HR Trends for 2021

Business 11th January 2021

2020 may be a year you’ll wish to forget – and you don’t need me to explain the reasons. But just hold on a minute! Maybe it’s up to us to make 2020 a year to remember … for the sake of our businesses and our people.

The past ten months have given us plenty of time to reflect and analyse. Perhaps 2021 will be the year of action – a year to work towards a post-COVID world. So, let’s look at 8 HR trends for the months ahead. They might not all be especially new or revolutionary, but they are areas which the pandemic has thrust right to the forefront of business consciousness.

To jump straight down to each one, click on the link

1. Home – the new office  

2. HR – a re-think

3. Re-assessing the employee experience

4. Adapting through upskilling

5. HR – an ever-more critical role

6. Digitisation and automation

7. Job crafting – keeping things personal

8. Purpose-driven organisations

1. Home – the new office

Almost overnight, back in March, there came the seismic shift, for thousands of companies, of all sizes, to shift to remote work for much of their workforces.

Admittedly, working from home was already becoming an increasingly common occurrence, even if in rather a piecemeal way. But now, thanks to COVID-19, many companies have been forced into the new practice. They’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work. Now’s the time to think about the pros and cons of adopting remote working as part of your business.

Remote working will, from now on, be a regular feature for many businesses. The question we all need to ask during 2021 is – how much will it feature in our business?

We’ve written several blogs about the benefits and the potential pitfalls of remote working. Here are just a handful:

Remote Working Grievances and Disciplinaries

Does More Zoom Mean More Zzzzzz?

Is Remote Working Always the Answer? 

2. HR – a re-think

Remote working isn’t the only working practice that you’ll be looking at during 2021.

Almost every element of HR activity needs to undergo a re-think. Recruitment, onboarding, performance management – these have always relied upon physical one-to-one conversations. HR now needs to reinvent current practices to deal with these situations in the digital realm.

For managers, it’s harder to monitor employees when they’re working from home. How are you to keep a finger on the pulse of your workforce? In one of last year’s blogs, we looked at the opportunities and the morality of Employee Monitoring Software.

What about how we structure our organisations? There’s no longer a watercooler to gather round. So, what happens to spontaneous employee interactions – and the collaboration, creativity, and innovation they result in? If we’re to avoid all our Zoom calls and Teams meetings from becoming dismally, one-dimensionally functional, and task-oriented, shouldn’t we be looking at ways of encouraging remote social interactions? Should we be looking at –

– online tools to foster a culture of togetherness

– virtual happy hours replacing after-work socialising

– regular departmental check-ins

– a variety of virtual, structured experiences to stimulate that vital employee camaraderie

3. Re-assessing the employee experience

Remember the world of HR, pre-COVID? Your new employee turns up for onboarding – maybe a day or two before their first official day’s work. They are, of course, nervous, yet eager to impress. They’re with you to meet their new team. They are greeted with flowers and cake, and perhaps a shiny new laptop. Every effort is made to make the new employee welcome – maybe culminating in the whole team going out for lunch!

But now let’s fast forward to the current situation. Everything is online. Would your new employee be able to connect in the same way with their new colleagues?

Your HR challenge is to re-think the entire employee journey. From onboarding to work-life balance, wellbeing, connection, and collaboration – all these will be crucial, both for employee satisfaction and for all-round satisfactory business outcomes. 

Just as one example, your new employee could use Zoom or Teams for virtual job shadowing. Perhaps you could design a rotating online buddy system – helping people to connect and stay engaged. You need to do whatever it takes to make employees feel they’re not simply working in a vacuum, alone at their desk, but are part of a friendly, collaborative, productive team.

4. Adapting through upskilling

With so much pressure to re-assess working practices, it can be tempting to go recruit-crazy, spending excessive chunks of valuable budget on recruiting new people to implement innovative structures and processes.

So often you’ll find that, instead of forever searching for new talent, it’s far more efficient and cost-effective to upskill your current team, ensuring they have the expertise to secure success in a changing future.

Check out our blog from several months ago where we looked at the benefits of upskilling versus recruitment.

5. HR – an ever-more critical role

While 2020 has witnessed a massive shift in the way businesses operate, it has also posed significant personal difficulty to workers all over the world.

Employees are worried about their health and that of their loved ones, nervous about the security of their jobs, concerned with juggling young children and partners at home while trying to get their work done and dealing with a host of other pandemic-indued stresses.

And of course, management and leadership are concerned too. There will be uncertainty around adapting and restructuring the business to the new environment. Such uncertainty brings its own pressures. How to implement the changes, how to adapt them to your company vision and values, how to communicate them.

In the midst of all this change, companies naturally turn to HR for the answers – and so they should.

For the past ten months, HR has been on the frontline and will be for the foreseeable future – supporting employees, managing their concerns and questions of their employees and focusing on their all-round wellbeing. 

6. Digitisation and automation

Two related question for you –

1. Does your HR function still use reams of paperwork? Then it should be digitised.

2. Is any of your HR work repetitive? Then it should be automated.

As with any accountancy function, digitisation and automation are now a must, if your organisation is to operate at maximum efficiency.

7. Job Crafting – keeping things personal

The shift we saw in 2020 in the way employees work inevitably leads to employees creating their own optimal work environment. The more that people work from home, the more they’ll want to create their own space – their own way of doing things. Some may wish to work out their own working hours. Some may wish to make room for social Zoom calls with colleagues every day. For others, once a week may suffice.

When it comes to the actual work your employees carry out, they may wish to develop their own processes and practices. This is increasingly known as job-crafting.

Job crafting is aimed at improving people’s jobs for the benefit of both the employee and the organisation. It enables employees to adapt their work in five different ways – tasks, skills, purpose, relations, and wellbeing. Clearly, job crafting needs to be structured and developed in collaboration with colleagues and management.

Nonetheless, giving employees room to take ownership of their role will be essential for job satisfaction and productivity during 2021 and beyond, boosting both employee success and that of their organisation.

8. Purpose-driven organisations

Back to working from home. Although the practice seems to be here to stay, many employers fear a consequent drop in productivity and commitment. According to PwC, 79% of business leaders believe that purpose is the key to success. Ensuring that your organisation is purpose-driven may be the remedy for many of the motivational challenges that home workers will increasingly face.

It’s vital that your company keeps its purpose at its core. This means that decisions, conversations, and behaviour across all levels need to be integrated with that purpose.

This extends to recruitment – making sure that it’s always value-based. Always take time to assess to what degree candidate’s values align with those of your organisation.

‘Purpose’ needs to be applied throughout all levels, including exemplary behaviour by CEOs and team leaders – in HR practices too, such as like leadership development, employee training, and performance management, meetings and company events. Your HR function has a key role to play in integrating these practices and continuously reinforcing them.


Here at Gravitas HR, we have a profound understanding of the world of employment. We have the expertise and skillsets to be your HR support, through the rough times and the smooth.

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