2020 has been the year of digital transformation for businesses globally. Technology was deployed to allow mass remote working, essentially taking the physical office and setting it up at home. With that, new challenges have arisen. The following predictions may seem obvious, but I hope my first point disrupts the way we think about the subsequent observations. I dont propose to have the answers, thats where the power of innovation and community can help – sharing ideas and learning from each other is usually the fastest way to move forward.

Process Transformation Needs to Be The Number One Priority

I alluded to this point in my introduction: Whilst companies have quickly gone digital, this approach generally means using technology to take the analogue world online. It doesnt allow for re-imagining how we do things. Our online digital behaviour is different to how we would behave and interact in the physical world. Simply taking the physical world and putting it all online will always fall short in areas such as onboarding and performance. While 2020 has been about business continuity, 2021 will be an opportunity for HR to rethink their processes for the digital world.

Company Culture and Employee Engagement Will Evolve Online

Humans are social beings; we like interaction with others. Numerous polls show that employees want to continue working from home in some form, yet most of us are keen for some in-person interaction back at the office. Whilst HR policies might now include more mobileworkers, how to maintain and build company culture and positive employee sentiment will remain a challenge. It has been widely reported that companies concerned with employee productivity and innovation now recognise that those impromptu water cooler conversations’ can drive ideas and interactions that cant be replicated over scheduled video calls. The key here is to observe how employees have decided to overcome this themselves. There have been many examples of quizzes and Friday drinks over video, but maybe the real interactions are on chat channels. Dont force what might organically be happening already.

Neuroscience Will Become Central to HR Policies and Processes

I have spoken before about what drives employees in their career, the theory being to provide a work environment that gives employees what they need to develop. The SCARF model takes this one step further and is based on neuroscience discoveries about the way people interact socially to social threats and rewards. These innate needs – security, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness – have been proven to motivate, engage and drive employee advocacy. Many companies talk about improving employee engagement, performance or learning – but what does that really mean? Does your performance management process give your employees the certainty that they know how their performance is being measured in a fair way? Does your learning management system allow your employees autonomy about what, how and when they learn? Are your systems and processes supporting the line manager relationship?

As companies realise that technology such as video calls cannot solve employee engagement, the SCARF requirements of employees will provide a deeper understanding of how to maintain culture and engagement for remote working.

Mental Health and Wellbeing Policies Will Become a C-Suite Issue

When employees consider their compensation offerings, paid holiday, sick pay, health insurance and pensions are usually standard benefits. Whilst most companies recognise stress related illnesses and mental health as real issues, this pandemic has left many organisations ill prepared and unsure of how to help and support their workforce. The challenges of loneliness, isolation, financial stress, home-schooling, being a carer, or in a flat share with multiple occupants highlights the variety of pressures a diverse workforce might be managing.

Some forward-thinking organisations who already recognise stress and mental health as key issues offer access to counselling services and openly address the issues that employees may have in the work environment to help remove the stigma of poor mental health.

Research suggests that only a quarter of employees say their employer engages with them on mental health and approximately 45% said they would look for another employer if there was no support with regards to their mental health.

So, with the toll on staff productivity and the cost of attracting and retaining employees, how many CEOs will ask their CHRO about their organisation’s policy on good mental health in the workplace?

The Rise of Re-Onboarding, Re-Skilling and the Non-9-to-5 Workforce

With the news of a successful vaccine, the last few months of 2020 are filled with hope. My last few thoughts build on that optimism. 2020 has undoubtedly driven up unemployment and fuelled uncertainty in some workplaces, but there is room for positivity and an opportunity for organisations to think about how they retain and harness the knowledge in their organisation.

Whilst 2020 has been about onboarding and learning remotely, 2021 will be about re-onboardingin other words bringing employees back to the office, and re-skilling employees due to evolving customer needs.

Maybe not all your workforce will be back in 9-to-5. For some organisations, hours might always have been flexible. Other organisations might find entire parts of their business operate in shifts due to COVID-19 cases and social distancing. Will parts of the business be closed? What will that mean for those employees? Can they re-deploy their skillsets elsewhere? Can you give employees the opportunity to broaden their experience and learn new skills as your business continues to embrace the challenges that lie ahead?

As we come to the end of 2020, weve no doubt learnt a lot about ourselves, our colleagues and our resilience. 2021 will be by no means easy, but we face the challenges knowing there is a way forward.