second is SMART hiring will become more difficult with strategic uncertainty. To manage this, businesses can leverage on technology, going above and beyond the contents of a CV, to make hiring decisions. This can be achieved simply through evaluating applicants for both soft, futuristic and hard skills – using big data where there is a large pool of applicants.

The industry requires more innovation around manpower management to ensure people feel motivated and empowered whilst working remotely. This is the new norm and we must find ways of leveraging technology to support productive and efficient remote working.

Finally, I think businesses can make SMART decisions by paying more attention to research and data analysis. At BrighterMonday we provide regular, updated market research to help businesses better understand the needs of jobseekers, and vice versa, helping all parties navigate the demands of the evolving workplace. 

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