Future Trends and the Road Ahead in Human Resources

Posted in : HR Updates on 24 February 2021
Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered: Coronavirus; Diversity and Inclusion; Role of HR; Remote Working; Hybrid Working

Former colleagues of mine used to laugh at me when I described Human Resources as ‘relentless’. There is no natural ebb and flow in what is asked of HR professionals – challenges, unforeseen employee relations matters and crisis management arise on an ad hoc basis, demanding attention and expertise, whilst the ‘day to day’ processes and procedures of recruitment, retention, engagement, performance management, health and well-being and HR transactional matters continue on a daily basis.  Add to that the Covid pandemic and its resultant impact on work, work places and the workforce, then we are in the middle of a perfect storm. Now that the vaccination programme is being rolled out and there’s increasing talk of the phased lifting of restrictions it’s a timely opportunity to consider future trends in HR and what will be asked of HR professionals as we move into the more blended, post Covid world of work.

The CIPD completed a significant piece of collaborative research (People Profession 2030: a collective view of future trends – Green, Peters and Young) examining the trends and drivers likely to impact on the HR profession in the next 10 years. They identified five key trends that will influence HR roles and requirements:

1. Internal Change: evolving organisational models, structures and processes

Individual, team and organisational agility has been demanded of us during the Covid pandemic.  What is critical is that this agility that has been demonstrated in HR during this time becomes embedded and a permanent mode of operating as business models, structures and processes need to adapt to be effective.  As well as championing and leading organisational change and development that meets the needs of the business and the employees, HR professionals will need to model this within our own teams and practices.

2. Digital and technological transformation

This driver is identified in all recent reviews of HR future trends and it encompasses a broad range of areas including people data and analytics, automation, artificial intelligence and robotics.  Covid has resulted in significant developments in home working, with many organisations transitioning to digital working at a pace and with a relative ease (necessitated by ‘needs must’) that many could not have anticipated.  There is no doubt that a requirement for HR professionals in the next 10 years is to upskill digital skills both across the organisation but also within the HR team. What HR Review calls the ‘anywhere workforce’ is here to stay.  Organisations therefore need to invest in technology and skills development to ‘support remote working and facilitate seamless collaboration between colleagues and allow the efficient monitoring of workloads’.

Interestingly, AIHR Digital has identified three HR roles of the future, to supplement the current generalist and expert roles within the current HR mix:

  • The Digital Evangelist – who is digitally and tech savvy, can assess the potential of new technologies and get buy in from stakeholders to the implementation and use of the new systems
  • The Chess Master – an expert in strategic workforce planning, given that the future workforce is made up of fulltime, part-time, freelance workers and contractors
  • The People Data Wizard – someone who not only understands the data but knows how it can be used to gain valuable and actionable insights that will impact positively on the business.

3. Changing demographics and Diversity and Inclusion strategy

During this last year Black Lives Matter, a decentralised political and social movement advocating against police violence towards black people and all racially motivated violence against black people, has taken centre stage. Equality, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism are already a critical driver for HR professionals.  This trend will continue in the years ahead, with a requirement for HR professionals to ensure that the awareness raising initiatives already in place are reviewed and refreshed but more importantly that these are translated into meaningful practices and processes, with necessary behaviour, policy and process changes being implemented.  The CIPD argue that this is ‘a complex and evolving area, so people professionals will need to be equipped with up-to-date understanding of D&I to create meaningful change.’

4. Diversifying employment relationships

Given the eclectic mix of the future workforce and the blended post Covid likely combination of remote home and office-based working, HR Professionals will be required to both facilitate and support this change and develop line managers to have the confidence, skills and tools to manage their teams effectively in this new model of working.  Equity and fairness considerations will need to be at the centre of decision making. 

5. Sustainability, purpose and responsible business

Again, these are not new areas of action for HR professionals, but there will be an increasing need to ensure that HR takes a leading role in building responsible business practices and ensuring the business moves beyond the rhetoric of corporate social responsibility to delivering impactful benefit to external stakeholders and communities.  HR has an opportunity to integrate the values of the business at every stage of the employment relationship, from recruitment through to engagement, development and performance. 

According to KPMG (Future of HR 2020: Which Path are you taking?), 3 in 5 HR leaders believe that the HR function may become irrelevant if it does not modernise its approach, with only 37% of HR leaders confident in HR’s ability to transform the workforce and itself.  What is clear is that to remain relevant HR professionals we must honestly assess our current skills and knowledge and embrace this opportunity to address any gaps in these areas, including people analytics, digital HR, strategic workforce planning, design thinking and stakeholder management (Kevin Empey, WorkMatters, Legal Island briefing Shaping the Post Covid World of Work).

But as I draft this article I am struck by something.  We have just moved on from January, when we typically set ourselves goals and intentions to do better, be better - as if we are ‘not enough’.  And yes it is appropriate to look ahead, future proof our skills and knowledge to effectively respond to these changing models of work. But I actually think we also need to pause and recognise what an amazing job we have done over these last 12 months – showing agility, the ability to flex, resilience and compassion – being the heart of the business whilst trying to maintain our own health and wellbeing, home life, home schooling and Zoom fatigue. So yes, let’s build on the learnings we have gained during the Covid pandemic, but let’s also take time to breathe, appreciate what we have achieved, support our HR colleagues and acknowledge how critical we are to the culture and success of the businesses where we choose to practice our profession.

‘If we can Winter this out, we can Summer anywhere.’ (Seamus Heaney)



This article is correct at 24/02/2021

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Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Mairéad Regan. Contact telephone number is +44 (0) 28 9072 5750 or email Mairead.Regan@clarendonexecutive.com

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