3 Predictions for 2021 That Every CHRO Must Know 

A new report from Worksome shines a light on the biggest trends that will affect human resources workers. An accelerated work environment, flexibility, and access to talent will all be critical. Leading recruiters from The Christopher Group, Alta Associates, Wilton & Bain, and Rush and Company weigh in!

June 11, 2021 – The last year has been, by many accounts, one of the most disruptive periods for HR teams – and many human resource professionals up and down the line are still finding their bearings as 2021 unfolds. But the best people teams are those that choose to make the best out of a messy situation. A new report by Worksome, an enterprise platform that connects companies with freelancers looking for professional roles, looks at three key predictions that will define the future of HR.

Among them: The future of work has arrived – ahead of schedule. And that means we are in an accelerated environment. Flexibility, therefore, is the key to competitive advantage – no matter the industry. And access to talent and specialist skills will define tomorrow’s winners. Let’s take a closer at each prediction and see exactly what it means for developing new approaches to today’s problems.

1. The future of work arrives ahead of schedule.

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” The quote by Lenin saw a revival during the pandemic as most people and companies experienced a seismic shift in the way we work and live, noted the  the Worksome report. “But for HR organizations, the pandemic didn’t change the future – it accelerated it,” it concluded. In March 2020, about 30 percent of American knowledge workers were working from home. Two weeks later, this number was 60 percent, according to Forbes.

Worksome believes that the future is neither remote nor on-site, but rather a hybrid model that provides both employees and employers with the right flexibility when needed. This is supported by a recent study from McKinsey & Company: “The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that more than 20 percent of the global workforce could work the majority of its time away from the office—and be just as effective.”

2. Flexibility becomes the key to a competitive advantage.

A key lesson from the COVID-19 crisis is that everything can change in a matter of days and weeks. “For years, we’ve talked about how the companies that can cope with change are best positioned in a world, where new trends are constantly arising. COVID-19 has accelerated this by 10 times,” the report said. “The takeaway for HR organizations in 2021 is that agility needs to be built into the core of their workforce model. With business starting to pick up again, now is the right moment to rethink workforce structure.”

Worksome noted that most companies are seeing business coming back gradually, and a freelance workforce can help in mitigating the gaps in the short term as well as building a long term competitive advantage by creating an agile workforce. Ninety percent of business leaders believes that shifting their talent model to a blend of full-time and freelancers can give a future competitive advantage, according to Boston Consulting Group.

3. Access to talent and specialist skill will define tomorrow’s winners.

Worksome also said that 2021 presents a bigger challenge to the companies that rely on pre-COVID-19 talent attraction strategies. “The old limitations of geographic locations are no longer there, which has opened up for the opportunity to access talent anywhere,” the company said. “For employees, they can change job more frequently without the friction of having to move to a new place every time. This opens an opportunity for companies to recognize this new trend and focus more on hiring specialists for two to three months projects to accommodate the constant increase in skill levels and changing abilities needs as.”

Veteran Executive Search Consultants Weigh In

“Let us establish a few base lines that I think we can all agree upon,” said Nat Schiffer, managing director at The Christopher Group. “First, COVID-19 has accelerated several trends – some of them are obvious and others are less so. One of the most obvious is that more employees will work from home. I have read reports recently that say nearly half of all employees will work remotely at least a portion of the time. This outcome will have a cascading impact on leadership and talent. Leaders are going to have to adapt their styles to meet remote needs,” he said.

Employees will need and likely expect “a new journey” of what work experiences and progressions will look like, according to Mr. Schiffer. “I suspect that employee experience is going to change and will likely be more accommodating to personal factors especially as the war for talent escalates,” he said.  “Talent will need more digital dexterity to thrive in this new blended work environment. Another interesting impact that most people are not talking about yet is workforce analytics. Employee data and the increased use of it have really interesting implications. Logging in and out, location tracking, computer use and other are all subject to passive data tracking. According to a recent report that I read on employee data, already 16 percent of companies surveyed report passive data collection. Will this be used in evaluating performance and productivity? As you can see the ripple in the pond is quite significant and as the trend of the employee seeing the employer as a social safety net continues the tax on HR and leadership is only going to grow.”

“The post COVID-19 boom is creating a Roaring 20s type of demand for goods and services,” Mr. Schiffer said. “Yet over the last few decades lean principals have created very tight supply chains, globalization has created dependencies that we did not think through over the long term, and demographic shifts has created a shortage of new and willing workers. Not to mention that impact of COVID-19 directly impacting millions of people who will voluntarily not return to the workforce for a whole host of reasons. Almost all of my clients are struggling to find and fill critical frontline worker roles,” he said. But it is not just frontline workers.

“I recently filled an executive leadership role on the outskirts of a tier two sized city in the south and there are little to no housing options available,” Mr. Schiffer said. “The wait for apartments is months, there is little to no inventory on the resale market, leaving only very costly and few temporary housing options.” The cost of talent mobility is rising, he said, and companies will pull out a growing bag of solutions to address this. “Contingent and or contract workers is one important solution. Our firm went from not having this offering three years ago to getting an inquiry virtually almost every day for it now,” he said. “But there are other trends to note in the pre-COVID-19 world: In the past, clients would hire us one in 10 times offering remote work as an option. Today, that number is five times in 10. That is quite a shift and it is being driven by solving for talent shortages.”

“Working remotely has actually streamlined the interview process,” said CEO Joyce Brocaglia of Alta Associates, a leader in hunting down highly sought-after cybersecurity talent for an expansive roster of blue chip clients. “Limited travel has resulted in less scheduling conflicts and the adoption of video interviews as a norm has given flexibility to candidates and hiring managers alike. Alta’s search directors are able to personally screen more executives for each search which results in a more expedient process and a refined and diverse slate of candidates for our clients,” she said.

“Corporations with the most agile processes and flexible workforces were the quickest to adapt and thrive post pandemic,” Ms. Brocaglia said. “In order to remain competitive in the new normal, organizations will need to rethink how they hire, on-board and retain top talent.” Alta Associates has been able to engage companies to hire more diverse candidates by leveraging their new flexibility in allowing executives to work remotely.

Essential Leadership Skills for Challenging Times
As the economy continues its rapid transition toward automation, the customer experience field requires strong leadership to keep customers engaged. Soft skills, such as communication and emotional intelligence, will be the skills that set the best leaders apart from the mediocre, according to a new report by Christopher Rios of Blue Rock Search.

“Cybersecurity has become a board level imperative – and not only do top candidates have to have the technical skills to understand the threat landscape, they have to have the business acumen to present their findings to the board and key stakeholders,” said Ms. Brocaglia. “Most importantly the ability to create a cyber organization that is pro-active, views security as an enabler to the business, and can add value to the digital transformation process of their companies is key.”

“Working away from an office environment – and prying ears – has made it easier to reach executives about a career move although finding a slot among their back-to-back video calls is the new challenge,” said Chloe Watts, a partner in the people and culture practice (interim) at Wilton & Bain. “Removing the need to travel to a physical location has significantly improved interview availability and processes can be much quicker as a result.”

However, in the absence of being able to physically meet and ‘walk the floors’ of an office environment, candidates are looking for more touchpoints to build their sense of the working culture. “Remote leadership is the biggest behavioral shift as it requires more effort to stay connected. Without impromptu conversations and natural ‘in the room’ collaboration, these elements need to be scheduled which loses the value of spontaneity. For many international leaders with dispersed global teams, these mechanisms were already in place but these techniques have permeated now to all levels of people managers from team leaders to the C-suite.”

Related: Executive Search Firms Adapting to the New Normal

“The whole corporate world has experienced how working remotely can work – to a greater or lesser degree of effectiveness,” said Tim Baker, also a partner in Wilton & Bain’s people and culture practice. “From a talent perspective, organizations that do not adapt and offer a degree of work flexibility around location and hours will lose talent who have become used to different working patterns over the last year.” The challenge for people professionals, he said, will be in striking the balance between accommodating individuals’ needs with the needs of teams and the wider organization, particularly where some operational roles require full time presence while others are entirely location agnostic.

“Saying talent is the thing that keeps leaders awake at night appears good for a soundbite but lacks committed action,” Ms. Watts said. “We consistently hear that people functions are leaner, cutting cost and driving efficiency, rather than receiving targeted investment to attract, develop and retain key capabilities and great talent. CEOs can’t expect their people functions to deliver on this strategic priority without the budget and investment.”

“There is global demand and scarcity of supply in digital and technology talent particularly in areas such as AI, robotic automation and data science,” said Mr. Baker. “At the executive and non-executive director level, environmental, social, and governance is becoming a pivotal strategic lever and leaders who are deeply skilled in this area will be in high demand.”

“The simple thought of having to uproot your entire family, find a new place to live and have kids start new schools is daunting, to say the least,” said Kimber McFadden, vice president of nonwovens and industrial textiles with Rush & Company. “It has been our never-ending challenge to ‘convince’ our clients to consider that a candidate may be equally – if not more effective – if they can stay put. Such great talent has been overlooked or dismissed because the client wants them under their wing. How totally refreshing to see this mindset shifting and optional ways to get the job done. The candidate pool could explode with lessening these restrictions!”

“While still reeling from this COVID-19 crisis my niche market is experiencing significant talent shortages as they are industries in demand for products needed to combat the virus worldwide,” Ms. McFadden said. “Companies still want who they want but must be realistic that choices abound and you have to be very competitive and compelling in getting the best talent. The interview process needs to be swift and decisive in making in best hire whether a full-time position or project management for specific timeframes. Organizational charts needs to be flexible and companies may need to be more matrixed to cover all their hiring needs.”

Related: Skills Gap Points to Why We Need to Invest in People

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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