2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought extreme challenges to the workplace, and HR has been at the forefront, leading the changes driven by the requirements of lockdown, social distancing, quarantine, and even illness. The most definitive workplace response to the pandemic to keep everyone safe and continue working was the move to remote work.
The move to remote work was widely assigned to the HR function, which included logistical challenges, adjusting organizational goal setting, and training managers to manage remotely while using an enhanced remote work tech stack (project management, video conferencing, document sharing, intra-company chat tools, and HR tech.) HR teams needed to gather input from employees, manage onboarding and offboarding from a distance, and support managers as they transitioned to managing their teams remotely — all while trying to maintain a healthy and positive organizational culture.
According to research from Gartner, understanding how the future of work will look, is the top priority for HR for 2021. 2020 revealed the hybrid work model as the new way of work, allowing employees to alternate between working from the office and from home.
HR goals for 2021: adapting the hybrid way of work and setting up a plan for each of the following 5 key areas:
1. Developing a remote and hybrid workplace culture
In 2021, HR will need to continue to establish a positive remote and hybrid workplace. The natural connection to the organizational culture achieved by simply working together onsite can be more difficult to create in a remote or a hybrid environment. Plans need to be in place to overcome the lack of connection that may be felt when working from home.
Creating cohesive teams is harder when employees are working from home, being interrupted by family members or roommates, and meeting people only on video calls.
A remote work culture will look and feel different, but by creating elements that tie people to being in the same place, they will still be able to feel the culture remotely. HR needs to have a plan in place to celebrate remotely, recognize remotely, and award gifts and rewards remotely. HR needs to find ways to recreate cultural elements in a virtual format.
Even when the team is dispersed, it is important to maintain a good work environment that does not allow for harassment and discrimination.
In 2021, HR needs to create remote-specific HR programming designed to cultivate an inclusive and engaging work culture
2. Initiate learning and development plans
Gartner’s research found that more than 40% of the workforce requires new skills due to changes to work brought on by COVID-19. Around the world and across industries, organizations need to address the skills required for this new way of work that includes remote work. Teams need to be upskilled and develop the agility to learn new ways of communication. Simply put, people will have to improve their skills relating to managing meetings on video calls, letting people share their ideas, encouraging creativity, and more.
Data from Gartner indicates that the total number of skills required for a job is increasing by 10% year over year, therefore HR leaders need to adopt a dynamic approach to reskilling and redeploying talent and find ways to develop skills as new needs arise. Training and mentoring become more challenging in a hybrid or remote workplace, and viable solutions will need to be found.
In 2021, HR needs to develop a learning culture that can work remotely and gives people the chance to acquire new skill sets through workshops and training that also work virtually.
3. Plan for increased diversity and inclusion
With so many employees now working from home, virtual settings can change the impact of conversations about race or inclusion. Just hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people will stay and thrive. It is important to note that a remote workforce also provides an opportunity to increase diversity. Companies can retain current employees and recruit new talent from anywhere they choose, giving HR the flexibility to attract and retain a more diverse workforce. In addition, companies selling their products and services globally will need to set up their teams to service and market to more diverse customers. HR needs to plan to train managers to overcome bias and embrace diversity.
According to Tina Shah Paikeday, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Services at Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search and consulting firm, many companies have been more proactive about reaching out to remote employees, and that mindset helps diversity.
In 2021, HR needs to build a diverse and inclusive group of employees that work together on projects such as the company code of conduct, education, and management training.
4. Align your benefits with the new world of work
Employee benefits need to be examined to identify gaps in the workplace. Many workers are struggling to maintain their physical and mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
Adding telehealth and mental health care benefits using modern tools like apps and digital services will be welcomed as a support benefit in times of need. The importance of benefits packages to employees was demonstrated in a recent survey by Willis Towers.
Other benefits to consider are cost-sharing for health plan expenses such as deductibles, premiums, or co-payments, adding or expanding voluntary benefits, and expanding flexible work schedules. With the move to remote work, benefits need to take into account the costs of setting up a remote home office for existing employees and incorporate it into their onboarding package for new hires. HR is expected to adjust their benefits packages to address the costs and challenges of remote work in an organized way.
In 2021, HR needs to administer a company survey to learn about employee expectations about the benefits they need and want. The information will help you choose the most important benefits for your teams.
5. Use HR tech for your HR teamwork
You need to have your source of information and data about your people available to you whether you and your team are working together onsite or logging in remotely, and perhaps globally. HR leaders need technology that supports their workflows and their programs. As HR Analyst Josh Bersin says, “companies are redesigning the ways things get done at a pace I’ve never seen. HR needs technology to support their efforts.”
To be effective, anything related to the people side of the business needs to be on one system. A unified system provides the relevant people—HR leaders, managers, admins, and specialists—access to all the information they require when creating reports and tracking the main KPIs of HR. Collaboration is needed not only between employees in the organization but also among the HR teams themselves.
In 2021 HR needs to implement an HR technology system that will support remote work. With an HR platform, you can communicate with everyone on your team, manage time and attendance, onboard new hires, keep people engaged and drive culture, even remotely. HR tech tools need to have automated processes, task lists, and integrations with applicant tracking systems, expense tracking systems, and collaboration tools like Slack or MS Teams.