2020 has been a watershed moment for all industries. With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to impact businesses of all shapes and sizes, most companies are grappling with widespread changes to managing their workforces with a high proportion working remotely to at least some degree for over half a year now.

With various vaccines underway and more in the pipeline, there indeed seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the business community.

However, change will not happen overnight – and many of the fundamental shifts accelerated within the modern workforce over recent months are not going anywhere, even as we look to a post-COVID-19 existence going forward.

Research has found that 71 per cent of managers have committed to offering remote work for the foreseeable future, highlighting that many of our new working patterns are undoubtedly here to stay.

HR professionals play a key role

In many ways, the HR sector has been at the very forefront of the rapid changes witnessed in this new working world.

HR personnel have played an essential role across many areas and will continue to be integral to the efficient functioning of successful businesses going into 2021 and beyond.

For example, they have supported with evolving talent acquisition and employee wellbeing strategies, updating and implementing health and safety policies, managing and maintaining office environments, and optimising hybrid work practices, during what has been a highly volatile period for many businesses.

Opportunities to enable business recovery

While the economy is reportedly not going to return to pre-Covid levels until 2022, it is not all doom and gloom.

Even during these times, there are signs that businesses are still hiring across many areas. Three quarters of companies recently surveyed had hired and/or onboarded new staff remotely during the first national lockdown. In addition, 88 per cent of companies plan to hire new staff, full-time or temporary contracts, before the end of December 2020.

As the future of work continues to evolve, the ability to successfully implement and manage hybrid working environments will be a key area of growth. Companies are undergoing business and digital transformations at a quicker pace than ever before – and HR, talent acquisition and office support personnel who can enable this will be needed in greater numbers.

There will be opportunities ahead for those who can best support companies navigating this new normal. While HR professionals might be required to facilitate redundancies in some areas, importantly they are also essential for sourcing and onboarding new talent as companies pivot both their product and service offerings, as well as their associated staffing strategies.

Talented HR personnel and specialists will be fundamental to enabling business recovery.

Attracting technical specialist skills for the future

As firms reflect on learnings from 2020 and look to 2021, many are quite rightly pivoting their strategies over the longer term in light of the impact of COVID-19, with a major focus on how to come out of this crisis stronger. Companies will need to be agile and resilient in responding to the challenges ongoing uncertainty presents in 2021 and adapt their strategies accordingly.

For lots of businesses this analysis has uncovered gaps where technical skillsets are needed to build back better and stronger.

HR professionals who can help companies identify and attract talent in key areas where there are skills shortages will be incredibly sought after, both for 100 per cent remote work and hybrid home/office environments.

As Covid-19 has fundamentally altered workforces, demand for specialist employees working in areas such as technology, analytics, accounting/financial management and logistics are all on the rise.

Wellbeing focus on the rise

As well as these technical skills, in the current climate, employee wellbeing strategies have moved even higher up the agenda for businesses. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but an essential element of employee attraction and retention.

In what has been one of the most difficult years of many people’s lives, businesses are increasingly coming under the microscope over how they are supporting employees’ mental health, happiness and personal development.

Working in lockdown has put the spotlight on work-life balance in a whole new way, as lines have become increasingly blurred when working from home. As such, HR professionals who have experience in best managing these challenges will be in significant demand in the months and years to come.

‘Soft skills’ for the future

In a challenging environment for many businesses, ‘soft skills’ are needed now more than ever before.

Two fifths of executives have said that ‘soft skills’ will be key to dealing with ongoing Covid-19 uncertainty. This is not just about being agile, but also being a creative thinker, an effective communicator, a strategic thinker and with strong leadership skills.

As companies continue to comprehend the future of work and how to best manage the recovery with a continued remote workforce for many, HR professionals who can best leverage their skills in tackling these challenges will be at the very forefront of these changes.

Going into 2021, the most sought after HR professionals will be those with the optimal combination of technical and ‘soft’ skills needed to both identify business and operational shifts and successfully collaborate with others in their implementation over the challenging weeks and months ahead.