Two thousand twenty-one—it’s finally here! I think we can all agree that the last year was both the longest and fastest year ever. One thing we will all remember from 2020 is how work and life collided and converged in an unprecedented way, making the line between work and human experiences more blurred than ever.
As we reflect on all that we overcame – mastering remote work, adjusting to a socially distant lifestyle, battling increased levels of stress and anxiety and juggling multiple hats, including manager, colleague, teacher, parents, spouse all at once – we eagerly wonder what awaits us in the year ahead.
In 2021, HR professionals worldwide will continue to face key challenges as they further adapt to pandemic-fuelled norms, while also—we hope— preparing to navigate a post-pandemic world of work. Business and HR leaders will need to prioritise workforce health and safety and continue to adapt the employee experience, all with the goal to make work more human.
Below are the five key trends that we believe will drive the future of work in 2021:
1. Health, well-being and safety
The global pandemic has put a spotlight on both physical and mental health for every person, organisation and country around the world. People everywhere are battling increased levels of stress and anxiety, both at home and at work and unfortunately, we will continue to face these challenges in the year ahead.
Additionally, as workplaces begin to reopen, physical safety will be a top priority for HR leaders’ offices needing to implement stricter health and safety guidelines for the office, including regular health testing and wellness checks, office cleanliness and new safety training.
At the same time, many HR leaders will need to adjust to a new hybrid workforce with many people opting to stay remote, some heading back to the office full time and others finding some type of in-between arrangement.
2. Upskilling and reskilling
Second, upskilling and reskilling will need to be reimagined at a much broader scale. While skills have always been important, the pandemic impact puts a spotlight on this priority. As companies seek greater efficiencies by implementing technologies like AI and the cloud, the roles of their employees need to change too. These technical solutions help humans be more productive by allowing them to focus on higher-level tasks but also require a new set of skills.
Over the past year, many industries were entirely disrupted with hospitality, retail and airlines taking some of the biggest hits. But from a talent perspective, we realised the potential to leverage relevant and applicable skillsets across industries for new roles and responsibilities.
For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Scandinavian Airlines to let go of many of its flight crews, it partnered with a foundation to retrain these workers to work in hospitals. Though this may seem like an unconventional path, airline cabin workers possess many skills needed for medical work, such as medical training in case of in-flight emergencies and the ability to handle difficult interpersonal situations (e.g. unruly passengers).
3. Mobilising for D&I
Over the past few years, diversity and inclusion (D&I) have risen to be one of the most visible C-level issues. So much to the point that it’s enough – enough talk, now it’s time to take action. The priority around D&I needs to remain a key focus but 2021 is the time to move from challenge to change.
While D&I initiatives exist, most are still nascent and separate from the business. A recent PwC study found that only 5 percent of organisations have built mature D&I programmes that connect back to business results. Many organisations begin by appointing chief diversity officers and setting up dashboards to track D&I metrics, showing concern about inclusion and equity. This is a great place to start but these programmes feel superficial if they aren’t backed by the real authority to make the change.
D&I programmes that exist only to comply with discrimination laws or pacify upset workers are never going to achieve anything. It’s time to tap into the ‘Why?’ beyond the metrics and truly begin to mobilise D&I efforts.
To reap the benefits, organisations need to embed D&I into their business practices. That starts with measuring diversity and continues with measuring the impact by cross-referencing with other data about their workforce to reveal patterns of inequity.
4. Agile businesses
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed work forever. Here’s how we predict work will continue evolving in 2021. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. Businesses changed a lot last year and as we get ready for 2021, we have to take those lessons learned and get ready for anything. In other words, we need to be agile.
In this new year, all companies will be under pressure to grow and optimise profits, recovering from the year we just survived, while also still navigating new post-pandemic challenges. HR leaders need to take a proactive role in helping businesses navigate those changes by preparing their workforces, being ready for any new obstacle and being able to pivot to new business models both quickly and easily.
HR leaders can help by locking down their talent management functions, including workforce planning, recruiting, reskilling and compensation, to guide the workforce through unexpected changes like shifting to remote work and adapting to new staffing needs or demands. But they can’t do it alone. They need to be connected to—and working in sync with—the other departments including finance, supply chain and marketing.
All departments need to be on the same page by working on a unified platform that shares data so everyone can make decisions with the same information. That is what makes a business truly agile.
5. New employee experiences
As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed and we start the return to ‘normal’, we will see a hybrid workforce emerge. Some companies will return to pre-pandemic operations but many will see increased employee demands for the flexibility workers have been requesting for years now. Remote work has been proven to work, there’s no denying that and as organisations begin to navigate the inevitable ‘return’, things will look quite different.
Managing workforces on the way to normalcy is going to be an interesting exercise in duality. On the one hand, employees need more support and guidance than ever while uncertainty still looms over their future. Companies will need to help their workforces navigate new health and safety regulations and change their benefits to match the needs of this new remote workforce.
On the other hand, employees need more flexibility and personalisation in how they can access HR information as their work locations and needs become more varied.
Being more H.U.M.A.N. in 2021
There you have it—the five trends we believe will emerge in 2021. Here’s to hoping we can bring a more human approach to the new year.
(Emily He is Senior Vice President, Human Capital Management, Cloud Business Group, Oracle)