Cornerstone OnDemand: Six EMEA HR trends for 2021

By Geoffroy De Lestrange, International Product Marketing & Communication Director at Cornerstone OnDemand
Geoffroy De Lestrange, International Product Marketing & Communication Director at Cornerstone OnDemand discusses the top six EMEA HR trends 2021...

This year has been anything but predictable. Months have gone by with many working from home, on the Government furlough scheme or struggling to find employment due to the global pandemic. For HR, this year has been particularly difficult. The complete move from in-person to online training and onboarding, ensuring people are safe and technologically equipped for work and of course, checking on employees’ wellbeing in these troubling times – and that is just the start. But whilst there have been challenges, HR has played a key role in business continuity and will continue to work closely with leadership on strategic people management decisions.      

While this year could not have been predicted, we have a pretty clear understanding of what the next one holds in store. It is likely we will be living under some form of restriction from the pandemic until at least early summer 2021. A lot of people will not return to the workplace for a while, some not at all. Either way, here are five of the most important 2021 trends that HR teams should be aware of.

Care: Putting your people first

Until a Covid-19 vaccine is made publicly and widely available – which likely will not be any time before summer 2021– organisations must continue to take care of employees during these stressful and uncertain times. Liggy Webb, award-winning and bestselling author, recently said: “Fear, anxiety and even anger are rife and heightened stress could potentially have a damaging impact on people’s mental health and this is an increasing concern. Living in the land of uncertainty can be very difficult and a lack of control can be frustrating, even frightening.”

Supporting and caring for your people is going to be more important than ever before. Even once the pandemic is over, we must not return to normal – care should remain front and centre of all HR plans and initiatives. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that our people are more than just our employees. They guarantee the smooth operation of the business and without them, things simply fail to run. Regardless of the situation, people must feel psychologically safe, cared for by their employers and be able to speak up and feel listened to.

Additionally, we must start to look at how we can be fair to all workers, not just those working from home. Those have saved around two hours a day travelling and are able to do things they wouldn’t be able to ordinarily, such as take in packages during the week or scheduling a plumber to fix a leaky pipe. For those unable to work from home and on furlough, eventually returning to the workplace (for the long haul) means returning to scheduling life around work and a healthy balance is much harder to achieve. Organisations must find ways to ensure a healthy work-life balance for all employees. A way to achieve this could be offering flexible working hours or offering days off during the week for people to take care of life admin tasks.

Zero tolerance for lack of transparency

Through the pandemic, following the news has become a daily ritual and many of us began to scrutinise how the Government reacted to the crisis. Transparency from these leaders aided in encouraging people to follow the isolation rules, take safety precautions, and avoided country-wide panic. Where information was clear and there was transparency, people felt more certain in such uncertain times.

Beyond judging how the Government tackled the crisis, many began to judge how their own organisations reacted too. Most companies have faced some form of cut back, from putting staff on furlough or reduced hours, to letting some of their people go. For those on furlough or reduced hours, transparent communication has been crucial to help them understand what is expected of them and the reality of the future of their role.

In a global crisis, transparency is more than simply communicating changes – it is enabling people to access the information they want and need, not just what the business thinks should be available. This could be anything from allowing people to see how many others are on reduced hours or complete transparency with how well the business is performing and how much it has been affected financially. Crisis or not, transparency is now expected – and it will continue to be moving forward. Long gone are the days where employers and employees operate at different levels – organisations will need a more open approach to communication, focusing on ensuring all of their people have access to the same information at all times. And importantly, care must coexist with transparency, so that there’s mutual trust.  

Pragmatic transformation and innovation

One of the benefits businesses have seen through the pandemic has been the push for digital innovation. For some, moving all job roles and operations online was a mammoth task but was turned around incredibly quickly to meet changing needs – digital transformation happened, and it happened fast. In 2021, digitisation will have a very different feel.

On the one hand, organisations will be increasingly cautious. The effects of the pandemic are not over, and financial losses are still on the cards. Budgets will not be the same, and investments in technology and software may not be at the top of everyone’s agenda. The focus for leaders will shift to looking primarily at KPIs and ROI when making any investments. Sometimes it can be easier to secure buy-in with influence from external and impartial parties, such as reports like the Forrester Total Economic Report.

By contrast, organisations will likely be more open to change. Change has already happened and despite it being much faster with more instantaneous impact, organisations now know and understand the benefits it can bring. Still, any intention to implement change will need to be business-orientated and measured from the get-go to gain internal sign-off. 

Faster skills

The pandemic has had a huge impact on jobs. In some cases, the functions and responsibilities have changed dramatically, in others, the jobs may no longer exist. As we continue into another year of pandemic restrictions, certain skills will start to become obsolete. The average person’s skills have a shelf life of roughly 5 years, but with the pandemic pushing innovation, this time frame could become even shorter than expected. In fact, people are already feeling the strain of needing to learn new skills, as recent research shows that 30% of people are concerned that their job won’t be needed in the next few years and over three-quarters are worrying about how their role will change in the future due to the crisis.

Whilst the lockdowns and restrictions won’t last forever, when we do go back to some sense of normality, things will be incredibly different. Numerous organisations have made huge leaps and bounds with innovating and futureproofing their services. Restaurants are a brilliant example of this – previously, many were strictly dine-in, but to adapt, several took to sites like Deliveroo, or even created their own delivery services. Some took this a step further, with local bakeries selling their flour stocks as supermarkets saw massive shortages in essential items. This adaptability comes from organisations upskilling and reskilling to foster more innovative and creative thinking – something we will likely see a lot more of in the coming year.

TikTok-like Content for Professional Training

How we consume content in our personal lives is always evolving, and why shouldn’t we have the same expectations for learning and development content? Heading into next year, organisations must continue to adapt learning content and transform libraries to accommodate changing demands. There’s been a big drive this year to turn everything virtual, and this is the perfect opportunity to think whether content would be better off as short-form video, bite-sized ‘learning boosters’ in a social media format, or quick quizzes. We’re seeing a rise of ‘edutain’ content – which both educates and entertains – and ultimately helps people retain information.  

Content must be as diverse as our workforce!

Facing the inevitability of deglobalisation

While we may all feel more connected to our partners across the seas right now due to the rise in collaboration tools, this is likely to change in the next year. We’ve already started to see changes to technology and legislation – some Chinese technology isn’t compatible globally, the Huawei ban in the UK, and new GDPR rules which imposes strict data privacy rules for companies doing business in Europe. There is a growing trend for organisations to work at a more local level. Coronavirus has had a huge impact on the global supply chain already, and this has encouraged a movement from global to in-house.

By moving operations within production from foreign to local factories, HR will have several obstacles to overcome. This change will mean there will be a need to hire people to take on local roles– meaning a lot of recruiting and onboarding. These new hires will need an extensive amount of training, as it is often expected to have had experience in a similar role – something almost impossible as these roles have been primarily carried out overseas, causing a potential skills gap. To further help fill this, organisations will likely look inwards. Recent research revealed that over half of business leaders anticipate developing internal talent as the primary means of filling the organisation’s skills gaps over the next few years. But more than just hiring and equipping new people for new roles, it will fall on organisations to understand not only the jobs that were previously elsewhere, but how they were carried out and the undefined practices – the unwritten rules within the workplace that build the working culture.

2021 already has a host of challenges ready for us, but it also holds a lot of opportunity. If we work together to beat the pandemic, the next year could be a truly interesting time for businesses. Returning to the way things were before is something that we should actively avoid – we must innovate, learn from what has happened and come out of this crisis stronger and more prepared for the future. Above all else, care must be at the centre of all we do, and people must become the main focus if we truly want to prosper. 

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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