What are the key concerns for HR in 2021?

After a largely difficult and uncertain 2020, HR faces the challenge of reinvigorating employees, as well as helping their organisations develop strategies that will ensure success in 2021.
By: | January 11, 2021

As we leave behind a tumultuous 2020, many organisations in Asia will be looking ahead to the new year with renewed hope and vigour, as they plan their economic recovery. However, many of the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to continue to reshape the workplace in 2021.

Here are some of the key issues facing HR in 2021…

The emergence of the hybrid workforce: While many organisations begin to contemplate a return to the office, it is highly plausible that a significant portion of Asia’s workforce will continue to work from home in 2021.

It can also be reasonably expected that organisations will keep a portion of their workforce working away from the office in a flexible arrangement, while their remaining employees return to the office on a more sustained basis. Workers may also work from the office and from home on a rotational basis, creating the hybrid workforce of 2021.

To maintain a hybrid workforce, HR will also need to take into consideration some important factors. Even if employees are working from home, the onus is still on employers to ensure, as much as possible, a safe environment that reduces the risk of injuries during official working hours.

While a physical inspection may be unrealistic in current circumstances, a virtual tour of the employee’s workstation at home may help satisfy the organisation’s requirements for a safe work environment, and help minimise any disputes arising from any medical costs accrued through any accidents.

Contrary to popular belief, WFH may be a more expensive endeavour for employees than many expect. For some employees, significant cost may be incurred to set up a conducive workstation from home, and utility bills are likely to go up during a prolonged WFH period.

Do employees have the right to request for their companies to reimburse them for any costs incurred from WFH? HR may need to prepare legally binding WFH policies that clearly defines the terms and conditions for reimbursing expenses in a WFH scenario.

An added emphasis on employee health: For organisations preparing for a return to the office, the news that many countries are ready to offer COVID-19 vaccinations will be more than welcomed, as they look to protect the physical health of their employees.

The concern for organisations, however, arises in countries where governments have not made it mandatory by law for all citizens to be vaccinated. Are organisations then justified in insisting that all employees be vaccinated before being allowed to return to the office, particularly in sectors that are at higher risk of infection?

Besides maintaining communications with employees to explain the rationale behind encouraging employees to be vaccinated, HR may need to consider if there is any potential breach of contractual obligations for employees who refuse to be vaccinated, as well as if the organisation insists that all employees be vaccinated.

Beyond that, organisations are likely to pay more attention to employees who continue to display anxiety and stress due to the disruption brought by the pandemic. HR needs to be more empathetic to employees’ mental well-being that ever before, and ensure an open line of communication, particularly for those who continue to work away from the office. Tools that are increasingly emerging can also help to provide stress management exercises, access to virtual counselling and telehealth visits.

Another area that needs paying attention to is employees’ financial health. Because of the pandemic, many workers have seen a significant decline in their earning power, leading to further stress. Whenever possible, organisations should step up resources and benefits to help ease financial stress and improve employee wellbeing.

Addressing workplace disparity: As more employees begin to return to the workplace, concerns over wage disparity will arise. Are men more likely than women to return to the workplace? There may also be concerns among those who choose to continue working away from the office, that they may be overlooked when it comes to salary increases and promotion opportunities, as compared to those who choose to return to the office.

HR needs to address these concerns and maintain a clear line of communication and ensure that “out of sight” employees are fairly appraised on their performances and rewarded accordingly, no matter where they may be working from.

It’s a virtual world out there: For companies choosing to adopt a largely WFH strategy, systems and technologies need to be put in place to ensure business continuity. Without the traditional benefit of regular face-to-face interaction with employees, HR needs to ensure systems are in place to effectively and comprehensively gauge employee performance without any bias.

Virtual hiring and onboarding will also become more prevalent. Algorithms and AI can help HR better identify key skill sets and traits that the company is looking for, in turn increasing the possibility of interviewing candidates that are most likely to be converted into good employees. When a successful candidate is chosen, an effective online programme – in the absence of physical interaction – will be pivotal in boosting productivity, engagement and retention.

With upskilling and reskilling gaining more importance than ever, key learning and development (L&D) initiatives are also moving online. Organisations need to embrace collaborative online learning technologies to help bridge the soft skills gap, as well as create engaging and effective learning experiences that can help build a lasting company culture.

Developing a winning strategy for 2021: If 2020 taught organisations anything, it is perhaps the imperative to strengthen organisational agility to deal with the upheaval and instability brought about by unexpected events such as the pandemic.

While it may be understandable that many organisations will adopt a cautious approach as they prioritise cost optimisation as a means to economic recovery, leaders need to continuously review policies, processes and practices, and make appropriate fluid changes that will help shape a successful long-term strategy that will allow their organisations to thrive long beyond the pandemic.

2021 is also likely to see many countries in Asia step up their digital transformation, and leaders need to embrace technology as a key enabler in helping them develop, deploy and measure key strategies.

They will also need to develop the right mindset and vision for success, and perhaps most importantly, recognise that without the support and commitment of their employees, the best thought business strategy or plan is unlikely to succeed in 2021.

Over the coming weeks, look out for HRM Asia’s HR Leadership Series, which will guide you through all the challenges and opportunities as you navigate through 2021. From March 23-24, Learning Technologies Asia will see over 1,500 of Asia’s senior L&D professionals, business and HR leaders discuss how organisations can develop their learning strategy to stay ahead, innovate and grow.