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HR’s critical role in the future of work

31st Mar 2022
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The HR function has never been more important than it is today. Over the last two years, organisations have had to completely rethink how they manage people – from a rise in the importance of wellbeing (both physical and mental wellbeing), through the ability to recruit and manage a team remotely, to upskilling and reskilling workforces to adapt to digital transformation. At the centre of this is the HR team, driving the skills that will shape organisations and make them fit for the future.

Going back to how things were before the pandemic isn’t an option, and ISG’s research into HR tech trends shows that remote and hybrid working is here to stay. Almost 70 percent of organisations expect more than 20 percent of their employees to work from home in 2022 and beyond (with most of these expecting that number to be between 20 percent and 40 percent of employees).

With this shift comes new technology to support HR departments managing the transition of their workforces to hybrid, or even fully virtual working, to make that transition as seamless and effective as possible. We’re seeing an increase in ‘gig economy’ working, too, which presents a separate set of challenges for HR teams, who need to manage flexible capacity and ensure their organisations stay compliant.

As a result, we’re already seeing a significant uplift in HR departments adopting technology to support virtual recruiting, onboarding, and capacity management, for example. But it doesn’t stop there: technology is starting to support the full lifecycle of an employee, from the moment they apply for a job right through to creating the right environment for collaborative working, no matter where they’re based and what their hours are.

The pandemic has also accelerated the move to digital, creating new skills challenges that HR teams are having to manage, by identifying the skills an organisation needs, upskilling or reskilling existing employees, and recruiting new talent to fill the gaps.

The workplace of the future needs the workforce of the future

Attracting (and keeping) the right talent is a competitive differentiator for organisations. As businesses adapt and transform to digital, their skills requirements change. HR is at the centre of developing the right people with the right skills to support digital transformation, improve productivity, and enable organisations to grow and scale.

This is where technology comes into its own, in helping HR teams drive these changes. Technology can help HR teams identify and hire the right talent, upskill where needed, use learning and development technology to maintain (and measure the impact of) skills, and continuously improve employee performance (while linking that performance to business objectives).

HR can scale its impact by incorporating technology such as artificial intelligence for recruitment, robotic process automation (RPA) to help with streamlining processes, and even chatbots to help with routine, transactional employee questions. This allows the HR team to focus on the areas where they deliver real value to the organisation—the complex and strategic activities that have the greatest impact on business performance.

Technology itself can be a differentiator in recruiting and retaining increasingly tech-savvy workers who demand the latest collaboration and efficiency tools in their day-to-day jobs. So, too, can more flexible ways of working, as employees demand more control over their work-life balance.

Data-driven insights for HR mean better business decisions

At the heart of this new world is good data. Data-driven insights can help HR teams identify and even predict the core trends that could shape an organisation. Data can help you spot trends in employee behaviour, predict issues such as the likelihood of someone leaving, pinpoint what skills and capabilities might be missing in the organisation, and even identify people within the organisation who might be well positioned to reskill or upskill to fill new types of roles as they arise.

This kind of insight means HR can be at the heart of business decisions that will drive the skills needed to take the business into the future.

Talent acquisition and management needs to be agile

We may be moving out of lockdowns, but COVID-19 still presents uncertainty. The workplace needs to be agile, and able to adapt to unexpected or unplanned changes. HR mustn’t be left behind.

Traditionally, HR has relied on top-down management and planning, and hitting expected outcomes through big projects planned well in advance. But agile is a much more iterative and collaborative way of working, continually implementing improvements and adjusting your approach as you learn, to reach an outcome.

This is not an overnight process, but an agile approach means HR is far better equipped to deal with and adapt to change, quickly. A great place to start might be the recruitment process, for example, which could enable faster access to talent – whether that’s internal or external; or continuous learning programmes that encourage upskilling rather than ‘done and forgotten’ annual formal training or review processes.

The new way of working is here to stay

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to virtual or hybrid working, nor will we slow the pace of change as organisations transform their operations to digital. HR teams are the power houses at the centre of this change, fuelled by agile approaches and technology to make their organisations more flexible and ready for the opportunities ahead.

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