The challenges for HR departments this year have been nothing if not rich, varied and pretty difficult for everyone. From dealing with the biggest remote working experiment in history, to tackling new and nuanced issues such as furlough, redundancies and employee engagement amid a global pandemic, HR teams have proven themselves (once again) to be a company’s backbone.

While 2020 continues to throw anything and everything at us, if there’s one thing that has been a constant throughout the year, it’s change – and 2021 will be no different. As we look ahead, it seems inevitable that these changes, particularly in the ways of working that have been accelerated by the pandemic, will play a crucial role in influencing HR teams’ plans and strategies as companies work hard to keep up.

Here are four key themes we expect to see in people teams in the year to come:

A new era for employee experience

We know that 2020 has already forced many companies and workers to rethink what their employee experience means. And amid ongoing disruption and a more permanent shift towards remote working, HR managers will need to ensure they continue to prioritise, be flexible and adapt their employee experience to suit the ever-changing ‘new normal’.

Notably, it’s inevitable that hybrid work is now here to stay beyond just the short term as employers find it hard to justify a full return to the office, or risk losing top talent. This means HR managers will need to use a ‘hybrid first’ lens when rethinking the future employee experience. 

Here, technology will be a game-changer. Whether HR teams implement company surveys or tools to measure experience or engagement, it’s by harnessing their data and analytics that organisations will be able to take a strategic approach to enhancing their employee experience. 

Rewards will be rewritten

Today’s employees and candidates want more than just cash and fun perks around the office. With the pandemic revolutionising the way we work, many businesses will look to adjust the way they recognise and reward workers. This will be critical to ensuring employers remain attractive to a new generation of tech-savvy and socially conscious employees.

In particular, we are likely to see many businesses shift their benefits packages to cater for a workforce that’s increasingly looking for long-term rewards over short-term gain. For instance, this could include home working options that offer real flexibility, increased help for parents and carers, private health care with flexible wellbeing support, or rewards such as stock packages or better pension schemes.  

A shift to equity

This year has put a raw, but much-needed, spotlight on inclusion and diversity and, looking towards 2021, we expect HR teams to put a greater focus on equity – as opposed to equality – in the workplace.

We know that many businesses will benefit from taking a long, hard look at their current setup: what does the data say about the current workforce? What’s lacking? And how are they going to address that moving forwards? They’ll also need to look at all stages of the employee experience, from pay to the interview processes and performance decisions. It’s by digging into this data that managers will be able to uncover and address existing issues.

HR will become more of a strategic partner

The Covid-19 crisis has given HR teams a unique opportunity to demonstrate what they’re best at – helping businesses make strategic decisions when it comes to their greatest asset: people. This year, when HR had to step up and make important decisions, Personio research found that 71 per cent of managers believed that HR added a strategic value to the business during the pandemic.

While many HR teams were already playing an important strategic role, it’s clear the crisis has shone a light on the importance of an effective people strategy for the future. In fact, we found that four in five (80 per cent) HR managers believe it’s important for HR to maintain this more strategic role post pandemic. Again, we expect to see HR teams embracing more technology and automated HR processes that free them up to focus on their people strategy. 

In 2021, adapting to the new world of work will be one of HR’s biggest challenges. But by harnessing data, focusing on the valuable, strategic role HR can play and ensuring their employee experience lives up to evolving needs and expectations, businesses can ensure they remain flexible and attract and retain the people who will help them succeed – whatever next year has to throw at them.

Ross Seychell is chief people officer at Personio.

This article was originally published on People Management magazine. View original article here.

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