With the events of the past year, workplaces need to fundamentally rethink how they operate in 2021. But indiscriminately lurching from one change to another will do far more harm than good. So we need to pinpoint what specifically needs to change and look at the future of work with a discerning eye.
That’s why I reached out to four prominent HR experts who revealed the key changes workplaces need to make in 2021 and beyond.
Vadim identified one of the most pressing challenges facing organizations in 2021 and beyond, and it’s an overreliance on making a business case.
“HR should help co-workers facilitate better relationships at work,” he says. “Business is all about relationships, and fundamentally, we bond as human beings at work. The more that HR can encourage conversation and create an environment for developing relationships that aren’t just about KPIs, the more organizations will succeed. We’re often hamstrung by the mindset that there needs to be a business case for HR and people issues. While business cases are important, last year made abundantly clear that there are issues for which it’s not always easy to make a business case. Never mind that if a company needs to make a business case to hire for diversity, they’ve got much bigger problems than hiring for diversity.”
While there isn’t an easy answer, HR and other leaders who care about people and doing the right thing need to persevere. Vadim told me pointedly that, “We can’t give up, or become complacent, on doing what’s right. When you’re complacent, you can become complicit. HR leaders and others need to challenge other leaders in their organization and build alliances to create change that’s good for employees. And that will typically be good for your organization as well.”
As we ended our conversation, Vadim offered an insight that I hope influences every conversation that we have about the future of work. “Stop saying we need to do this ‘now more than ever.’ This implies that the issue we’re discussing was less important before. And it also implies that this issue will be less important in the future. But the issues that companies need to address, like relationships, diversity, and more, are not issues that were less important in the past, nor will they be less important in the future. We’re at a moment in history when the need for these issues has been highlighted, but they were, and will always be, important.
John Sumser is the Principal Analyst at HRExaminer, an independent analyst firm covering HR Technology and the intersection of people, tech, and work.
John identified that one of the major challenges HR needs to address in order to evolve in 2021 and beyond, saying, “The people in HR are absolutely buried right now. In the crises of this past year, HR became the focal point for solving myriad problems. And for many HR leaders, it’s a frantic struggle to keep on top of basic issues and just keep the business going.”
If we don’t overcome these challenges, we’re going to fall far behind in addressing the serious future issues facing all leaders, and HR in particular. Given the ever-increasing influence of AI in managing and evaluating current and potential employees, John identified a glaring need for ethical oversight. “To succeed in 2021 and beyond, the first thing that we need is robust ethical oversight. Think about vaccination passports, for example. If that’s our gateway to getting in and out of the company, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of data collected about a very large number of people. And we have not historically had the kind of oversight necessary to effectively monitor, control and safeguard that.”
Going further, he notes that, “While we need a different kind of oversight to address all of the health and safety data we’re gathering, there’s also the issue of the preponderance of algorithms that are embedded in HR systems. And those need to be identified, inventoried and effectively overseen.”
Sharlyn Lauby writes the human resources blog HR Bartender (named one of the “Top 5 Blogs HR Pros Love to Read” by the Society for Human Resource Management).
When I asked Sharlyn to describe the biggest changes that HR needs to make in 2021, she noted that, “Organizations are very focused on economic recovery and they will be looking for HR to help them through the journey. Because it means hiring, engaging, and retaining the best talent. HR departments will want to have a workforce plan that’s going to help the organization be successful.”
Of course, this is going to require a willingness to change and unstick ourselves from previous ways of working. “I believe on some level that we’re all looking forward to our personal and professional lives getting back to normal – meaning a pre-pandemic normal,” she told me. “I’m not completely sure that’s going to happen. And if it does, it’s going to take a long while. I hope that organizations and individuals are ready to bid a fond farewell to some processes/guidelines/norms and embrace new ways of doing things.”
Laurie Ruettimann is the author of the new book “Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career” and host of the Punk Rock HR Podcast.
When I asked Laurie how companies can start transforming the workplace to better meet the demands of the future, she offered an elegantly simple idea. “You start with the small stuff to nail the big stuff. For example, in HR, you don’t reconfigure your benefits package in totality. Instead, you understand what’s happening in smaller moments, like when employees receive their statement of benefits. You need to understand the small moments to successfully address the big moments. We don’t have to tackle every part of the country’s partisan divide, but we can start to tackle why people use specific words or why they’re hostile to certain individuals at work. We can start to have more honest conversations. If we can achieve success in the small moments, we’re far better positioned to nail those big moments.”
Laurie also would have us think about this a bit more personally. “You should want to have communication with respect and dignity because you’re a human being. If you’re the CEO or the top HR executive, you’re also a worker and a human being. If you tackle some of the deep communication problems for yourself, you will have great downstream effects for everyone in the organization. Communication is the challenge of our lifetime. And thinking about the future of the workplace, how we communicate with one another will have a tremendous impact on remote work, building a great culture, and even growing the company.”