'Redefining everything': HR trends in 2021 and beyond

HRD talks to Summit presenters Anoop Chaudhuri, Kellie Egan and James Bell

'Redefining everything': HR trends in 2021 and beyond

It’s hard to overstate the responsibility borne by HR professionals in the new age of work. Moving beyond the pandemic, many Australian organisations are embracing the hybrid work model after seeing productivity increases and independence become a “make-or-break” factor in employee retention.  

To lead their colleagues into the future, HR professionals must once again adapt to a new paradigm of workplace relations.  

Pinpointing the right mix of face-to-face collaboration and independence is difficult enough; add to that the challenges of remote recruitment, accountability and culture, and it’s clear that 2021 and beyond will be a rocky road to navigate. But Anoop Chaudhuri, Vice President of Human Resources at Ford Australia, urges HR leaders not to lose track of what he terms a “window of opportunity”. 

A game plan for the year to come 

“Create the space in your organisation for the evolution of work to play out, whether that’s through a mix of formal forums, conversations, surveys, programs, or whatever works for your business,” says Chaudhuri. If you’re eyeing a shift to hybrid work, this can be an opportunity to tease out the boundaries of digital and face-to-face collaboration. Trial remote brainstorming sessions, and then see how these stack up against those held in-office.  

“At Ford, one thing we’ve done is set up a regular live podcast, and that’s really helped us open up conversation and share ideas and perspectives,” Chaudhuri adds. “Everyone needs to be part of the evolution-of-work conversation and be involved in determining the direction you head in.”  

For those HR professionals who work on the recruitment side of the business, it’s also important to be aware of how digital transformation has shaped employment markets and candidate prospects. Kellie Egan, CPO at Marketplacer, says some of the more notable upticks include industries that tie into the transition.  

“As software continues to grow and be the fastest-growing industry, developers and designers will continue to be hot jobs going forward,” she says, adding that the transition may also boost employment prospects in other industries that might not spring to mind immediately. “I think roles related to mental health, wellbeing, psychologists and the like will also be in demand,” she says.  

What are employees looking for in the year to come? 

On this, the evidence is clear-cut – employees value flexibility. In a study commissioned by HRD and carried out by analytics firm Qualtrics, 53% of respondents said a long-term remote work policy would convince them to stay with their current employer. As many as 80% said they would value the opportunity to relocate with their employer – and one in 10 even said they would hand in their notice if forced back to the office full-time.  

That’s because the pandemic has triggered a sea change in the way people approach their family lives, work-life balance and career ambitions. With output increased and the average worker putting in an extra 48 minutes per day, it’s not because workers aren’t engaged – in fact, it’s the polar opposite. James Bell, Head of People and Performance at Peters Ice Cream, tells HRD that, in 2021, employees are looking for “work that resonates with them”.  

Egan adds that, after widespread consultation among its own workforce, Marketplacer has also identified that employees prioritise: 

  • clarity, empathy, care and support to work through the “massive shifts in society and the world today” 
  • belonging and the opportunity to be heard 
  • provision of an environment where they can thrive and be their best 

It all comes back to employee engagement – which, after all, sits at the core of the HR function. The more direct that engagement is, the better. “Both because of the uncertainty in the world right now and because many organisations will be transforming so rapidly, HR needs to be there to support every employee and to recognise that each will have different needs,” says Chaudhuri. “That’s not easy to do, but by engaging with your leads, teams and individual employees and having open conversations you create an environment where you can identify the need for different kinds of support and offer it.” 

What are the three big challenges HR leaders are facing in 2021? 

From his own research, Chaudhuri has identified a number of hurdles the broader HR industry will have to overcome in 2021. The first, he says, lies in “not missing the window of opportunity the pandemic has presented in redefining everything about work”. 

There’s scope to change the way employees interact with their teams, leaders and company, which brings Chaudhuri to his second point. HR personnel might face challenges in “co-creating a new language”, he says, “to manage the increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous [VUCA] world”. Change communication, once a buzzword reserved for those in public relations, is now a key cross-organisational concept – one that will define how companies adapt and thrive in a world of constant flux.  

Chaudhuri’s final prediction for 2021 is that HR teams may find challenges in “developing a values/principles-based narrative to balance the competing needs of all the stakeholders (employees, teams, leaders, organisations, community, customers, etc.)”. 

What will HR look like in 2025? 

Beyond the near term, HR analysts are touting software as the driving force that will shape the industry in the years to come. “I believe the function of HR will depend heavily on software to deliver on many of the activities we are accountable for,” says Egan. Examples – which she says can “scale faster and better than an HR team can” – include wellbeing programs, communications tools and talent analytics.  

Automation might well free up time for HR professionals, allowing them to spend more time on the people-focused aspects of the business. In other industries, that would equate to job cuts at the entry-level end of the business – but Egan remains optimistic about the future of HR.  

“As we continue to see more companies with hybrid and/or remote teams,” she says, “this presents a great opportunity for HR to lead our way into the future and by 2025 be the leaders in how teams work successfully on a global and remote basis.” 

“Future-of-work thought leadership, research and design should all be driven through HR.” 

Want to hear more? 

Join Egan, Chaudhuri and Bell at the HR Summit Melbourne on 14 July – as well as a host of other expert speakers and your HR peers. It's your chance to reconnect with the industry after a year of turmoil – and, more importantly, prepare for the future. Find out more here.

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