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London, January 06, 2021 – The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for long awaited change in human resources (HR). In 2021, a year in which traditional ways of working and methods of hiring new staff might cease to exist, the onus is firmly on HR departments to lead the charge into the future of business in the ‘new normal’ – from evolving new leadership roles, to designing office spaces that are appropriate for hybrid working.

According to Jason Fowler, VP of HR for Fujitsu in Northern and Western Europe, the priority for businesses should be to create and nurture a feeling of belonging for employees. After all, with the UK’s remote workforce growing exponentially, that feeling of community and company culture can no longer develop organically in a workspace environment. In fact, there may well be no office at all where employees can meet up, chat or organise social events. It’s about maintaining a sense of trust, togetherness and teamwork online, in spite of having teams and clients spread the length and the breadth of the country. Only then can an organisation hope to attract the talent of the future and expect the talent they already have to contribute in a meaningful way.

Fowler continues: “We are in a new reality where old habits and old ways of working have fundamentally changed forever. With meaningful and empathetic communication more important now than ever before – both for people’s mental health and how employees effectively carry out their jobs – HR needs to support leaders to fairly and effectively manage teams when being physically distant is the rule, not the exception.”

In light of this, Jason Fowler shares his top five predictions for what we should expect from HR in the coming year:

The leadership role has changed – Any corporate commitment to change should be acted out willingly and visibly by the leadership team from the word go. After all, it’s only then that organisations can hope for that commitment to be emulated throughout. Future ways of working will be rapidly undone if leaders cannot bring it to life through their own choices and actions. Add to that the sense of pressure on line managers to make the move from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic ways of working as seamless as possible – and it all starts with leadership behaviour. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we promote and hire compassionate, empathetic team players as leaders. In a world where the challenges employees face at home go unseen by many, it’s down to those with people management responsibilities to check in with their teams regularly, to show a sincere interest in the people they lead and work with, beyond the tasks at hand. Leaders need to show that they really do care.

The past is a foreign place – Those organisations that are still hoping that the pandemic induced changes to work are to be endured until we can get back to how things were before are quite wrong. There is no going back. Accepting that as fact and going ‘all in’ for change will help organisations succeed not only in the future but right now, as they escape the sense of stasis, stuck between what was and what might be. Leaders must grasp the nettle and plan with intent for their version of the future. This includes forming a cross functional team to work on all aspects, from policy and comms, down to the very practical – how will hybrid meetings be managed effectively? How often will anyone be required to be in the office, if ever? Ultimately, leaders must involve employees at all levels and in many types of roles to draw rich feedback on experiences that have worked, changes that might be beneficial and generate momentum behind a new future: one that is collectively designed and collectively owned by employees that will live it.

Still a place for physical space – For most of 2020, we’ve been forced to be remote from each other personally and professionally and organisations have found pretty effective ways of dealing with this. Nevertheless, we remain a social species and there is definitely something lost from an almost total shift to digital interaction. Be it the informal creativity, the changed perspective that can be brought through casual conversations (the reassurance that it’s not just you that feels that way about something), or simply a sense of belonging to something more than your own role. As such, I anticipate that there will remain a big benefit in having a physical space in which people meet. Making this part of the new way requires some careful thought and planning: what really is the purpose of your offices?

It’s a question we mostly didn’t ask before this year, but now is the moment to shift offices from being the place that work gets done to being a venue for purposeful collaboration. This may need the “traditional office” to look different than they did before. It might require use of apps to not only book rooms and desks but also to see who else will be on site that day. Similarly, it will require careful thought to address the practicality of how events and meetings involving those in the office and those at home can be managed effectively so all can feel included. This extends further to a general point of watching for the creation of a two tier workforce: those regularly in the office and those that aren’t.

The experiences of 2020 ought to have taught us that presenteeism does not equate to value or capability. We must hold onto that lesson and remember that those out of sight should not be out of mind. HR assuming the role of custodians for the DX (digital experience) of their employees really should come to the fore now as we accept that DX is central to the EX (employee experience) and can no longer be delegated to internal IT.  

Wellbeing and mental health are more important than ever – Mental health and wellbeing have long been recongised as vital factors in organisational performance. One of the few positives of the pandemic is that this has become a natural part of every discourse, rather than a sometimes ignored, sometimes awkward topic to address. However, rising levels of stress and anxiety have become an unfortunate commonplace for many. Being engaged now in a plan for the future can help – it allows us to contribute our experiences and feelings and can reduce anxiety by creating solutions to the problems that employees share. Creating a strategy around the theme of wellbeing and searching for things to try and methods to adopt will help to keep this part of colleague and manager dialogue. Resilience is talked of as an increasingly necessary attribute and no doubt that is true, but we have really only just begun to understand the many facets of mental health and wellbeing in a work context. A keen, attentive focus on this as part of the new way will be beneficial for many individuals, and of course, in the very best interests of the organisation. 

Inclusive diversity – In 2021 nobody will consider ‘the importance of D&I’ as an especially insightful prediction – it is established as fact that it’s an essential aspect of sustainable commercial success. However, tangible progress has been vastly outpaced by rhetoric and good intent over recent years. Now is the opportunity for real D&I change to catch up. The new way of ‘work’ offers the chance to take a wrecking ball to the traditional work patterns of ‘commute, work, commute, repeat’. These systematic obstacles that impact too many groups – those with caring responsibilities, those with physical or mental disabilities or perhaps those from other underrepresented groups – can now be removed. What this offers is a seldom seen chance to make massive advances in attracting new and developing existing diverse talent in a way that can truly be more inclusive. In doing so, organisations can create sector beating capabilities.

In summary: this period has tested most organisations and HR leaders to their limits and the near term looks set to continue that pressure. By accepting that the future must be different from the past, organisations and HR can grab hold of what is an amazing opportunity to reimagine work and life. Those that get it right can look forward to being the destination of choice for the very best talent and a place where purposeful work meets engaged and committed creative minds.

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