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by Cathy Geerts, Chief Human Resources Officer at SD Worx

2020 has placed significant stress on HR departments for businesses across the board. It’s likely, as the crisis continues to remain front and centre, that 2021 will also be a year largely shaped by the impact of the pandemic.

This means that the onus on HR operational efficiency has never been bigger. For 2021, as budgets likely remain restricted, HR teams will be expected to do more with less. With this in mind, here are key predictions for HR in the coming year.

  1. HR will need to fight its corner for digital transformation

Digital transformation for HR ranks low in the pecking order when it comes to business strategy focuses. This is according to research from SD Worx, which found that digital transformation in HR falls to 17th place (out of 19) when it comes to key business priorities.

In addition, SD Worx also found that only 9.4% of UK businesses have implemented a fully automated, digitised and/or integrated HR and payroll process or system. Furthermore, only 36% of HR departments within the country are able to boast of a high level of digital maturity when it comes to HR and payroll.

With growing emphasis on collecting valuable people data, keeping employee wellbeing at a good level and accommodating the needs of a changing workforce, HR teams will need to make strong cases for investment in the right tools and processes in 2021 so that they can boost working efficiency and digital maturity.

  1. Employees will expect digital HR solutions from employers

In 2021, HR teams will need to start supplying digital solutions for employees as a standard. As remote working becomes the norm, the flexibility of being able to use both fixed devices and mobile devices when working is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

In the remit of HR functions, mobile capabilities seem to be lagging behind in the UK. We found at SD Worx that only a quarter of employees can find answers to HR-related questions through digital tools and around a third still have to call on the HR department to get their questions answered. In response to these challenges, 62.3% of employers admit to short-term plans to improve their HR service delivery to staff.

  1. HR will need to offer flexible working as standard

In 2021, having flexible working patterns will be key. SD Worx research found that 70% of UK employers find that managing people’s health and wellbeing has been the biggest challenge during the COVID-19 outbreak.

With this in mind, there needs to be a people-first approach to HR. If you’re caring for a child or elderly relative, you will likely need flexibility coded into your week – reducing hours, working weekends or working in the evenings.

Open communication and sympathy for the challenges people face is critical here – it ultimately boils down to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Office-based businesses actually owe employees a lot with regard to enabling remote working, so there’s a debt of gratitude there.

  1. Executives will be more invested in people analytics

The pandemic has illustrated that people data can tell a compelling story, grab leaders’ attention and more importantly, drive effective and meaningful change. Once that vital information is in their hands, business leaders must use empathy and transparency to help their companies weather the storm.

In 2021, there will be a bigger sense of collaboration between HR and the C-suite on people data and developing strategic insights there. Research from SD Worx found that 74% of UK CEOs say people data was key to enabling strategic decision-making.

At the same time, only 30% of HR leaders say it is relatively easy to gather and provide the people data required by the C-suite. This means having the right tools for people analytics could be a potential reason to promote digital transformation for HR.

  1. There will an increase in audits of HR in terms of training and strategy

Audits will be increasingly important for HR in 2021; facilitating a remote connection between manager and employee, as well as employee to organisation, will be key moving forward to ensure that you don’t have a disconnected and disengaged workforce.

In addition, training programmes for HR will need to be properly reviewed in 2021. The convenience of new HR software will encourage continued uptake with employees – if it’s straightforward and valuable, then it will become a tool people pick up regularly. However, if it’s poorly designed or difficult to use, then it will be cast aside or taken out of the company toolbox. It’s one thing to buy a system, but you need to continue regular utilisation and training in order to enable integration.

What’s on the horizon for 2021

Businesses have squared up to numerous challenges in the past year. For some, they have had to make tough decisions around redundancies from the disruption. Many have reorganised their workforce, placed workers on furlough and pivoted operations to accommodate remote working. On top of this, maintaining morale and taking care of mental wellbeing for fractured workforces has also been a chief priority.

In 2021, businesses will have to think about the ways they are leveraging HR effectively to make employees feel valued. In addition, HR teams will be leaned on more to make proactive strategic decisions for the business, so this will also require additional effort and analytical literacy from HR professionals.

About the Author

Cathy has 20 years of experience in HR. After obtaining a degree in romance languages, she completed her MBA in business management. She also holds a Master’s degree in compensation & benefits and HR from the Vlerick Management School. After developing experience in HR roles in various notable companies, Cathy joined SD Worx in 2014 and now works as the Chief Human Resources Officer

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