COVID-19 and HR
Human Resources

Putting the Human Back into HR: 2021 Trends, the COVID-19 Silver Lining

17 December 2020



“2020, a year like no other” is a phrase often used to describe this year, and without lessening the impact that COVID-19 has had on all our lives, there has a been a silver lining with some positive outcomes for the workplaces of 2021, where people are at the forefront of every decision. Finally, HR (Human Relations) is focused on the humans.

In my mission to make organisations better by making HR better, these are the 5 positive HR Trends for 2021. In my opinion, organisations need to be aware of these, to ensure you adapt and succeed in a post-COVID era.

Trend 1 – Real Flexibility will be Front and Centre

Working from home was a broadly accepted option for most businesses before the arrival of COVID-19, but some employers still decided not to offer it. Once working from home became the only safe option, many business leaders realised that their staff were not bingeing on Oprah in their pyjamas, but were being highly productive at home, and often achieving far more than what could be done at their desk in the office.

With the rise of remote working, HR departments no matter the size of the company will need to look to implement more flexible working arrangements to factor in the “whole package” of the employee. This means that employers and managers need to be aware of the other parts of their employee’s life that pre COVID-19 rarely encroached during business hours.

This can span from things like the uninvited involvement of pets during an important Zoom call to the need to be mindful that there could be other people working and studying close by during virtual meetings.

One of the biggest impacts of working remotely has been the way we communicate within the workplace. Instead of face-to-face communications, interviews, meetings and presentations are now running on online platforms such as Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams.

This has proven to be effective for the usual everyday work communications, and many organisations have also used virtual communications for more fun and social activities to maintain the workforce morale.

The positive outcomes for implementing real flexibility are well documented and are based on reliable statistics that show greater staff retention, satisfaction and general productivity, as well as company profits that come from real flexibility.

I would advise organisations in 2021 to consider shifting towards a model that uses the benefits of both remote and on-site office working.

Trend 2 – Organisations will Focus More on Employee Emotional Wellbeing Programs

In a report from Fidelity and Business Group on Health (BGH), it highlighted the importance of employees’ emotional and mental health programs as a primary concern for employers in 2020.

During COVID-19 employers saw many of their people face life-changing stresses such as household and childcare responsibilities as well as significant financial burdens. The BGH report stated that 69% of respondents said that working during COVID-19 was the most stressful time of their professional careers – even more than major events like 9/11 and the 2008 Great Recession.

Throughout 2020 I witnessed many businesses reaffirm their employee assistance programs (EAPs) to ensure that there was extra support available to help their employees address the work and personal challenges that have arisen as part of the impact of COVID-19.

This is another positive outcome where HR leaders ramped up EAPs which demonstrates real commitment by organisations to the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Trend 3 – Companies Will Invest More in Reskilling Employees

Advanced and evolving technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), even prior to COVID-19, required employees to learn new skills to stay competitive. Broadening your people’s skill base is always recommended, no matter what level, in order to remain current in today’s workplace, and this applies even more now.

As a result, employers need to ramp up the opportunities for their people to reskill. Not only will they be better prepared for ongoing technological advances, but they will be more resilient during future disruptions.

Trend 4 – The 4-Day Week

Beyond the flexibility that comes with working remotely instead of on-site, employees around the globe could be offered non-traditional working week options like a 9-day fortnight or a 4-day week. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been promoting shorter work weeks to assist key industry sectors like domestic tourism to help them recover in a post COVID-19 world.

There are a number of Nordic countries where the 4-day is encouraged to enable people to have a better work-life balance. In Japan, Microsoft workers participated in a four-day work week trial, their productivity increased by 40%, and employees earned the same amount.

COVID-19 has made us all think about work differently and ask important self-reflective professional and personal questions, as to what is truly important to us, and how can devote more time to those things.

Trend 5 – Companies Will Need to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion to Stay Relevant

The ongoing global health threat has forced us all to become more open to doing things differently and being generally more receptive to try new things especially if it assists to keep us safe.

So never has there been a better time for organisations to really commit to diversity, equality, and inclusion policies and programs – initiatives that will build a healthy workplace culture and an environment that promotes trust and empathy.

I believe that as businesses accelerate the pace of remote working, it is essential that they build a workplace that puts people at the forefront of every decision.

To achieve this, you need genuine employee engagement, which means really listening to ALL of your people and getting THEIR recommendations and diverse perspectives on how best to transition to the new normal.

HR Trends: Post COVID-19 Will Be Different

It is probable that COVID-19 will be a significant part of our lives well into 2021, so we need to learn to live with it. With this in mind, the more your HR embraces the ‘new normal’ and all the things that go with it – the easier it will be for your business to adapt and succeed in a post-COVID era.

If you need some help with the ‘new normal’ in your business, book your free consultation with me here.