This article originally appeared at Forbes.com on January 14, 2021.
The coronavirus has become one of the greatest accelerators for workplace transformation of our lifetime. When I wrote The Impact of the Coronavirus on HR and the New Normal of Work, I started to see how the coronavirus pandemic was going to impact how we work, learn, exercise, shop, and communicate. It’s clear now, the pandemic has forced the type of workplace experimentation that would have taken years if not decades to happen: working remotely, re-thinking business travel and moving in-person training to virtual.
As we head into the 2021 workplace, how we work, where we work, and the technologies we use to stay connected to team members and customers will change forever. The New Normal of Work has become the Next Normal of working remotely, learning, working, and collaborating online, and building resilience and inclusiveness in the workplace.
Just as I have done in 2016,2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, here is my countdown of what you should include on your HR agenda for 2021.
#1. Make Employee Wellbeing a Top Business Mandate
Prior to the pandemic, the news headlines about what makes a great employee experience were dominated by fads — think treadmill desks, nap pods, and “bring your dog to work day” for starters.
This has all changed in 2020. Seventy-eight percent of participants in an American Psychological Association survey of 3,409 adults said the pandemic was a significant source of stress. Workers are feeling burned out, and cite multiple stressors, including the lack of separation between work and home, unmanageable workloads, and worries over job security.
Marriott stands apart having started to focus on employee wellbeing in 2010. This focus has now grown into TakeCare, a global commitment to provide Marriott associates with the opportunity to build skills, develop meaningful relationships and make a positive and sustainable impact on the world. TakeCare offers holistic wellbeing programs beyond just physical wellbeing to include mental and emotional health, career development, financial planning, teambuilding, recognition, sustainability social impact, and access to meQuilibrium, a resilience training platform that helps Marriott associates deal with disruption and become more empathic.
David Rodriquez, EVP and Chief Human Resource Officer of Marriott, reminds us that “choosing an employer is a lifestyle choice, just as where you live; your employer should add to the quality of your personal and professional life and employers need to design well-being into the work itself.” That is what TakeCare does says Rodriquez, “It uses technology to promote connectivity, identify resources to develop heathy habits, and provide ways to nurture mental health.”
#2. Use the Coronavirus Pandemic to Accelerate Your Workplace Transformation
Future Workplace conducted a survey of 450 HR, IT Real Estate Leaders plus 150 employees to understand The Organizational Impact of the Coronavirus in the Workplace. This wasan update to our survey, The Impact of the Coronavirus in the Workplace, featured in my Forbes column in March, 2020.
Three key findings emerged in how HR leaders were developing strategies for returning to the office, responding to employee needs and using the pandemic to accelerate workplace transformation.
Marriot, as mentioned above, is clearly a leading outlier in its response to nurturing and investing in employee wellbeing.
Ingredion SVP and CHRO Elizabeth Adefioye, says “I saw the need early on to begin partnering with our key executives from the technology, finance, communications, and real estate departments to develop a phased, safe global approach to returning to the workplace.” And this is much needed as SHRM research finds 34% of organizations did not have an emergency cross functional preparedness plan prior to Covid-19 pandemic.
A growing number of Future Workplace member companies have started to train and certify their entire global learning team in how to design and facilitate virtual training sessions. Virtual training will increasingly be the top modality for all types of training that was primarily conducted in a classroom from customer service to negotiations.
#3. Invest in Mental Health as a Must Have Rather Than a Nice-to-Have Benefit
In addition to Future Workplace’s research, Conference Board of Canada research found that four out of ten respondents reported more mental health problems in their organizations since the coronavirus. (Even before the virus, Gallup reported two-thirds of full-time workers experienced burnout on the job.)
Many large companies, such as Marriot, have a robust integrated employee wellbeing platform like TakeCare. Mid-size organizations, such as Uipath, are funding a range of apps employees can use to enhance their wellbeing, including the mediation app, Headspace, the physical fitness app, Aaptiv, and the physical therapy app, Physera, used to treat and prevent pain. In fact, Uipath has committed to invest up to 1% of all employee salaries in employee wellbeing. I believe we will see more companies make a public commitment to invest in employee wellbeing and mental health and use this as an advantage in recruiting and retaining talent.
In my HBR article, 21 HR Jobs of the Future, a new HR job role was identified: Director of Wellbeing, responsible for strategic management of employee wellness practices to nurture the emotional, physical, mental, financial, social, and career wellbeing of all employees. We are already seeing some companies hiring for the Director of Wellbeingrole, and expect to see more within the next few years as the future of work will increasingly be focused on the future of worker wellbeing.
#4. Re-engineer and Transform Corporate Learning, The Time is Now
The next normal of work will accelerate new ways to learn online. Research and Markets has forecast the e-learning market to triple by 2025 to reach $325 billion. And that was before the pandemic!
This estimate will only increase as companies see transforming corporate learning as a requirement to operate in the next normal of work. In an online survey of 300 learning leaders in US, conducted by Future Workplace and Mursion, 72% report they will use virtual reality simulations for training by 2022 to help employees navigate challenging customer service experiences, resolve peer conflicts, and develop soft skills. This is more than double the 35% of respondents who are currently deploying VR for training today.
As I noted in my article, How Companies are Using VR to Develop Soft Skills, HPE Financial Services (HPEFS) is using virtual reality for sales training where they are immersed in real life scenarios to practice making a sales presentation to a customer avatar and then receive feedback on areas for improvement. With remote working taking hold, more companies will be looking for innovative ways to deliver learnings solutions.
Another development in 2020 was the massive growth among organizations integrating MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) into their learning curriculum. Lee Rubenstein VP of edX says, “edX For Business saw huge growth in 2020 as companies expedited their investment in providing training for pandemic proof careers in IT and Healthcare to name just two. We are working with companies to integrate the edX For Business catalog into their LMS/LXP systems.”
#5. Provide Internal Talent Mobility to Attract, Engage, and Retain Employees
Artificial Intelligence is not only being used to source new hires, as we profile in the Future Workplace online course Using AI4HR, but also to match the supply and demand of talent internally. Schneider Electric, with more than 135,000 employees across 100 countries, reviewed exit interviews and found that nearly 50% of employees who left the organization stated their reason was a lack of visibility into their career growth, according to Tina Kao Mylon, Chief Talent and Diversity Officer.
To address this business need, the team at Schneider Electric, led by Mylon, created the Open Talent Market (OTM) – an internal talent mobility platform powered by Gloat, matching employees to new part time and full-time roles as well as stretch assignments and mentoring engagements.
“The process of matching talent to opportunity took 3-4 weeks when a manager or HR was involved in this process, and now it takes just 30-60 seconds after an employee creates a profile on the OTM” says Mylon.
The OTM launch was accelerated due to the coronavirus and went live globally in the spring of 2020. The OTM now has over 45,000 employees actively engaged as well as over 4,000 mentoring engagements, with nearly one-half of these between Schneider Electric employees who connect across geographies to engage in mentoring relationships or internal gig assignments.
And finally, according to Mylon, another benefit of the OTM during the coronavirus pandemic is the ability to quickly deploy employees from low demand areas of the business to those which are in high demand. The Predictive Index’s 2019 Annual CEO Benchmarking Report finds that talent optimization has moved into the top spot for CEOs when asked about their primary concerns about their company. This is leading to growth in AI powered solutions as more companies such as Fuel50, Edcast, Degreed, Hitch, Phenom, and Paddle HR enter with talent experience marketplace with talent mobility offerings.
#6. Solving Business Problems Using People Analytics
People analytics is one of the hottest in demand skills for HR professionals. Future Workplace’s course, Solving Business Problems Using People Analytics and companion eBook, Explore the Power of People Analytics identify a range of use cases where HR leaders are using data to solve business problems—for example, identifying high potential employees, understanding benefit selections, and recommending how to personalize learning solutions.
In 2020, a new application for using people analytics emerged among learners in the Solving Business Problems Using People Analytics course: using data to analyze the attrition of a diverse employee population and understand why some employees are exiting the company at a higher rate than others. Using data analytics helps ask the right questions, such as: who owns the high potential and promotion process, what are the criteria for qualifying for these programs, and is unconscious bias evident in the process? Applying people analytics to DEI allows companies to understand multiple underlying causes, develop a hypothesis, identify evidence-based actions, and use data storying to recommend solutions to the business problem.
#7. Prepare for the Hybrid Office of the Future
The coronavirus will not kill the physical office, but the office and its footprint will be changed forever. In a PwC Remote Work Survey, 73 percent of employees indicated they want to work remotely at least two days a week, even once COVID-19 is no longer a concern. Similarly, 55 percent of executives surveyed are prepared to expand remote working in 2021.
What is emerging is a hybrid office, one that combines a corporate headquarters, with home and satellite offices so workers can decide where to work based on the activity they are doing; focused work, online collaboration, team brainstorming, or in person employee briefings.
Julie Whelan, Global Head of Occupier Thought Leadership of CBRE, sees the “hybrid office” evolving over time with the exact balance of corporate headquarters space, satellite space, and team hub rooms depending on the industry and city. In places with easy commutes more workers will go to the office, but in cities with long commutes, satellite offices and home offices will be the preferred way to work. Whelan points out that younger workers, in particular, miss the social aspect of a physical office. In a Harris Poll and CBRE survey of 1,000 office workers, 33 percent miss in-person meetings and collaboration.
Over the next five years, there is no doubt the office will be transformed, and the amount of physical space will likely decrease. What remains to be seen, is how many more companies will be like Pinterest, which canceled plans for a 490,000 office space in August 2020 after an increase in remote working.
But the larger question is how fast will HR, IT, and Real Estate come together to re-imagine the office and develop flexible hybrid office solutions.
#8. Expand Employee Experience and Wellbeing Resources to the Entire Family Unit
As work from home becomes the next normal, employee experience is more important than ever as companies realize the physical, cultural, and technological aspects of working need to change.
As Covid-19 ripples across the globe, there has been one notable change to the focus on employee experience: companies are re-thinking employee experience to include the employee and the entire family unit.
Future Workplace’s survey, The Organizational Impact of Coronavirus, found that one in three employees said their wellbeing has decreased because of the pandemic. This has contributed to employers’ creating new wellbeing benefits for workers and taking a broader view of employee experience & wellbeing to include the family unit, not just the employee.
A number of companies added new employee wellbeing benefits in 2020 and made these available to the family including, back up childcare, on-demand assistance with home schooling, resources for aging parents, and access to mental health benefits offered by companies such as Lyra Health, Headspace and Modern Health. Companies are starting to invest in a range of employee wellbeing benefits for the entire family unit and suing this as a way to attract and retain talent.
#9. Be Holistic in Creating A Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Workforce
The coronavirus has put a new focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as the societal role of employers has grown. Companies are speaking out against racism and creating opportunities for discussion and education to influence future change.
The business case for diversity and inclusion is stronger than ever as McKinsey research shows the most diverse companies are more likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.
But some companies are doing more than developing DEI training programs, they are creating a new pipeline of talent. One example is the Visa Black Scholars and Jobs Program, created in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), for college-bound Black and African American students. Kelly Mahon Tullier, Executive Vice President, Chief Legal, and Administrative Officer, Visa, confirms, “Visa is investing $10 million over the next five years to fund Black and African American students enrolled in technology and business programs to receive a needs-based scholarship grant. The program includes mentoring, apprenticeships, and if they maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, students are eligible for a guaranteed a full-time job at Visa after graduation.” More companies need to follow the leadership of Visa to create holistic DEI programs.
#10. Anticipate New HR Jobs of the Future
The Coronavirus has drastically reshaped the economy and the labor force, creating massive changes in how we work and where we work. Such massive change is escalating the importance of HR’s role within organizations. Workers are turning to their managers and their HR leaders, in particular, for guidance on how to navigate their “new normal.” In fact, research indicates that 73% of workers depend on their employer for support in preparing for the future of work.
Future Workplace partnered with the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work to examine what the future of HR will look like in 2030.
In our HBR article entitled 21 HR Jobs of the Future, we brought together Future Workplace members of CHROs, CLOs, and VPs of talent and workforce transformation to envision how HR’s role might evolve over the next 10 years. This brainstorm considered economic, political, demographic, societal, cultural, business, and technology trends. The result: 21 New HR Jobs of the Future were plotted on a 2×2 grid. The X-axis depicts time and the order in which we expect them to appear over the next ten years. The y-axis shows the “technology centricity” of each job.
Two new HR Jobs have already come into existence in 2020:
The Future of Work Leader: responsible for analyzing what skills will be most essential as the workforce continues to evolve. This role focuses both on setting the organization’s strategy for the future of work, as well as proposing reskilling and upskilling efforts for current employees.
(WFH) Work from Home Facilitator: ensures the organization’s processes, policies, technologies, and training are optimal for remote workers. A key metric of success for this role is to focus on nurturing the company culture and build remote workers’ sense of belonging within the organization, ensuring that they know their purpose and feel deeply cared for.
As we prepare for the 2021 workplace, I am reminded of the quote by Ruth Bader Ginsberg who said in a speech to young women, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” The same can be said for HR leaders. Now is the time to inspire your team, cultivate relationships inside and outside of HR, and position HR as a strategic driver of the business.