2021 global HR trends: Reimagining workforce strategies

January 6, 2021

2021 global hr trends

After a year like 2020—which forced leaders around the world to instantly adjust priorities and adapt to new ways of working—attempting to predict the future of global HR through trends may seem futile.  

But after talking with several global HR leaders about the trends they are keeping top of mind in 2021, we’ve learned that trends are less about predicting the future and more about learning from the past. And it goes without saying, last year gave us plenty to learn from. 

As you enter this new year and reflect on the many lessons from 2020, consider how you can leverage these global HR trends and reimagine your workforce strategies in 2021.  

Global HR trends for 2021 

Integrating work and wellness 

In 2020, employees were forced to quickly adjust to remote work while unforeseen circumstances, like shelter in place orders and economic uncertainty, added new stressors. Physical, mental and financial well-being for everyone was at risk, and leaders became acutely aware of the importance of employee wellness initiatives.  

Companies like Salesforce have given their workforce access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to provide them with resources and support for issues related to mental and emotional health.  

But moving into the new year, wellness initiatives will likely integrate even further with employees’ day-to-day work as they seek permission and even encouragement to invest in self-care.  

Curious and empathetic leadership practices will be the driving force behind the employee wellness movement in 2021. Companies can turn to industry leaders, like Deloitte and its Chief Well-being Officer, to discover new insights, tools and best practices for empowering employees to be more emotionally agile among constant change. 

In our recent conversation about global HR trends in 2021, Alice Yoo LeClair, HR Director at Refinitive, addressed how drastic shifts in social norms throughout 2020 have accelerated the call for empathetic leadership this year. 

Putting diversity and inclusion into action 

Conversations about diversity and inclusion at work have been elevated to the point where companies will have to move past discussion and planning and on to action.  

Thankfully, remote work provides an opportunity for employers to think differently about company policy and procedure so that diversity and inclusion can be put into action.  

Here are a few examples from GitLab, an all-remote software development company, on how operating without offices can support a uniquely open and inclusive culture: 

  • All-remote means that employees will not sacrifice career advancement by working outside of the office, especially when even executives are fully remote. 
  • All-remote creates a workplace where caregivers, individuals with physical disabilities, etc. are not disadvantaged for being unable to regularly commute into an office. 
  • All-remote enables those who must relocate frequently for family and personal reasons to take their career with them. 
  • All-remote allows movement and relocation to physical settings that contribute to an individual's health (e.g., moving to a location with an improved air quality index). 

Even if an all-remote workforce is not part of your company’s plans, hiring remote workers can actively spearhead new diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

In his recent Forbes article, Paul Estes provided a telling description of the relationship between remote work and diversity and inclusion stating:

“Companies that truly want to support diversity and inclusion must actively support remote work...remote work, by its very nature, democratizes opportunity, allowing people who fall outside traditional categories to succeed.”

Competing for talent in unknown markets 

The rise of remote work has provided an opportunity for companies to hire workers outside their local talent pool—whether to acquire lower-cost talent in small domestic markets or specialized labor in new international ones.  

But navigating employment in unfamiliar regions is challenging, especially when competing with local employers that are more knowledgeable about employee expectations. In countries with nationalized healthcare, for example, supplementary health insurance is expected, so following local statutory requirements is often not enough to win over top talent.  

As borders become less of an obstacle for recruitment and the competition for top talent steadily increases, HR will need to reimage compensation and benefits packages and the entire recruitment experience in order to maintain a competitive edge.   

In our recent conversation about global HR trends in 2021, Safeguard Global Chief People Officer Katherine Loranger discussed how companies will need more structured and defined global benefits plans to compete for top talent in the global marketplace.  

Facilitating new ways of working 

In a world that is being constantly reimagined, there is a call for work itself to be continually reimagined to achieve new and better outcomes. 

With the ongoing trend of rapid change and disruption which was fast-tracked in 2020, HR can take a bold position as the “architect of work” who actively shapes and reshapes the workforce and workplace for future success.  

But rising to the occasion will require HR and the wider company to align on how to approach work, teams and capabilities. As an example, Catapult Systems, an IT solutions company, established a framework for employees to make decisions without management approval, called “Rules of Empowerment.” If an employee has an idea to improve a work process, support a customer, or needs to make a quick decision, they can do so if they can answer yes to these four questions:  

  • Is it right for the customer? 
  • Is it right for the company? 
  • Is it ethical? 
  • Is it in line with the company’s core values?  

These boundary-setting practices are a prime example for how HR, with help and buy-in from the broader company, can begin orchestrating new and more agile ways of working in 2021. 

Optimizing analytics for decision-making  

Nearly 80% of HR executives believe their company is ineffective at using talent data to inform decisions. Why? Many HR organizations have spent the past few years building the foundation for people analytics and are still operating in a data silo.   

In 2021, global HR teams will be looking to integrate people analytics with decision-making processes in order to drive improvements in areas like talent acquisition and employee management. But integration with the wider business will require HR to optimize how data insights are communicated to stakeholders. Data visualization and storytelling—skills that are often hard to acquire—will be critical for presenting key findings and demonstrating ROI. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that demand for analytics translators in the U.S. could reach 4 million by 2026.  

Along with data translation and storytelling, people analytics teams will need to ensure that stakeholders can rely on them to quickly answer business questions. Teams who can deliver reliable and repeatable analytics at scale will win executive buy-in and open new strategic opportunities in 2021. 

In a recent conversation, Steven Bianchi, Chief People Officer at Beamery, shared some advice for how people analytics teams can produce more reliable analytics processes.  

2020 provided global HR leaders with many lessons to reflect upon and learn from, but the most compelling might be the importance of bold, action-oriented leadership. Leadership that doesn’t just manage disruption but actively learns from it and leverages it to transform work and the workplace for the better.   

Each of these global HR trends presents an opportunity for reinvention in 2021 for anyone willing to take bold action.  

An experienced global payroll and employment partner can help your HR team leverage trends, become more agile and reimage workforce strategies for the future. Contact us today to learn more.

Related content: 2020 global HR trends

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