Deloitte predicts HR will feature strongly in radical workplace changes 

Report says HR’s handling of challenges created by Covid-19 boosted confidence.

The 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey notes that HR’s handling of challenges created by Covid-19 has made business leaders more confident in the function’s ability to help organisations navigate future changes. This most recent survey showed that HR leaders have more confidence in this ability too.

In its survey of 3,600 executives in 96 countries, Deloitte says most trends emerged from the business and personal demands imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey found that HR’s highest areas of impact during the pandemic were some of the department’s traditional responsibilities, such as protecting health and safety, promoting wellbeing, and increasing communications. 

The 2021 challenge for HR leaders is to figure out how to take advantage of this new status to define the next phase. The goal is to expand the function’s focus beyond operational tasks to re-design work as a whole, according to the report. The authors state that when HR has this mindset, organisations are more resilient, workers are more empowered, and companies achieve better results.

To make this shift, Deloitte recommends the following strategies:

  • Shift the focus from outputs to outcomes;
  • Consider re-architecting as an ongoing capability;
  • Expand the idea of capabilities to include humans and AI; and
  • Approach workforce development by focusing on human abilities such as analysis and synthesis, problem-solving, and social intelligence.

The survey found that companies are learning to live with uncertainty, despite hopes for a return to pre-Covid-19 normal. Deloitte recommends making employee well-being a central priority instead of a sidelined issue, advising that the approach to workforce planning should shift from surviving to thriving.

Strategise around well-being

Instead of expecting employees to fit personal lives around work, employers should change the workplace to support overall wellbeing. The 2021 report finds that, “Organisations that integrate well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and organisational levels will build a sustainable future where workers can feel and perform at their best.”

The shift should be on all three levels: Individual, team, and organisation. Leaders should incorporate this change into cultural, relational, operational, physical, and virtual environments.

Unearth potential

The challenge with this trend is to move away from the traditional approach to skills development and job descriptions. The new best practice is to give workers more freedom to choose how they can best take on critical business problems. Deloitte identifies “talent marketplaces” as one way to do this. “These marketplaces are platforms that make visible and communicate to workers defined opportunities for professional development, training, mentorship, project participation, networking, promotion, diversity, and inclusion.”

Build super-teams that combine people with technology

Superteams are the key to being nimble enough to respond to business challenges, according to the report. Deloitte describes this new kind of team as a combination of people and technology that uses the strengths of both to pursue outcomes at a speed and scale not otherwise possible. 

The barrier to adopting this is the tendency to view artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool rather than a team member. Deloitte recommends taking a broader view of technology's transformative potential to elevate the impact it can have on work. 

Set new directions for work and people

To operate in a fast-changing and uncertain world, companies need to be able to quickly pivot and set new directions, and the key to doing that, according to the Deloitte survey, is to understand the workforce's capabilities and preferences. 

Deloitte recommends asking these questions to get an idea of what a company workforce is capable of accomplishing:

  • How does our organisation treat its employees, contractors, and service providers of every type?
  • Are workers from diverse communities in a position to wield influence in the company?
  • How is our culture, workforce, and leadership being portrayed externally?
  • What signals are we seeing that point to outliers in worker behaviours and norms? 

In the new year, as lockdowns ease and more people get vaccinated, the report concludes that business and tech leaders should learn from the experience of 2020, and shift from surviving to thriving.