HR’s reason to be optimistic about 2021

2021 has started as much of 2020 played out; schools shut, shops closed. Stay at home. Save lives.

It’s now all depressingly familiar. But one thing we’ve got on our side this time is experience. The sense of panic many of us felt in March 2020 has been replaced by grim resolve. We know what to expect.

The most pronounced impact right now is on working parents, the closure of schools adding significant disruption to an already fraught wellbeing situation. The flexible approaches many employers took over the recent summer need to be revisited, and line managers should, once again, be on high alert to indications that individuals within their team are struggling to cope with this new situation.

We’re all tired. But we got through the first two lockdowns and we’ll get through this one too. Psychologists advise that proactively practicing optimism has a significant positive impact on mental health.

So in the spirit of that advice, here’s our January 2021 rundown of positivity:

The technology works!

The mad scramble for laptops, decent home internet connections, video conferencing platform licenses and remote working policies that characterised spring 2020 will never be repeated – thank goodness!

Nobody could have fully anticipated what was to come, but those organisations with existing cloud-based technology were better able to adapt to the new reality.

A report from the Cloud Industry Forum found that 91% of IT and business decision-makers viewed cloud technology as an important part of their surviving the pandemic, with 40% describing it as ‘critical’. That mirrors our experience, where customers have used our HR & Payroll solution to deliver processes like onboarding, performance management and Payroll from the safe comfort of their own homes.

And as more organisations have rushed to the cloud during 2020, the gigantic home working experiment has proved largely successful.

Flexibility is here to stay

The reduction of non-essential meetings and travel, the increased schedule flexibility and more time at home with family means employees are, on the whole, reluctant to return to the traditional nine to five.

Which is okay, because the numbers say home working works. In July, nine out of 10 companies surveyed by the American asset management firm Mercer said that remote working had either no effect or a positive effect on productivity levels. Provided we as employers can support an employee experience that leverages the work life balance benefits of more flexible working, this is a trend that will resonate in the workplace for many years to come.

According to recent data from McKinsey (this is an interesting report and worth a read), almost half of UK employees could adopt a hybrid return to the workplace, where employees mix their time between office and home, with no impact on productivity.

For recruiting HR managers, this opens up a world of new possibility where talent pools become significantly wider and the raft of flexibility options available for attracting candidates are considerably enhanced.

A renewed focus on talent

Recent reports indicate that a key takeaway from the last 18 months is likely to be investment in people, which is great news given the high levels of uncertainty we have seen in the past 10 months.

Societal changes in how and where we work, employees no longer as tied down by location - combined with a turbulent year where many will have adjusted their belief around what is really important - will have a knock-on impact on the mobility of those employees.

This is a drum that many HR leaders have been banging for some time, so September’s Deloitte CFO Insights survey highlighting ‘retention of key talent’ among its most pressing CFO concerns should be encouraging for those who have long argued for treating employees as people rather than assets.

HR is front and centre on strategy

The pandemic thrust people issues onto the boardroom table like never before and 2020 was the year HR needed to step up. And it did. As the leaders on issues like wellbeing, employee experience and engagement, HR’s traditional skills have proved resoundingly relevant to recent challenges.

As a result, the profession has forged a greater strategic role for itself. In October, research from the HRD Pathfinder Club showed that 47% of HR Directors reported an improved working relationship with their CEO as a result of the pandemic (interestingly, where the relationship had deteriorated, it was largely due to the CEO’s insistence that employees return to the workplace).

Better times are coming

We still have tough weeks and months to navigate, but it would be remiss for us not to point out the obvious. As we write this, more mass vaccination centres are coming online in the UK, with many more imminently down the pipeline.

Keep going everyone. We’ve nearly done it.

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