Future of Work Tops HR Priorities for 2020-21

July 06, 2020

Contributor: Mary Baker

The need for critical skills remains a top priority for HR leaders in the post-COVID-19 world, eclipsed only by managing the shifting future of work.

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As business activities restart and reset amid the ongoing pandemic, HR leaders are revising their priorities for 2020-21, but only slightly. Not surprisingly, the future of work now tops the list as organizations grapple with shifts in work trends driven by the response to the pandemic.

The implications for HR are broad and substantial, as they drive imperatives such as the need to equip leaders to manage remote teams over the long haul, preserve company culture with a more distributed workforce and engage workers in a cost-constrained environment.

The second-highest priority — based on a May 11 Gartner survey of 160 HR leaders — is critical skills and competency development. This had been the highest priority when Gartner surveyed more than 400 HR leaders in late 2019, so the issue remains top of mind.

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To successfully navigate the post-pandemic environment, HR leaders expect to focus on each of the following five priorities.

1. Future of work

Leaders need to consider the predictions for what the future of work will look like and assess the likelihood of each trend impacting the organization.

“For many, if not all, organizations the 3-year strategic plan may be gone and planning is occurring quarterly,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner. “Perhaps most importantly, understanding the future of work is about understanding the permanent workplace shifts post-COVID.”

2. Critical skills and competency development

In a recent Gartner survey of 113 learning and development leaders, 71% said that more than 40% of their workforce has needed new skills due to changes to work brought on by COVID-19.

To adopt a more dynamic approach to managing shifting skill needs, HR leaders should first identify areas of the organization with significant changes in priorities and related changes in skill needs. Next, the roles and projects that need support should be broken into individual skills and outcomes. Learning and development leaders can partner with managers to upskill a select cohort of motivated and influential employees to provide personalized learning support to colleagues.

Finally, foster internal movement across the organization by engaging employees to gauge their skills, goals and points of confusion around organizational skill needs.

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3. Organizational design and change management

Gartner research shows that successful change management outcomes require a shift away from the traditional cascading of initiatives down from senior leaders to employees. More productive is open source change involving employees directly. The probability of change success increases by as much as 24 percentage points with the open-source approach.

“To achieve an open source change culture, HR needs to help managers and leaders create two-way dialogues that acknowledge the reality that change is difficult and then listen to employees’ reactions,” says Mark Whittle, Vice President, Advisory, Gartner.

Adopting open source change management can positively affect several talent outcomes, including employee engagement, intent to stay and discretionary effort.

4. Employee experience

The pandemic and fallout have changed the focus of employee experience to sustaining the performance and engagement of a distributed workforce — where some employees work fully remote or partially remote and others at the workplace.

To gauge employee experience during the disruption, HR must address three issues for their organization:

  • Organizational trust: To what extent do employees believe we really value people and ensure their well-being? 
  • Commitment to coworkers: How are employees collaborating with and learning from team members? 
  • The right capabilities: Are we helping employees get the skills, tools and resources they need to be successful in this disruption and the new normal?

5. Current and future leadership

Organizations need resilient leaders more than ever. To foster resilience, leaders need support at the personal, team and institutional levels.

Personally, HR must work with leaders to identify skill gaps and create leader-to-leader partnerships that give them opportunities to help each other by pairing those with complementary skills.

In a remote work environment, employees are 3.5 times more likely to collaborate with five or more teams than when in the office. Leaders need to learn how to better lead during ambiguity, how to identify and secure needed resources for their teams, and how to better connect their teams and direct reports with others to develop skills and get more resources.

From an institutional standpoint, HR needs to ensure that performance management objectives reflect and reward leaders who efficiently connect teams to the right resources. Leaders must also be empowered and encouraged to dynamically adjust annual goals and review all workflows to align to the right priorities.


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