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4 HR Challenges Driving Change in 2021

August 19, 2021 | by Brent Colescott

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to meet with our clients around the globe. In the pre-pandemic days, this was done in person through various events and client site visits. Today most of that happens virtually. Recently I had the opportunity to meet with several of our clients to see how they were adapting to the changes all around us.

What came out of that discussion were a few trends that I see as a challenge for HR professionals worldwide. While no one had any definitive solutions, it was therapeutic to hear that no one is going through this alone. The four main topics that resonated most with the group were the following:

  • Changing talent pipelines/scarcity of candidates
  • Workplace culture
  • “Return to work”
  • Changing processes

1. Changing Talent Pipelines

Ironically, this topic is not new. I spoke about this in 2019 when the unemployment rate was low, and it was nearly impossible to find talent to fill positions. In 2021 this is still a problem, but for different reasons. It has been tied to descriptors like “The Great Resignation” or “Where is Everyone?” The pandemic has turned the workforce upside down and inside out. Interruptions in education, desirable remote work, and concerns for personal health and safety have significantly disrupted the traditional talent pipelines for organizations.

Organizations should be aware that those wishing to return to pre-pandemic operations will be on the losing end of desirable talent. While the solution seems obvious to many – flexibility and adaptability – some organizations are not heeding the warning signs. Those who embrace new and open ways of working will succeed more than those who do not.

2. Workplace Culture

This was a big topic of discussion among our clients. We discussed how culture was apparent and notable during the early days of the pandemic. Organization’s “true selves” were shown in how they supported their employees. However, a year later, culture is taking another turn.

With a remote workforce, many find it challenging to maintain the common bond that culture brings, particularly when it comes to new employees. Without the emotion of stepping through the front door of a workplace, feeling the energy, or seeing new colleagues, there are fewer reasons to stay when another job opportunity presents itself. This seems especially true in the tech sector when many jobs can be done remotely. For now, most are left pondering the best way to build a sense of community and shared culture when so many aren’t in the office.

Managing a Remote Workforce

3. “Return to Work”

I purposely put quotes around this phrase as it is easily misconstrued. People have been working, just not in the office. Some have used the term “return to office” as an alternate. Suffice it to say this is not an easy topic to discuss. This hits across a spectrum of personal well-being, safety, and a departure from the life that previously supported going into work, i.e., childcare or other life-changing events.

One of our clients indicated their organization was split into thirds: a third wished to stay remote, a third was ready to go back, and a third wanted a hybrid approach. This is a new wrinkle in the employee-employer contract that will be a challenge for some time. However, keep in mind the cultural discussion and how that will play into this topic.

4. Changing Processes

On this last topic, I have also referred to it as “never letting a crisis go to waste.” Multiple clients indicated that they had taken a fresh look at how their organizations get work done. One rethought their onboarding and orientation process, including whether it was really necessary to fly employees across the country to sit in a room and undergo training for eight hours straight.

A rise in virtual meetings and the efficiencies that result have challenged many pre-pandemic processes. In many ways, this disruption has afforded a new opportunity to ask “why?” when going about what may seem to be an inefficient process.

In general, I’m an optimist at heart. The conversation with our clients got me excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. While tradition is important, we are currently in a world where it is acceptable to question the current state of things. There will be some discomfort across the board through this process, but I’m reminded of my favorite quote, “if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

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