5 trends HR leaders should watch in 2021


New research from Gartner says that HR professionals should be creative in the year ahead, using new technologies and lessening onsite work to combat the challenges caused by COVID-19.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on into 2021, human resource professionals face several obstacles in the new year. In an effort to provide guidance for these challenges, Gartner has released five “future of work decisions” HR workers ought to address.

“2021 will be a year of not just recovery, but renewal and acceleration as organizations adopt new business, technology, and talent strategies,” Emily Rose McRae, director in the Gartner HR practice, said in a press release. She adds, “Given the tectonic shifts of 2020, HR leaders will have to face decisions they must be ready to make in order to set their organizations up for success.” 

First among the list, Gartner urges organizations to look out for “triggers for revising workforce strategies.” Specifically, it says companies will need to be proactive when revisiting the “remote and hybrid work policies written during the crisis,” and that HR leaders need to look out when it comes to reviewing this hybrid environment and before the balance becomes impractical. 

Gartner also claims workforce triggers are twofold: Talent and situational. On one end, talent triggers make sure business leaders are able to monitor issues with a company’s talent strategy. Regarding situational triggers, HR professionals are urged to identify challenges that could result from strategic decisions–for instance, “having teams in different regions and at one-off locations.”

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Secondly, Gartner advocates for HR professionals to look for ways to lessen onsite work for employees. To do so, it says HR leaders should look to emerging technologies. In particular, Gartner lists robotic process automation (RPA) and immersive technologies (think virtual and augmented reality, for instance) as two categories of technology that will allow workers to do their job remotely while still keeping them engaged with their team and their employers. 

Gartner adds that HR workers will need to shoot for “redefining the office space” and what it calls “employment model innovations.” With the former, it acknowledges that employees will be working differently this year: Some remotely, others at third-party spaces, and others onsite. “Organizations…must decide what their corporate offices can offer employees that other spaces cannot,” according to Gartner. To accomplish this, HR leaders should “understand employees’ emotional needs and identify opportunities where the workplace can meet these needs,” while also gauging whether to “reduce the organization’s real estate footprint.”  

Gartner continues by saying last year, when companies had to face the repercussions of COVID, they needed to adopt experimental employment models, such as bringing in gig workers to make up for a “low talent supply.” Gartner says companies need to determine whether to continue with these types of employment models. “This will be particularly relevant for organizations with a high percentage of older employees in critical roles,” according to Gartner, “offering greater flexibility in not just when employees are working, but how much they work, can help retain employees who otherwise might retire.” 

Finally, organizations will need to be committed to “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).” In a 2018 study by Gartner, it found that 74% of workers presumed their employers would take a side when it came to “societal or cultural issues.” These situations are even more relevant now, says Gartner, given the new climate of social protests. 

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