How Resilience Became A Powerful Enabler for Business Continuity—and Ingenuity

Leighanne Levensaler, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Workday and managing director and co-head of Workday Ventures, discusses how the pandemic has accelerated key business initiatives such as cloud computing, worker reskilling, and inclusive company cultures.

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The year 2020 brought many challenges, including fear for the health and wellness of our communities, economic distress, and disruption in nearly every facet of our personal and professional lives. And while the world slowed down in some ways, in other ways it did not. 

For many business leaders, the pandemic accelerated key business initiatives that have been top-of-mind for years. Digital transformation efforts such as moving systems to the cloud, reskilling and mobilizing workforces, and taking more steps to foster a company culture where all employees can do their best work have reached a new level of focus and increased investment.  

Businesses have been forced to plan for multiple scenarios simultaneously and shift from plan to plan as circumstances change. This unstable environment has required leaders to pivot our businesses in ways we may not have realized were possible. We learned that more than ever before, necessity is the mother of invention to maintain business continuity. 

When Digital Transformation Mattered Most

At the onset of the pandemic, businesses that were already in the cloud had an edge. They were able to take advantage of the business stability enabled by the cloud, including scalability, flexibility, and remote access. In turn, this let them focus on finding new revenue sources, or new ways to engage employees and keep their cultures strong.  Because of the cloud, they were able to close their books remotely, use data to gain better insights into their businesses, and get much better at financial and workforce planning. 

That’s why it’s not surprising that even despite massive disruption in the world, businesses continued to move to the cloud all year long (as my colleague Emily McEvilly points out, we had more than 190 go-lives on Workday last year).

Even with the cloud, none of us thought we could run so much of our economy with a largely remote workforce. Businesses learned to be industrious and use ingenuity when faced with new requirements and challenges. For example, they were able to change pay rates and work leave policies for frontline workers. They were agile when it was important not just to their business, but to their workers and the good of their communities, such as pivoting their holiday schedule and adding additional days off throughout the year. These process changes extended to initiatives focused on talent, hiring, skills, and more. 

Reskilling and Mobilizing the Workforce

Reskilling used to be viewed as a talent strategy initiative only. Now, it's a business imperative. Starting with the onset of the pandemic, businesses have had to mobilize to reskill employees to fill new roles. As a society facing high unemployment, we have a responsibility to connect displaced workers with new opportunities. Initiatives led by Opportunity@Work and People + Work Connect have helped match skills with opportunities, which is especially important in industries that have seen drastic business changes. Knowing reskilling is so important to our customers, it’s been at the heart of our investments in talent solutions, such as Workday Talent Marketplace

It’s been inspiring to see how organizations have been able to transition to a reskilling environment not over a couple of years, but literally within weeks. For example, a leading fitness apparel company recently shared how they quickly redeployed manufacturing effort and reskilled their employees to produce masks and other PPE. 

Reskilling used to be viewed as a talent strategy initiative only. Now, it's a business imperative.

Wellbeing, Culture, and Productivity 

Creating a culture where everyone thrives is now a key pillar for business success for every industry. This past year has really hit home in helping business leaders understand how mental and physical wellbeing directly connect to employee engagement and productivity. We all know that if our employees don't feel included and safe in the workplace, this has a major impact on company culture. 

Research on company culture shows that a happy and productive workforce is more engaged with the company mission, equipped with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs, and enabled to contribute and make decisions that impact the business. In my role with Workday Ventures, we're seeing a dramatic increase in new, innovative companies and early stage companies focused on improving the employee experience and new ways of working. Wellbeing and engagement solutions are attractive to our customers and play an important role to ensure their employees feel safe and empowered to do their best work.

We're not ever going back to how life was before COVID-19. We're only going forward. What we’re taking with us is resilience and perspective.

Mindset Matters: Bringing New Perspective to 2021

There are many hard lessons from 2020 that we’ll take with us. One lesson I’ve revisited many times this year is the power of mindset and the ability to keep moving forward. I’ve been reminded of a little sign my mom hung on my bedroom wall when I was a teenager: “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” We're not ever going back to how life was before COVID-19. We're only going forward. What we’re taking with us is resilience and perspective. 

While we don't know what the future will bring, as business leaders, we’ll remember that when faced with a crisis, we were able to rapidly respond. Yet, it shouldn’t take a shock to the system to move key business objectives–such as reskilling–forward. We’ve learned, with the right technology solutions in place, rapid change and adaptation is always possible, especially when the outcome is greater care and support for our employees, customers, and communities.

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