When we were considering our key HR insights this time last year, we were focused on a world where Brexit was likely to have a significant impact, the paperless office seemed closer than ever, and virtual reality (VR) technology and artificial intelligence (AI) were set to revolutionise business. All these insights remain relevant, but last January we would never have thought that 2020 would turn out the way it has.
This year, we are looking ahead to a very different world for business. In this article, we outline five key insights for your HR team to keep in mind in 2021 – a year that is all about the people in our organisations.
- Retrain to Retain
At the beginning of last year, we were talking a lot about how technology was changing the way that modern businesses operate. But as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit businesses, the resulting job losses have seen businesses shift to automation faster than anticipated in some sectors, such as manufacturing.
In essence, this shift is about survival – as industry activity has fallen away, companies have had to make difficult decisions to ensure that there is still a company left to manage. But the input of HR professionals could make a major difference to how these difficult decisions are made. If existing employees, with years of industry know-how and expertise, can be retrained into roles that complement the need for greater automation – perhaps into roles that require specific types of technological expertise – then maybe HR can lead the way towards retaining expertise and minimising redundancies.
- Remote Working (Is Here to Stay)
Remote working has been a HR focus for some time – and businesses have long been enthusiastic about making life easier for their employees by offering them greater flexibility around their day-to-day lives.
However, the universal shift towards home working has become a necessity rather than a choice for many organisations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many people love the flexibility of working from home, the long-term requirement to be at home has made life difficult for some, whether they are juggling home schooling, making time for additional caring responsibilities, or having to turn a bedroom into a reasonable-looking office.
The key is to ensure that employees have both the IT support and the digital expertise they need, which may require some basic training. Sometimes a few simple tips and tricks to make better use of a service such as Zoom or communication channels like Slack or Microsoft Teams are all that someone needs to feel empowered and communicate like a pro.
- Trust and Employee Engagement
2020 has changed the way we relate to our colleagues – increasingly, we are ‘meeting’ them virtually from our home offices – and real life has inevitably intruded at times (more than one story of a child or pet wandering into the frame made the news last year!).
But with greater physical distance comes a greater risk of disengaging from the people we usually see every workday: in the staff kitchen, in the team meeting or when we go out to lunch. Those friendly connections can be maintained via services such as Zoom, Slack or Teams, but it is not quite the same.
If employees are part of a team or work closely with others, it minimises the risk that they will disengage from the people they work with: they will connect to them most days, and their team leaders will be aware of their needs and any bottlenecks in workflow. But most importantly, if they continue to connect as a well-functioning team, they will be better able to maintain the trust that has built over time. When we cannot be accountable in person, effective teamwork is based on a foundation of trust in the people we rely on to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and therefore trust and engagement are inextricably linked.
- Employee Wellbeing
If you are only focused on the bottom line (which has certainly been challenged by 2020 events), you could miss seeing your employees’ struggles, which may range from feeling undervalued to being overwhelmed.
Again, connection and communication are key – and simplicity is effective here too. Show your employees that you understand what they are going through. Aim to offer them support through employee assistance programmes, encourage professional development through training and progression opportunities, and look out for signs of stress and burnout. If your employees are building up too much annual leave, they may need a reminder to take a much-needed day off!
- Diversity and Leadership
In a year in which diversity issues have taken centre stage, businesses from all sectors are increasingly aware of their shortcomings when it comes to employee diversity. Gender pay gaps continue to exist in the UK, though these are improving; however, women and people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds continue to be under-represented in management and leadership roles.
As 2021 goes on, we expect that diversity, equity and inclusion will be essential areas for business investment and growth as employers look to nurture the leadership potential of a more diverse group of future leaders.
It is hard to know where we will be in a year’s time, but we hope these insights offer a little guidance as you start to make plans for the year ahead. With a clear focus on supporting, training and championing your valued employees, we are sure your team will go from strength to strength this year.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help you with your organisation’s language learning, training and development needs, please do get in touch.