As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Volini.
Erica Volini, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, is Deloitte’s Global Human Capital leader. In this role, she is focused on helping leaders solve their most complex and pressing human capital issues. In today’s world of constant disruption, those issues include everything from navigating the future of work to enabling the digital organization — all centered around how to optimize the intersection of the workforce and business performance. Throughout her 20+ year career, Erica has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations and is a frequent speaker on how market trends are impacting the HR organization and profession as a whole. Within Deloitte, she has served as a member of Deloitte Consulting’s Management Committee and Board of Directors. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My background from school is in Industrial & Labor Relations — that’s really where I started to gain an appreciation of the organization-worker relationship. From there, I had an internship where I was able to work with the Administration of Children’s Services to help them develop a training program for their employees and I really saw the power of what could be done when we appropriately invest in ‘human capital’. I joined Deloitte shortly thereafter and, as they say, the rest is history. It’s now been 22 years at Deloitte and throughout every role I’ve played, a focus on human capital has always been at the center. Today, I’m the global leader for our practice and still love getting to work directly with clients helping them optimize the potential of their workforce. In today’s constant world of disruption, I don’t think there is anything more important for an organization to do.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started with your company what was your vision, your purpose that drove you?
Our purpose at Deloitte is to ‘make an impact that matters’ and that resonates with me today as much as it did 22 years ago when I joined the Firm. I believe that organizations have an incredibly important and central role to play not only in delivering profits to shareholders, but in making an impact to society and the communities in which they operate. Our ability to help organizations maximize that impact is what keeps me going every day. We are not only hopefully making the lives of workers better, but — in turn — making our communities stronger and more resilient as well.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have an (almost) two-year old son and a husband who is a consultant as well, so to say the pandemic has been a change for us would be an understatement. My husband and I were both constantly on the road, so we really don’t have the infrastructure for working from home, but we’ve made it work with dining room tables and make-shift offices. For my son, we worry most about his lack of interaction with other children at this crucial age, so we’re just always looking for safe opportunities to provide that for him, even if not at the frequency we would desire and the start of pre-school will, of course, be slightly delayed. With all of that said, however, I don’t think we could value our ability to put our son to bed together every night any more than we do (something we would have never have been able to do before) and, for that, we are both extremely grateful.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
At Deloitte, we’ve been evaluating what work is mission-critical and what can be deferred or deprioritized as we move from respond through recover and into thrive in the world of COVID. We’re allowing people to focus on the most important tasks and empowering teams to be creative in how they deliver non-essential work in ways that minimize unnecessary risk or exposure. Here are some of the few steps we took:
Categorize the work: A combination of technologies (e.g., remote access, cyber), practices and policies, safeguards, and training all need to be in place to support a wide remote-work deployment and this was our priority once the pandemic started. For work that cannot be made remote, evaluate what safeguards can be put in place, such as revised cleaning protocols or personal protective equipment.
Lead by example: The pandemic has increased uncertainty and anxiety amongst our workforce, with people worried about losing their jobs and managing work and home responsibilities. We developed a clear strategy and plan focused on our people including an easy-to-navigate, one-stop-shop for all of their questions and concerns and constant communication about the benefits and programs we offered to help them through this disruptive time.
Focus on safety: To deal with employee concerns, we strengthened safety education, established self-protection guidelines, and increased awareness of risk prevention. We also communicated often with information from credible sources like the World Health Organization to inform procedures and work arrangements.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your teams during this uncertain time? Can you explain?
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a physical health issue, it’s also a mental health issue and requires special attention from all of us. As leaders, it is essential to demonstrate compassion and make time for your people when they need it. Here are a few ideas to care for your team and strengthen their sense of community and resilience:
- Team members are especially vulnerable to feeling isolated and anxious. Keep in touch with them, both to check in and to ensure they understand that there is help available.
- Motivate employees to focus on the things that CAN be controlled, like limiting the amount of news consumed, taking regular breaks to replenish energy, and engaging in physical activities. Make it a point to speak to your team about the actions you’re taking to manage stress and anxiety.
- Start a conversation on well-being to open a safe space for people to discuss their issues and concerns. Encourage team members to talk about the challenges they face when working from home and collaborate to find a solution. Find out what will work best for them when it comes to the way and hours that they work. Remember the importance of judging on output, not being present.
- Fear can narrow our field of vision, making it harder to see the bigger picture or available options including the positive possibilities in front of us. Acknowledge the anxieties your team members may be feeling and take time to explore options and a positive outcome of the current situation.
- Finally, ensure you encourage your team to strive for the right balance between work and home responsibilities. Lead by example and maintain boundaries between your own work and personal life. Educate team members of being ‘always on’ and establish a routine for your working hours and a clear switch off each day.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
In a post-COVID economy, every rule, every orthodoxy, every process has the ability to be challenged. The world is going to be different, so the way we work will be different as well. This gives every worker the opportunity to use their voice to influence how they believe work can change for the better. Workers in a post-COVID economy should be empowered to use their creativity to challenge the status quo and suggest ways to make work better, not only for the organization, but for themselves. I believe this can lead to some significant improvements in productivity, morale and open up new opportunities that might not have been apparent before. This is also an opportunity to expand your capabilities and skills. With so many jobs changing, new roles may open up that provide a chance to learn something new and potentially position yourself for a better or more expanded role in the future. In a post-COVID economy, workers will find opportunities that can take their careers in new directions.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live in the workplace?
We were already moving toward prioritizing employee well-being, flexible working hours, etc. even before the pandemic. With this sudden disruption, the pace of these changes has been accelerated. We see these changes fall into a few key areas:
- Transparency is key: The pandemic has made the world of work more transparent than ever. Whether it’s more frequent and open communications from leadership or literally being able to see your co-worker’s home environment, we are now seeing and hearing much more than we did before. This level of transparency is a welcome change for most organization’s cultures and one that I expect to last well past the crisis.
- Flexibility remains: When the pandemic subsides, WFH will remain popular with professionals, and that will put flexibility at the top of organizations’ agendas. Now that we’ve seen that WFH can not only work, but result in improved productivity, it will be hard for organizations to move back to the way we worked before. A Gallup survey revealed that 54% of U.S. workers would leave their current job for one that allowed them to work remotely.
- Virtual learning for everyone: In-person learning programs won’t go away, but they’ll be reserved for certain functions and certain populations within the organization. Face-to-face learning will likely be just a small element of a learning curriculum. Ramping up their virtual learning platforms, organizations moved quickly to ensure that their people were still building important skills and developing professionally. This trend will certainly continue.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what advice are you providing to organizations in the Post-Covid Economy?
- Build workforce resilience: Take a broad view of resilience as the ability to move beyond simply responding and recovering from unexpected challenges and find ways to grow and evolve to create even more value in the future. Rather than simply “bouncing back” to where we were before, let’s find new ways to connect our activities and help us thrive.
- Re-architect how work is done: Harness new business and technology architectures to re-architect the work itself. This means taking a step back to ask what the work aspirations and outcomes are that you want to achieve and designing work to achieve them by looking at technology not as a way to replace human activities but rather as a way to optimize human potential.
- Plan for the next disruption now: Organizations should plan for the possibility of multiple waves of the pandemic and its continuing global — and uneven — footprint. For workforce strategies, organizations need to establish critical priorities for the next 12 to 24 months as they position themselves for new realities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have one favorite quote. But lately, I seem to be gravitating towards the simple “Just Do It”. Maybe it’s the pandemic, but I feel emboldened to take action, change the status quo and embrace this new normal. To me, that’s where the opportunity sits and I’m excited for every worker to be able to leverage this feeling to make real change in how we work and what the work environment can be moving forward.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter @erica_volini or on Instagram @ericavolini. Look forward to ‘seeing’ everyone there!