For many people, 2020 was the year of many surprising, if not uncomfortable, firsts: from wiping down groceries to working remotely. But in 2021, with the growing availability of vaccines, there’s a sense of relief and optimism.

However, business leaders aren’t breathing a sigh of relief just yet. It’s more vital than ever to have an agile, resilient workforce that can respond quickly to changing markets, customer preferences and the unprecedented.

Human resources (HR) leaders therefore need to continue rethinking how to operationalize and manage business processes, from recruiting to employee collaboration.

Eight Trends Every HR Leader Needs to Know

Our research team of organizational psychologists identified the top eight meta-trends that can inform company strategy and help HR leaders support their people. For the complete insights and recommendations, read “Eight Meta-Trends Impacting Human Resources in 2021.”

1. Rise of the “Hybrid” Workplace

Many organizations learned that remote work is not only possible, it’s profitable. We expect many companies to shift from a fully remote workforce to a hybrid format that combines remote and in-person work settings. But as this happens, the existing cultural divide between corporate and field teams will grow.

HR leaders will need to determine the optimal arrangement that balances employee autonomy, cultural cohesion and productivity. The most successful organizations will integrate HR technology and workforce productivity software, so people can be at their best, wherever they’re working.

2. Employees Will Own Their Learning and Mobility 

While many organizations halted their external hiring during the pandemic, leaders took a closer look at redeploying existing staff to meet changing needs. This highlighted the value of comprehensive and accurate employee capability data. Having this information supports better workforce planning and learning experiences. We anticipate greater emphasis on corporate learning culture and improving the flexibility and experience of online learning.

3. The Purpose-Driven Organization

Consumers and employees are walking away from negative experiences and publicity and seeking out companies whose values align with their own. This year expect organizations to do more to support clear ethics and values. This includes expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts beyond HR policies and practices and into business strategy.

4. A Renewed Emphasis on Holistic Well-Being

The physical well-being of employees and customers gained increasing importance in light of COVID-19. Well-being shifted from a “benefit” to a “business imperative.” But even for those working from home, companies realized they needed to support the mental health of employees who faced unprecedented levels of stress and lack of engagement.  Companies must design well-being into work itself and across the employee life cycle, including financial wellness.

5. HR in the Spotlight

Almost overnight, HR people became leaders in this public health crisis. They went from formulating their businesses’ COVID-19 response to COVID-19 tracking and compliance. Their role will continue if not intensify as “expert advisors” on matters such as requiring vaccinations, handling test results and other practices that affect workforce health and safety.

6. Balancing Data Intelligence with Data Privacy 

New technologies and analytical techniques have helped HR leaders understand the impacts of COVID-19 on productivity, engagement, and more. As leaders leverage intelligent technologies to improve the employee experience, how companies track and protect data should be a high priority. Leaders should understand employee attitudes toward intelligent technologies and focus on use cases that truly help, rather than hinder, the employee experience.

7. Individualizing the Employee Experience 

People are increasingly expecting an easier, personalized digital experience, whether they’re shopping online or submitting their work expenses. The value of investing in the employee experience to achieve better business outcomes was largely proven in 2020 in terms of improving productivity and profitability.

Now, as HR departments are capturing even more employee sentiment data using intelligent technologies, businesses can potentially use this data to curate an individualized, consumer-like employee experience. From our perspective, success going forward will require gaining a deeper, more meaningful and individualized understanding of employee feelings, wants and needs, and then acting on that intelligence in the moment.

8. Agility: From Buzzword to Business Imperative

Today, every business needs a workforce that’s ready to respond to changes in strategy, skill requirements and realigned resources. We advocate for a full overhaul to address agility within HR practices, including tackling rigid foundational structures like role definitions and work-team membership.

Learn More

The past year has drastically altered the expectations of both employees and customers, and the pace of change is sure to accelerate. Understanding what your people need and responding to them will help you bring out the best in everyone.

To learn more, join Dr. Autumn Krauss at SAPPHIRE NOW for
the HR Track session Prioritize These HR Trends Now That the Future of Work Has Arrived, on Wednesday, June 9.

Dr. Autumn Krauss is chief scientist for HR Research for SAP SuccessFactors.