Over the last year, the working world changed like never before with the impact of the pandemic, remote working and several lockdowns being felt by all worldwide.

However, in light of the roll-out of various vaccines, 2021 is set to see HR teams make big decisions about the future of work and what systems must be put in place to accommodate a post-COVID world.

New research by Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, identifies five key work decisions that HR leaders must decide on this year as the effects of COVID-19 continue on.

Triggers for revising workforce strategies

Gartner points out that many HR teams were quick to put workforce strategies into place during 2020, responding quickly to the unprecedented circumstances.

However, the company now states that 2021 is the time for HR teams to review those workforce strategies – in particular, the remote and hybrid working policies.

It is best if this is looked at before the strategies become impractical. The most successful HR leaders will establish triggers well in advance for reviewing and revisiting their organisations’ remote and hybrid workforce strategies. 

These workforce strategies can also be divided into two types – 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.

With triggers in place, this gives HR teams the security that their workforce strategies are working at optimal level, whether talent or situational strategies.

Emerging technologies for onsite employees 

As the pandemic continues, HR leaders will be responsible for looking for opportunities to reduce the necessity for employees to perform tasks onsite.

Emerging technologies such as Robotic process automation (RPA) and immersive technology are likely to reduce the need for workers to be onsite.

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. A survey conducted by Gartner in 2020 revealed that nearly a quarter of senior finance leaders plan to increase investments in RPA as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, immersive technologies will help organisations create new channels for high value digital interaction, experiences that would be otherwise difficult to replicate in a hybrid workforce. HR leaders should also consider how investing in these technologies will impact the demand for new jobs or skill-sets.

Redefining the office space 

Due to the rise of remote working, it is now necessary for HR to decide whether corporate spaces can offer employees what other spaces cannot.

In order to make this judgement, HR leaders must understand employees’ emotional needs and identify opportunities where the workplace can meet these needs.

This requires HR to work with other business leaders to make decisions about the purpose of corporate spaces and how to evolve them, while also determining how and when to reduce the organisation’s real estate footprint.

Employment model innovation

Over the course of the pandemic, some companies have tried various employment models such as setting up formal talent arrangements or bringing in gig workers.

If this is the case, organisations will need to decide  whether to continue using these employment models going forward.

This will be particularly relevant for organisations with a high percentage of older employees in critical roles – offering greater flexibility in not just when employees are working, but how much they work, can help retain employees who otherwise might retire.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) 

In 2020, many organisations made a commitment to DEI as a result of social equity and justice protests worldwide. Additionally, a 2018 Gartner survey revealed that almost three-quarters of employees (74 per cent) expect their employer to take a stance on current cultural or societal issues.

In 2021, it is imperative that HR leaders evaluate their organisation’s talent strategy to ensure it will meet their commitments to DEI.

*Gartner HR clients can learn more in the report “5 Decisions About the Future of Work HR Leaders Must Make in 2021.”