Why workplace returns, DEI should top HR’s 2021 priorities

This month, HRE is helping HR leaders prepare for the year ahead with a series featuring insights from industry experts, thought leaders and others about what we can learn from 2020 and the challenges coming in 2021. Read the series here.


This year has brought HR a host of unprecedented issues to navigate: employee safety concerns, engagement in a newly remote world, legal considerations and even the reshaping of the HR role itself. With all of that change just in the last few months, many HR leaders are looking to 2021 with a bit of trepidation: What’s next?

Leslie Mikus, who was named to HRE’s list of 2020’s HR Rising Stars earlier this year, says HR’s work for 2021 is clear: getting employees back to the office safely, while also advancing diversity, equality and inclusion efforts. The vice president and talent leader at MERGE advertising agency notes, however, that even though 2021 may see employees returning to offices, the events of 2020 have permanently altered what the experience will look and feel like.

Leslie Mikus, vice president and talent leader at MERGE

HRE: What was HR’s shining moment in 2020?

Mikus: 2020 had no shortage of challenges and opportunities. We were tasked to quickly pivot to accommodate a fully remote workforce during a constantly changing global health crisis and worked hard to try to bring a sense of normalcy to our new working environment. There were also opportunities to make some lasting and meaningful change across our organizations as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion as racial injustice was brought front and center over the summer.

There were a lot of strategic decisions that HR and leadership were asked to navigate this year that, when done well, led to a determined, motivated and engaged workforce and to long-term success for the business.

HRE: What will the world of work look like in 2021?  

Mikus: There are a lot of uncertainties going into 2021, but with the prospect of a vaccine, a return-to-work date is hopefully not too far behind. The 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday [schedule], however, is a thing of the past. Our amazing teams have proven that collaborative, thoughtful and beautiful work doesn’t need to be done in-person to be effective or engaging, and we’re looking at how that translates into a post-pandemic organization and office setting.

See also: Rising Stars–Merging policies and priorities at MERGE

HRE: What should HR’s first priority be in 2021?

Mikus: In addition to strategically and safely getting our workforces back into an office, diversity, equity and inclusion need to remain at the forefront. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas as we continue to promote our differences (including differences of opinion), live our authentic selves at work and find ways to make our organizations more inclusive (and therefore better) than ever before.

Related: HR’s next big job is convincing employees to get COVID vaccines

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.