The Future of HR Is Virtual: 3 Things HR Teams Need to Do in 2021

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In the current landscape, organizations are watching their workplaces transform before their eyes (or, more accurately, screens).

Every year, HR leaders must adapt to shifting priorities, business plans, and employee needs. However, following the tumultuous year of 2020, many HR professionals are grappling with a more radical realignment of their strategies. The pandemic changed the needs and requirements of employees and employers alike, and HR has to evolve with the times.

The future of HR is virtual. We witnessed early signs of this future throughout 2020 as 88 percent of organizations made remote work mandatory or highly encouraged after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Now, multiple surveys show a majority of employees — as much as 77 percent — want to work remotely at least some of the time, even after the pandemic ends. As virtual work arrangements morph from nice perks to essential options, HR needs to prepare for the new world of work on the horizon.

To navigate the 2021 virtual shift, here are three things HR departments need to do:

1. Leverage Cloud-Based HR Technology

Talk of cloud-based HR technology has been circulating for several years, but the tech itself is rarely deemed essentially. That may change now that more employees than ever are working remotely.

Cloud-based HR technology can help employers track employee performance and key metrics easily, instantly, and automatically, regardless of where employees are located. That real-time visibility into employee performance makes it much easier for HR leaders to monitor crucial HR metrics like productivity and engagement and make data-based decisions in response.

In 2021, HR teams that implement cloud-based technology will be set up for success regardless of the work arrangements their organizations adopt. Whether your workplace operates partially or fully remotely, cloud-based technology can streamline data collection and analysis when team members are scattered around the globe.

2. Invest in Virtual Employee Wellness

The events of 2020 forced many HR departments to think critically about supporting employee wellness. In an April 2020 report from SHRM, 23 percent of employees reported feeling depressed often. Forty-one percent of employees expressed unhappiness with work/life balance, and 45 percent said work was emotionally draining.

In response to this dire situation, we expect to see an increase in virtual wellness programs in 2021. These programs may take the form of online workout programs, counseling sessions, and more flexibility for employees to take mental breaks during the day. We also expect to see more investment in virtual collaboration tools, like online breakout rooms and routine collaboration meetings for remote employees. Not only is collaboration key for business performance, but it’s also a vital part of employee wellness. Collaboration fosters relationships between employees, thereby combating the feelings of isolation and loneliness many remote workers struggle with.

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With remote and hybrid workforces becoming the norm, companies need to ensure they are making efforts to care for their employees even when they’re working outside the office. Supporting employee mental health isn’t just the right thing to do — it can also significantly boost employee productivity and retention. When employees feel good, they’re more engaged and enthusiastic in their work.

3. Align With Generation Z

Generation Z accounts for about a quarter of the workforce, and that number will only climb in the coming years. Like any generation, Gen. Z has its own values and priorities, which differ from those of other generations. Gen. Z-ers also, like any generation, have a suite of assets they can bring to bear on your organization, including independence, efficiency, and tech savvy.

But companies can only tap the talents of Gen. Z-ers if they meet this up-and-coming generation’s needs. These include increased feedback, more development programs, and a focus on technology in the workplace.

Because of Gen. Z’s tech-focused outlook, technology integration can greatly assist in attracting top Gen. Z candidates to your organization. Companies already utilizing technology for routine business operations like employee feedback surveys, general communication, and coaching and mentorship are well prepared for the new generation. If you don’t have up-to-date technology in your workplace, you’ll find it much harder to attract and retain Gen. Z-ers at your company.

The time to incorporate technology into your workplace is now. As virtual work becomes dominant, HR teams need to reshape their strategies to align with the new workplace normal. The digital revolution may have begun in earnest in 2020, but 2021 will not be the end of it. HR teams that get a head start by adapting to the digital revolution now will be set up for success for years to come.

Matt Thomas is the president and founder of WorkSmart Systems, Inc. 

By Matt Thomas