How COVID made the future of work today

The pandemic brought the future of work to the present day, forcing employers to pivot on a dime and recalculate how they approach what were emerging trends like hybrid/remote work, workplace wellbeing and a focus on the individualized employee experience.

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Sharing information from SAP’s 2021 trends survey, Lauren Bidwell, senior research scientist, product strategy research at SAP SuccessFactors, highlighted the eight most prevalent and important topics that HR needs to address. These are, in order of importance as rated by survey respondents:

  1. Rise of the hybrid workforce
  2. Employees owning their learning and mobility
  3. The purpose-driven organization
  4. Renewed emphasis on holistic wellbeing
  5. HR in the spotlight
  6. Balancing data intelligence with data privacy
  7. Individualizing the employee experience
  8. Agility–from buzzword to business imperative

As more employers move to a hybrid option, HR leaders are given both an opportunity and challenge, Bidwell said Wednesday during a mega-session at the HR Technology Conference & Exposition.

The benefit: HR will have access to boundary-less talent that they didn’t have access to before. However, with that freedom comes a divide between remote and in-office employees, she noted.

“As we think about who can and cannot work in a hybrid work arrangement, we already have a huge divide culturally between corporate workers and field workers,” she said, warning “we see there being a potential for that divide to grow.”

Another hot topic from Bidwell’s research was the rise in the purpose-driven organization.

“Organizations were forced to walk the talk when it comes to social issues, and make an environment where employees can thrive and feel valued,” she said.

But, she said, one of the challenges that employers will face is gathering pertinent data to make informed decisions. Especially data around DEI.

Organizations will grapple with wanting to understand their diverse workforce while respecting privacy and abiding by region-specific legislation, she said.

“It puts orgs in a catch-22 that data is so critical to DEI initiatives, but they can’t get access to data for multiple reasons,” she said.

As employers look to collect data, Bidwell highlighted three considerations for HR leaders on data collection:

  • When. When are you collecting it? It’s often happening during onboarding, but employees don’t have that psychological safety and trust yet. She suggests it would be better to collect it two to three years down the line when trust is built up.
  • Where. Where are you sourcing and keeping data? Previously some of this data had been stored in their employee profile. Although HR knew it to be confidential, concerns that it might not stay that way resulted in disengagement.
  • Why. Transparency will be the most important underlying principle for any change management approach. Be open, transparent and communicate why you want to collect this data. It’s because, for example, “we want to be the best workplace,” she said.
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Nick Otto
Nick Otto is HRE’s former senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.