HR and the future of work: 2021 and beyond


guest column:Emmanuel Zvada

THE year 2020 has been a year unlike any other. COVID-19 has forever left a mark on the way we live and work. Although the pandemic is still there, we need to start preparing for a post-COVID-19 era. In this article, we will reflect on HR trends that we are expecting in 2021 and beyond. The global pandemic has transformed many traditional workplaces into digital one. Things like remote work, flexible work hours, are being integrated into the work experience and upskilling is happening before our eyes. Now, the future of work discussion must shift once again to figure out how to evolve the employee experience further and help humans utilise technology in ways that will drive efficiency and the growth of new skills in organisations.

The biggest crisis of the 21st century has led to unprecedented layoffs, a transition to full-time remote workforces in several countries, and devastating economic uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus many weaknesses or loopholes in the way organisations function. If there is one thing that this crisis taught the business world, it is that agility in leadership, in technology, and in policies, must be the core workplace culture in any organisation. The role of HR will be completely transformed post-COVID-19. How should HR professionals prepare for the future?

The move towards agile organisations
Business agility, also known as organisational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive, flexible and creative in a changing environment. Agile businesses respond quickly to opportunities or threats, whether internal or external. The ongoing COVID-19 socio-economic crisis is forcing business leaders worldwide to take quick action to respond to the pandemic and its effects on their businesses. In fact, if HR learns how to work in an agile fashion it can help organisations in 2021 and in the future to achieve that level of resilience that is now so important in an everchanging world. Agility puts people at the centre of everything that happens and HR has to play a key role in driving this disruption more than ever as agility has to continue. Let us also remember that HR agility should not be temporary like a disclaimer or applied in an emergency, it should be the new norm.

Understanding younger workers
The growing number of employed millennials and generation Z will eventually result in the rise in a younger workforce whose values and career priorities are different from those of the previous generations. Generation Z is about to change the face of the workforce. These new workers don’t remember a world without the internet and smartphones. Younger, digitally-oriented generations in particular view work not as a place where you go, but in terms of what they accomplish with their time hence they can not do without technology. By learning about younger employees’ working style and career values, managers and HR professionals can craft corporate policies that help keep them engaged and happy at the same time benefiting the organisation.

No two ways about data and artificial intelligence (AI)
This is probably one of the biggest trends that will change the shape of HR in future. Despite concerns that AI is going to replace humans, HR will largely benefit from this technology. Big data and technology help to cement and reinforce internal structures of the workforce and ensure employees feel secure and supported during the shift to a digital workplace. It is no secret that businesses that will survive in the near future are the digitally savvy. HR leaders are currently ensuring their workforce is digitally sound by providing training and upskilling where necessary, maintaining clear lines of communication, and ensuring their employees have all the necessary equipment required to excel in their field.

Data analytics will continue to be adopted rapidly in the year ahead. Using analytics, data-driven decisions can be made by HR professionals to attract and retain top talent. The coming year will provide endless possibilities for the use of analytics in identifying trends and patterns on employee absenteeism, leave frequency, turnover rate, engagement level etc. Data analytics will play a prominent role in increasing workforce productivity and engagement as well as improving workforce planning and talent development.

Refocusing their role as corporate strategists
Though the importance of HR professionals in an organisation cannot be underestimated, many experts predict human resources management to assume a more involving role in corporate strategy because most of its roles will be done by AI. An increase in AI and data also entails that HR will focus on other roles that cannot be done using technology. Likewise, HR professionals can expect new human resources jobs or specialisations to develop in the future. Companies may soon have HR data scientists, employee experience specialists and talent acquisition technology etc.

Growing market for HR outsourcing
As HR roles become more complicated, more organisations seek to make their HR departments more efficient. Interestingly, this contributes to a shift towards outsourcing HR functions to professionals with the required expertise. In-house HR departments will be reduced in size due to new software and self-service portals where most employees will be doing everything on their own.