As we reach the end of any year, it’s typical to look back on all that’s happened and forward to where we hope to see ourselves this time next year. This December I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year like no other.

We’ve all experienced extreme waves of emotion. Highs and lows. Freedoms were curtailed. Our plans dashed, jobs lost and for far too many families quite literally pulled apart by a virus that no one can see yet everyone can feel.

Yet, through all of this, we’ve not just proved resilient, we’ve shown that it’s possible to fundamentally change the way we live and work.

2020 could be called the year of digital disruption. Our entire lives from healthcare to schooling; from working to socializing, went online. Much of this for the better.

The scale and pace of change has been beyond what any of us thought possible. Let’s take this as a positive.

2021 should, therefore be looked forward to as the year we rationalize these changes. The Age of Agile HR outlines many of the major work-related changes that were accelerated in the past 12 months. It also provides smart insights into how you should adapt through 2021 and the benefits you can hope to achieve if you do.

Mind the gap

The move to remote working was the biggest twist; something long asked for. And in many cases, long refused has largely continued outside of lockdown.

Why? Because the business case is now proved. People can be trusted to work from home and the cost savings of allowing them to do this are huge. Perhaps larger than this though is the realization that no business continuity plan can outrun a global pandemic.

Knowing that a global health and economic crisis is now possible, we’re increasingly having conversations with HR leads around the world about how best to keep a workforce active, engaged and performing.

And with an eye to the need for more diversity, campaigners for disability rights have long been lobbying governments and business owners for equality and COVID-19 has in this instance proved, yet again, the case for flexible working.

HR on board

We’re also seeing more human interest from the C-suite. Nothing has been more glaringly presented these past few months than the impact people have on bottom line. Until employees were set-up at home, able to login remotely, file timesheets from home, and so on, it really was panic stations for many organizations.

Why? Because the COVID “workplace evacuation” revealed huge gaps in processes, and nowhere more so than in HR. The inability to use HR data fast and effectively for emergency planning cost many firms dear.

Largely, this was because data wasn’t available in its entirety, but even if it was, it had to be laboriously analyzed. At a time when situations were changing by the hour. Even when modelled, the picture may be out of date and so there was reduced accuracy in decision making.

You cannot plan if you don’t know what resources you have available to you.  More detail on using people process analytics for business planning success can be found here: The 2020 People Analytics Guide.

Paying the price of 2020

Errors made during mass disruption to payroll is something that’s likely to come back to bite many organizations in 2021.

The potential and substantial cost of payroll miscalculation realized as a result of furloughs, lay-offs, extended sick leave and incorrect reporting could be next to strike businesses as fallout from COVID starts to be realized.

Irrespective of circumstances, regulations are in place to protect employees and governments.

It’s the realization of these risks and the day-to-day challenges that has got senior leaders, many for the first time, interested in HR and payroll. And at the same time, pushing to move core business processes to specialist providers.

On paper it might look to be more cost effective to run in-house. But in reality, especially in more complex countries it can be more costly if fines, back payments and ghost payrolls are factored in.

Expect the unexpected

With vaccines on the horizon, a rising number of people will be returning to the workplace. As this happens, we should apply the foresight we now have and create “flexible first” workforce structures.

Having proven we can be trusted to work remotely, employees should be given the power to decide when, where and how they work. 2020 has taught us that working solely from home doesn’t work for everyone, but there are major advantages to choice.

We’ve seen a global rise in work-related mental health challenges. It’s possible we have just become more open to talking about the topic as even the ‘strongest’ have suffered.

To this end, lots of management teams have worked hard not to make work a point of stress for people. Additional leave has been made available to care for themselves and their families, knowing that this will impact performance.

Being able to choose how and when we work has brought huge advantages to all. This is especially so to those who care for children or family members, have invested in career development programs or who suffer from underlying conditions that can be better managed in a home environment, for example.

The way people and businesses on the whole have supported those in difficult circumstances is noteworthy and should continue.

Have an open mind

In the past year, we’ve discovered that the best results come from learning as we go rather than black and white mandates delivered via the c-suite. We now know that agility has to be built-in to people processes and the technologies underpinning these.

It would be foolhardy to say a year like 2020 will never happen again. To simply write-off the losses. The reality is that it will be years before the effects of 2020 come to a close. We also know that it’s very possible it could happen again.

The worst move would be to plan for normal. We should be planning “for better”. Without this, we will see so many talented people, women in particular, leaving businesses and great gaps in experience appearing.

With honesty comes resilience

The not knowing has been a killer for so many of us this year. There is no model for how best to communicate other than openly. If there are issues, say what these are. People have a 6th sense, which can often lead to destructive second guessing.

Being upfront builds commitment and loyalty. Many HR leaders have recognized this and in the past months and worked with leadership teams to build more open business cultures.

Pulse surveys have come of age in 2020, providing the means to “listen” to every employee in the organization to get an understanding of how people are feeling. The worst thing an employer can do is weigh yet more pressure on people who are struggling.

Skilling up for success in 2021

Self-service HR has played a major role in helping people to manage themselves during the pandemic. It provides a feeling of control. Instant information, the ability to keep careers on track and a quick and easy way to book time off.

Just because the world is in turmoil should not mean that employees can’t keep looking forward. Furthermore, digital HR processes fuel the analytics tools, previously mentioned.

Succession planning remains crucial. So too does ensuring skills keep being developed.

The specifics of real-time learning are irreplaceable, but for some are seemingly more difficult without one-to-one contact. However, Continuous Performance Management (CPM) ensures this continues on even in remote circumstances.

Beyond ensuring productivity remains on track, CPM provides regular check-ins. These can help to build a constructive, forward-looking mindset for individuals as well as the business. It’s also builds personal resilience.

From this comes a culture of ambition, collaboration and emotional intelligence. All essential as we rebuild. Furthermore, it ensures business objectives and growth targets are met.

Could 2021 be the start of something great?

So much has changed due to COVID, which seemingly sprung from nowhere. However, many of these changes in the world of work have long been on the agenda. They just weren’t as high up as they are today.

The pandemic forced people into action. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to “test” change and to draw very real conclusions from revolutionizing work practices. Perhaps the most important learning though is the value that HR processes and the data this produces brings to overall business planning.

Without people, there is no business, without HR, there are no processes, without technology there is no data and without intelligence there is no planning. And this brings us back round to people. What COVID-19 has taught us more than anything else is that we need each other to be happy, successful and looking towards a positive future.

The benefit of hindsight

With the benefit of hindsight, how would you have prepared yourself for 2020, the year we stopped, yet seemingly accelerated the clocks?