5 future-of-work decisions HR must now address


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HR leaders have been facing ‘tectonic shifts’ over the past year but will need to take difficult decisions on work policies, technology, employment models and diversity to ensure their organisations’ success this year.

Announcing five priority decisions organisations must make this year, Emily Rose McRae, director in Gartner HR practice said: “2021 will be a year of not just recovery, but renewal and acceleration as organisations adopt new business, technology and talent strategies. Given the tectonic shifts of 2020, HR leaders will have to face decisions they must be ready to make in order to set their organisations up for success.”

Among the most critical future-of-work decisions that HR leaders need to make includes identifying the triggers behind revising their organisations’ remote and hybrid workforce strategies. HR leaders must not wait for their existing strategies to become impractical. Gartner said there were two types of workforce triggers – talent and situational.

Talent triggers ensure that business leaders can monitor threats to the organisation’s talent strategy.

With situational triggers, HR leaders identify challenges emerging from strategic decisions, such as having teams in different regions and at one-off locations.

Another urgent task for HR leaders was the need to reduce the necessity for employees to perform tasks onsite, and emerging technologies will play a key role in this.

Robotic process automation (RPA) and immersive technologies – such as virtual and augmented reality – were two categories of technology that would help reduce the need for onsite work, the business consultancy said. RPA addresses barriers to create more efficient workflows; as a result, organisations have turned to this technology as a solution for business recovery and renewal.

Recruitment, compensation, performance management and workforce planning strategies all need to be evaluated to ensure they are in alignment with the organisation’s goals and values, particularly if those shifted during 2020” – Emily Rose McRae, Gartner

With corporate offices now little used but with the vaccine suggesting a slow return may be possible later in the year, organisations, said Gartner, “must decide what their corporate office spaces can offer employees that other spaces cannot”. It also meant deciding “how and when to reduce the organisation’s real estate footprint”.

To make these decisions, HR leaders must understand employees’ emotional needs and identify opportunities where the workplace could meet these needs, the analysis stated. “This would require HR to work with other business leaders to make decisions about the purpose of corporate spaces and how to evolve them – where they were being retained.

Employment model innovations have been a key feature of the response to the pandemic with talent-sharing, reduced hours, the use of gig workers for pilot projects and a greater all round flexibility. HR will need to be involved in whether to continue these models.

Gartner said this was particularly relevant for businesses with a high percentage of older employees in critical roles – offering greater flexibility in not just when employees were working, but how much they work, could help retain employees who otherwise might retire.

The fifth key decision making area concerned diversity, equity and inclusion. 2020 saw many businesses make heightened commitments to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. The fall of Donald Trump followed by the chaos of the Capitol riots may have provided further encouragement along those lines.

A plethora of surveys have produced evidence that workers expect their employer to take a stance on current societal or cultural issues, even if those issues have nothing to do with their employer.

Those demands have only become more urgent during recent protests demanding social equity, with some organisations withdrawing financial support for the Republican Party in the US in the wake of the Capitol storming. “In 2021,” said Gartner, “HR leaders need to evaluate their organisation’s talent strategy to ensure it will meet their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

McRae added: “Recruitment, compensation, performance management and workforce planning strategies all need to be evaluated to ensure they are in alignment with the organisation’s goals and values, particularly if those shifted during 2020.”

Gartner has published its projections in a report entitled 5 Decisions About the Future of Work HR Leaders Must Make in 2021.

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