In 2020, HR proved its critical strategic value to the organisation, and a key driver was the ever-expanding data set that now informs human resource decisions. HR pros were on the front lines, keeping teams together as the world changed. In the utter chaos of the Covid crisis, HR leaders provided beacons of light and guidance – to their stakeholders in the C-suite and on the company’s front lines.

(Please join us in a moment of gratitude for the HR professionals among us.)

So what does 2021 hold in store for HR?

In short, a lot. HR pros can expect another busy year, as they’ll be facing a variety of new challenges.

Trend 1: The dark winter & pandemic fatigue

A key challenge for HR pros and the leaders in the C-suite is the fact that fatigue is really settling in, and for those in the northern hemisphere, those effects are compounded by shorter days and gloomy weather. We don’t mean to sound like a weather report but there’s simply no way around the fact that people are tired, seasonal affective disorder is a real thing and despite the good news about vaccines recently, it will be months before we’ll be back to a semblance of normal.

And in the short term, these forces will combine to create disengagement within teams, threatening to erode culture, erase gains in performance and productivity and potentially create instability within the organisation.

  • Action to take: Look for signs of disengagement among your people (here are 5 to watch for.) Utilise a survey to understand how people are doing right now, and use that feedback to help company leaders resolve nagging issues and shore up morale. It’s a simple act that can speak volumes to employees.

Trend 2: Remote work becomes permanent 

It’s safe to say that for many employers and employees, remote work is here to stay, at least to some degree. However, these arrangements will bring new challenges for HR, including:

Getting the “return to the workplace” moment right. Planning for when offices reopen is vital, and that work needs to start now, as setting clear expectations for the team is important. Using an on-demand survey to gather employee feedback is particularly useful here. Pro tip: customise the survey for different teams, align questions with the circumstances that vary between teams. Knowing what people are thinking (as opposed to guessing) will help HR lead effective policy-making.

Making hybrid schedules work for the company – and employees. There’s a lot that goes into creating a hybrid work policy that enables employees to work from home part of the time. Just as “good fences make good neighbors,” good structure will go a long way toward making hybrid schedules work for your company. Some things to factor into your plan include:

  • Create a framework around working hours and days in the office so it’s predictable for employees and managers. A hybrid schedule does not mean changing one’s hours each day, or randomly locking downtime on one’s calendar. The organisation will need to set expectations around employee availability, to ensure people who work together are available for each other.
  • Determine whether there are any non-negotiable periods during which people need to be available in person, such as weekly meetings, specific events (e.g. a project kickoff, sprint planning session or IT deployment) or any particularly busy times for the business.
  • Set clear expectations for remote workers regarding using cameras for video calls, response times; how, when, and where communications occur. Additionally, employees and managers need to have a clear understanding of what to do when something isn’t working, or a policy isn’t being followed.
  • Most importantly, ensure leaders are setting clear performance metrics. Individual accountability is the cornerstone of a successful remote work strategy.

Trend 3: HR becomes even more data-driven 

HR’s ability to use its data to help CEOs navigate the pandemic and handle people-centric issues this year has shed new light on HR capabilities for many leaders. This is a great opportunity for HR to lock down its seat at the leadership table by using the swiftly-evolving tech tools available to drive business value. Yes, we just drew a very short line between HR tech and measurable business value, but hear us out.

The C-suite doesn’t want reports, it wants results. HR owns data that can be applied within the business to achieve important outcomes, such as:

  • Decreases in employee turnover
  • Strategic upskilling of employees, via skill gap assessment – and resolution via focused learning and development
  • Preventing productivity-sapping disengagement before it happens
  • Using continuous response to keep pace with rapidly-evolving employee experience expectations;

Applying the data is crucial, which, put another way, means that the savvy HR pro has prevailed upon their peer leaders, and those leaders are following their direction. Easier said than done … except when one uses data to benchmark and measure performance and progress.

Adopting a mindset of action versus analysis and challenging oneself to frame HR data in terms of measurable business outcomes is key to motivating one’s peer leaders to take action.

We’re still facing a lot of uncertainty, to be sure. However, we believe that the rapid pace of change the pandemic forced upon all of us is here to stay. HR, armed with data and insight into the heart of the organisation, is ideally positioned to enable not just a rapid response, but the right response, rapidly.