In a year that has brought more than its share of challenges to the workplace, HR has been grappling with shifts in work trends driven by the response to the pandemic. With the move to remote work, HR is at the crux of logistical challenges as organizations transition to managing online. HR teams are looking for ways to gather input from employees, manage onboarding and offboarding from a distance, and support managers as they transition to managing their teams remotely—all while trying to maintain a positive organizational culture. 

According to research from Gartner, understanding what the future of work will look like is the top priority for 2021. For many companies, decisions initially made as temporary responses to the pandemic are becoming the foundation of the new world of work. In order to meet the needs of a post-COVID workplace, employers need to determine what to focus on for the coming year, and start to plan accordingly. 

How a company adapts to meet employee needs in the new reality of the post-COVID workplace provides an opportunity for HR leaders to lead the way in navigating the organization’s path. Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the following top five goals should be at the top of every HR’s list for 2021:

  1. Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  2. Introduce breakthrough benefits
  3. Invest in developing a remote/hybrid workplace culture
  4. Promote learning and development
  5. Use HRIS for robust HR delivery

Goal #1: Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion

It is clear that the choices companies make today will have consequences on gender equality for decades to come. A McKinsey & Co report published in May 2020 shows, “not only that the business case remains robust but also that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.”

The report found that, “while overall employee sentiment on corporate diversity was 52 percent positive and 31 percent negative, sentiment on inclusion was markedly worse, at only 29 percent positive and 61 percent negative.”

It’s clear that hiring diverse talent isn’t enough—it’s the workplace experience that shapes whether people remain and thrive. But, with so many employees now working from home because of the pandemic, conversations about race can lose their impact in a virtual setting. It’s also more challenging to build meaningful mentoring and sponsorship within a mostly remote workplace.

Diversity and inclusion companies are more likely to make better decisions, which is a critical capability during times of crisis. Tina Shah Paikeday, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Services at Russell Reynolds Associates, a New York City-based executive search and consulting firm, told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) many companies have indeed been more proactive about reaching out to telecommuting employees and keeping them engaged. That mindset could help diversity efforts, she said.

A remote workforce also provides an opportunity to increase diversity. With retaining current employees and recruiting new talent no longer tied to physical locations, companies have newfound flexibility to focus on attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce. In addition, some companies are utilizing technology to increase their diversity efforts remotely, offering their employees access to other perspectives, such as through this film which Starbucks made for its employees to help understand diverse customer perspectives. Other companies are hosting webinars or offering online courses about unconscious bias

Next step for 2021: Build a diversity and inclusion committee. One way to build a strong, more inclusive culture is to create a diversity and inclusion committee. This group of employees works together on D+I projects such as creating a code of conduct, code of conduct creation, cultural programming, employee education, and management training.

Goal #2: Introduce breakthrough benefits

The pandemic has illustrated the importance of examining employee benefits, identifying gaps and correcting disparities. 57% of employees in a recent survey said their benefits package is more important to them now than ever before.

In the midst of a health crisis, employee health and wellness should be the number one priority, and working to determine the type of benefits that mesh with your employees’ current circumstances is key.

“There is a huge concern about employees’ mental health during the pandemic, especially people living alone”
LoriAnn PenmanDirector of Human resources at TTC Inc.SHRM

As many workers may be struggling to maintain both physical and mental health during this stressful time, adding or enhancing telehealth benefits and mental health care benefits could be a welcome change and would help to provide the type of support they need.

Other benefit package changes companies are considering include; increasing cost-sharing for health plan expenses such as deductibles, premiums or co-payments, adding or expanding voluntary benefits, and augmenting services for managing high-cost claims, adjusting leave policies, adding life insurance options and childcare benefits, and expanding flexible work schedules. With the move to remote work, many organizations are also including financial benefits to set up a remote home office for existing employees and incorporating it into their onboarding package for new hires.

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While the pandemic mandated the implementation of remote work, it also gives employees a benefit they’ve been requesting for a long time. And many employers are planning to expand or increase this offering. Data from Gartner indicates that even after the pandemic, 82% of leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time.

Next step for 2021: Use an online survey to gather employee feedback about the benefits they want and need. The real-time analytics will help you understand employees’ attitudes and perceptions.

Goal #3: Invest in developing a remote/hybrid workplace culture

In 2021, HR will need to continue establishing a positive remote or hybrid workplace. When working in the same space, employees’ connection to the organizational culture often evolves naturally—during conversations in the break room, while connecting at group events, or sharing ideas during in-person meetings. That can be more difficult in a remote environment. 

Establishing a sense of connection can be harder to create and maintain when employees are logging in from their coffee table, juggling interruptions from the other people at home, and feeling like they are on a never-ending stream of video calls. 

Your company’s remote work culture doesn’t have to stray from the culture you’ve been enjoying, but you must recognize that it may look different. If there are elements which are tied to being in the same place, the new year brings an opportunity to translate that to a remote modality.

As one CEO explained, his organization is nurturing camaraderie, despite the distance. They’re using virtual quizzes and a game called “Spy” in which they must determine who is fabricating a story. 

Maybe your teams enjoy sharing a monthly birthday cake to celebrate each other, or there’s great enthusiasm around the quarterly in-person town hall meetings. Identify what makes the employee experience rewarding and connects them to your culture. Then find a way to recreate those elements as part of your culture, but now in virtual form. 

In addition to overall culture, as employees continue to work and interact remotely, employers must be sure to address topics such as harassment prevention and maintaining confidentiality in the new normal. These important topics are important for maintaining a good work environment not only while in person, but also when the workforce is dispersed. Harassment and discrimination erode company culture, no matter where it happens. 

Next step for 2021: Review this webinar to get actionable insights from some of the fastest-growing companies in the world about how they’re driving employee engagement across global remote teams. Use what you learn to create remote-specific HR programming designed to cultivate an inclusive and engaging work culture.

Goal #4: Promote learning and development

71% of learning and development leaders surveyed said that more than 40% of their workforce has required new skills due to changes to work brought on by COVID-19. According to Shelley Osborne, VP of learning at Udemy, “The future of work many of us have been talking about is no longer an eventuality—it’s our current reality. Around the world and across industries, organizations are fundamentally rethinking every aspect of how we work. As we look ahead to what the workplace will look like in 2021 and beyond, our recent report shows that continued upskilling and learning agility will be required to keep pace with our new normal,” Osborne told TechRepublic.

Data from Gartner indicates that the total number of skills required for a job is increasing by 10% year over year, which means HR leaders need to adopt a dynamic approach to reskilling and redeploying talent and find ways to develop skills as new needs arise. A dynamic skills approach anticipates skill shifts as they are occurring, rather than attempting to predict the future. and then addresses shifts in an iterative manner. HR can then address skills as they shift in real-time.


This approach goes beyond traditional learning and development tactics, such as on the job training and in-person learning. And when supported by the right technology, HR can leverage existing resources to enable workers to develop new skills at the time of need.

Next step for 2021: Evaluate your organization’s learning culture against five key building blocks. Then look for ways to tackle the critical skills gap by enhancing and driving a learning culture that gives people the chance to acquire new skill sets through the workshops, training, and team-building activities made available to them. 

Goal #5: Use HRIS for robust HR delivery

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the workplace landscape. The days of being in the office and stopping by someone’s desk to ask for data are largely gone, as are local files and departments operating in silos. HR leaders see the need now, more than ever, for the right tech to support their strategies and priorities. At the 2020 HR Technology Conference HR analyst Josh Bersin noted dramatic transformations in the HR field, saying that, “companies are redesigning the ways things get done at a pace I’ve never seen.” “They’ll need technology to support their efforts.”

Indeed, to be as effective and strategic as possible, anything related to the people side of the business needs to be on one system. A unified system allows the necessary people—HR leaders, managers, admins, and specialists—access to all the information they require when creating reports and tracking the main KPIs of HR.

Gallagher’s 2020 HR Technology Pulse survey found that compared to previous years, respondents’ focus has transferred to other areas this year. Now the focus for HR technology solutions are payroll, time tracking, performance management systems, and employee communication tools. The researchers attribute the trend to the growing importance of HR’s ability to support the expanding remote-work environment.

The need for collaboration continues, even in the COVID-19 era. Employees are 3.5 times more likely to partner with five or more teams when working remotely than when they work in an office setting. This means providing a platform that ensures employees can easily connect to the organization and to each other, regardless of their location, is key. Equally important, these solutions need to enable managers to support their teams and provide ongoing development opportunities for their workers.

Next step for 2021: Examine five key ways an HCM can support continued remote operations for your company. With a platform like bob, you can maintain cross-company communications, manage time and attendance, onboard new hires, keep employees engaged, and preserve the important relationships that make your organization run so well. 

We will likely face even more workplace change in the coming year. But by identifying the top HR priorities to focus on and implementing the tools needed to support those efforts, you can position your company to successfully navigate the uncertainty and provide your workforce the support they need to be productive and engaged. Make the most of what 2021 has to offer with smart decisions and priorities that set your people and your organization up for success.

Meet bob

bob is designed and developed for the new world of work. Onsite, hybrid, and remote HR leaders can drive culture, two-way communication, engagement, performance, and compensation. All leaders and individual contributors in the organization can benefit from bob by using it as a data source and report generation tool for planning and tracking.

bob’s innovative UI, automated processes, and integrations with leading third-party tools ease administrative tasks for everyone across the organization and make even the most mundane work tasks pleasant, intuitive and engaging—and not just for HR admins. bob puts people first with culture tools that connect co-located and remote employees to their fast-growing, global companies.