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Keep Calm and Follow the Data: Search Results Reveal What Employees Value Most in Times of Uncertainty

Published Tue Apr 14 2020


If you are like me, you have an inbox filled with articles like, “What to Do in Times of Crises,” “Business Continuity Plans,” and “Free Content Offerings.” Businesses everywhere are responding to this new reality we’ve all found ourselves in.

We started wondering if our own search data from millions of users around the world could tell us what employees are really looking for now—and how we could appropriately support them and their companies. What did we learn? Looking at the data tells a different story than the headlines.

Yes, there is a significant increase in searches related to working remotely and remote work tools, such as MS Teams, Zoom, and Webex. People are also engaging with the pathways quickly created by their companies in response to the pandemic.

However, when we looked at not just percentage increase but also at the overall search volume, we saw a distinct group of skills with a sharp search increase while others were significantly decreasing.

Ultimately, we saw an increase in searches for Microsoft Excel, leadership, and communication (up 4 percent, 5 percent, and 15 percent, respectively) and even sharper decreases in searches for Python (down 20 percent), Java (down 27 percent), and machine learning (down 37 percent).

To put this in some perspective, the number of searches for Excel-related skills is 10 times greater in volume than searches about remote working or the coronavirus. Searches related to communication skills are five times greater than current events.

Finding Meaning in the Metrics

Based on the chart below, the data suggests that employees are looking for skills with longer shelf lives, that are highly transferable, and that can help individuals and their companies manage change. While they don’t fit perfectly into the categories of hard and soft skills, we are thinking of these identified skills as “flexible.”

Why flexible? Well, that data is grouping data analysis and leadership, Excel, and change management—perhaps seemingly unrelated skills. The common thread we see is that these are skills that can serve an employee well in almost any situation, across industries and geographies. Need to quickly launch a new product? Communication, design thinking, and leadership fit well together. The same is true if your company is suddenly shifting the way work gets done—time management, coaching, and change management will be essential for leaders and frontline employees.

On the other hand, searches showing a decrease in overall search volume are highly technical and hard skills, such as Python, Java, and machine learning. We think that in calmer (more stable) times, users were looking to develop their careers or aspirational abilities to learn new, in-demand technical skills. The data doesn’t tell us—and we don’t think—that these skills are less important now than before. But it is clear that as business environments change, cutting-edge skills are not top of mind for most employees.

Change in Volume of Employee’s Search Terms

This data looks at February and March search volume and compares the percent change with the time period two months prior (December and January) by active users and fully deployed clients.

Time will tell how long the trend we are currently seeing in search data will last. However, it is clear that flexible skills are extremely important to companies and employees in times of change and uncertainty. As change is the only constant, this could be a good time to review what content and guidance your company is offering employees around these flexible skills.

For more information about how talent development technology can help you foster and gain insights into your people’s skills, download our guide to talent development technology.

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