Workplace revolution: Six key priorities for HR in 2021 and beyond

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Not every generation has a chance to fundamentally reimagine the way we work. For HR professionals, the COVID-19 crisis and the trends it has accelerated in the world of work are a great opportunity to make a lasting positive impact. 

But unlike the last work revolution driven by now ubiquitous technology like PCs and emails (and with the main focus on technology as the main accelerator), the current shift re-emphasizes the role of humans as the most essential asset. 

This means that for companies to make the most of technology, they will need skilled employees. To stay ahead of the curve, they will need to either hire them externally, or upskill their existing workers. 

But one way or another, and as people’s attitudes to work change, to attract or retain these skilled people, they will need to create a truly employee-centric organization. 

This will put a lot more pressure on HR departments – a trend that is already visible in many companies. According to a recent survey, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of HR departments expect hybrid work to put more strain on them, with 18 percent expecting a significant increase to their workload. 

So what exactly should HR professionals focus on and prioritize in creating a future-proof employee-centric organization?

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Bridge the gap by creating an employee-centric organization 

The key for any company grappling with the current fast-paced changes is to gauge the disconnect between what their employees want (and how their expectations of work have changed) and what they as a company are willing or able to offer.

This is important because many businesses work based on assumptions and this results in a rift between workers and employers. 

The best illustration of this disconnect can be found in the debate on whether (and to what extent, if at all) employees should return to their physical office spaces. 

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More than three-quarters of C-suite executives expect core employees to be back onsite three or more days a week. But quite the opposite is true for employees themselves: three-quarters of them actually want to work from home (not the office) two or more days per week. 

If unresolved, this rift can lead to employees feeling frustrated with their work, with more and more of them taking the leap of faith and leaving their employer altogether. 

Depending on the data reviewed, the rate of the global workforce wishing to look for new jobs this year ranges from 40 per cent (Microsoft) to 95 per cent (Monster). 

To turn this post-pandemic challenge into a business opportunity, HR departments will need to improve in these six areas:

6 key priorities HR 2021 infographic

Six elements of an employee-centric organization 

#1. Individualized workplaces 

What is at stake: As consumers, we want everything to be customised to our individual needs. The same level of individualization is now expected from our workplaces, especially now that many of us have tried flexible working. 

What you can do: It’s time to embrace hybrid work. 63 percent of high-growth companies have adopted some form of flexible work. Other than allowing people to work remotely, this also means changing the way people’s work is assessed and measured. As many as 86% of employees say they want to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output. You will need innovation, better data collection and analysis to provide a better employee experience and you should consider setting up self-service HR to receive direct feedback from workers.  

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#2. Help people grow professionally to prepare for the jobs of the future

What is at stake: In 2018, it was estimated that 85 percent of the jobs that today’s students would do in 2030 didn’t exist yet. And as skills become the currency of our economy, talent shortages are expected to cause disruption (a trend that is already strongly manifesting itself, with 69 percent of companies worldwide unable to fill their vacant positions).   

What you can do: Three-quarters of workers say they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain to stay competitive. They just need the right conditions or support to do so. As a CHRO, you will need to switch your company’s mindset from focusing on work experience to valuing more people’s skills, or even better, their capabilities. This will transform the way your company hires new and retains existing talent (oftentimes with the help of AI technology), recognizes the essential skills for the Robo-Sapiens era of work, and upskills employees by using micro training to hone people’s capabilities.  

#3. Automate what you can and augment the rest 

What is at stake: This year, companies worldwide are planning to spend as much as $656 billion on new technology to upgrade for the new era of work. Other than facilitating remote working, the investments will lead to automation of some tasks and augmenting the rest. 

What you can do: Automate what you can (i.e. repetitive and mundane tasks) and augment the rest. As such, your team and your company will need to invest in both new technologies and people’s skills. In HR, deployment of AI will open up endless opportunities including in hiring (predictive algorithms are already being used by 55% of HR leaders in the US) or assessing people’s existing skills. Obviously, the use of technology, machine learning and AI, in particular, has its pitfalls, and your company will need to ensure it is used fairly and ethically

#4. Foster a culture that supports data-driven decisions 

What is at stake: By the end of 2023, the big data analytics market will be worth more than $100 billion. What’s more, according to a recent survey of Fortune 1000 companies, 92 percent of businesses are currently increasing investment in data initiatives. Yet most organizations are still not equipped enough to make meaningful use of this data with only 38 percent of workers using real-time data in their day-to-day work. And rather than relying on guesswork, creating a truly employee-centric organization will require decisions that are based on data and facts.

What you can do: The more intricate the world gets, the more important data will become. But while the importance of data is largely acknowledged, what is less so are the obstacles to making your organization and HR more data-driven. The main challenges come from within. Fewer than half of businesses (43 percent) have sufficient skills within their workforce to be data-driven. The problem is largely cultural as less than 30 percent of organizations self-describe as having a “data culture.” As a CHRO, you need to help create an environment in which data literacy will flourish.

#5. Build a purpose-driven organization 

What is at stake: According to Deloitte, by 2025, Millennials will account for 75 percent of the global workforce. But even today, young people are already transforming our workplaces. Because they attach more importance to seeking purpose through work, younger workers wish to work mostly for companies that are impact-driven and prepared to take action to effect change.

What you can do: This means that to tap into the talent of younger generations, you might need to invest more time and effort into aligning your workplace with the needs of young workers. Be it by reviewing your company’s culture to ensure that it reflects your values and values of your younger workers, or by creating an organization where young people can learn through listening, watching and doing (as they’re also more likely to benefit most from working from the office given their limited work experience and professional networks).

#6. Forge a new type of leadership 

What is at stake: In the words of Alan May, Hewlett Packard Chief People Officer, “There was no playbook for how to respond to the pandemic, and there isn’t one for how to recover.” Thus, in these changing times, the qualities of a good leader have never been more important. 

What you can do: The future of work will require a lot less control and a lot more leadership. Leaders will keep their fundamental interpersonal, informational and decisional roles, but will need to complement them by becoming more empathetic and strategic. The role of leaders has changed with the hybrid era of work having given most of us more ownership of our own work. Leadership is now more about facilitating collaboration than oversight and the role of HR will be to improve business leaders’ adaptability to this new reality.

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