Support Your Remote Workforce with These 2021 HR Tech Trends

2021 HR Tech Trends for Remote Work2020 was a hurricane for HR. The pandemic left HR decision-makers and company leaders scrambling to accommodate work-from-home arrangements, make sure everyone has remote access, and learn how to adjust operational protocols for remote work.

Many are still facing those same challenges here at the beginning of 2021, but you may be feeling a little more comfortable with the mechanics of remote work. So what's next? How can you fine-tune your strategies, continue to support remote workers, and make sure you are prepared for success in 2021, whatever that looks like? 

This year, HR will focus less on shiny new tech toys and more on utilizing technology strategically to support remote employees, facilitate back-to-work plans, and establish some permanent remote roles. Here are some of the areas you’ll want to keep a close eye on this year. 

Remote Employee Experiences

As the pandemic continues to rage, many employees are still working from home at least part-time. While some positions rely on face-to-face interaction and will eventually need to be brought back in-house, others may be transitioned to remote functions for the foreseeable future. Companies have already had to overcome initial challenges like timekeeping, remote technology, communication, and team collaboration. Now, the attention will shift to creating positive employee experiences for remote workers. Those experiences will need to include: 

  • Employee engagement technology
  • Analytics
  • Remote recruiting
  • Diversity and inclusion hiring
  • Remote onboarding strategies
  • Online networking
  • Work-life balance
  • Team building
  • Virtual job shadowing

Changes to Wellness Programs

Working from home for months at a time has served to highlight the critical role that mental health plays in an employee’s performance and productivity. Together with increased concerns about COVID-19, vaccines, and other health issues, the shift toward remote work has created a need to re-evalute employee wellness programs. In 2021, it will be important to consider whether your current wellness program meets the needs of an increasingly remote workforce with heightened health concerns. For example, BambooHR reports that one in five companies plans to offer greater financial wellness support, and one in four plans to offer more mental health support.

In addition to wellness benefits, it's also wise to take a look at sick leave policies. Because health experts recommend that people stay home if they display any potential symptoms of Covid-19, employees may need more sick days than were previously offered. If that’s not possible, another option might be to offer remote work opportunities for employees who are waiting for a COVID test or who must quarantine after a potential exposure if they aren't working from home already. If you plan to bring employees back into the office, you will need to consider policies about temperature and symptom checks, mask-wearing, social distancing, and other related precautions.

Deeper People Analytics

Yes, we’ve heard about the vital role of analytics for several years now. But with larger percentages of employees working remotely, it’s more important than ever that you know how to measure the right data. Here are some ways you can shore up your analytics strategy this year:

  • Measure value-add data points – By value-add, we mean data points that show how you can improve strategic efforts such as engagement, performance management, training and development, and retention, resulting in better business outcomes. These are the things that make HR a key player in organizational directives. As these areas improve, employees become more productive contributors. In the context of remote work, engagement and performance management initiatives may need to use different techniques. A robust analytics strategy will let you know if what you're doing is working.

  • Consider AI tools – AI can make data analysis faster and more accessible. For example, natural language processing tools such as UKG's AI platform, Xander, can analyze text responses from employees. These types of open-ended survey responses give you a better feel for the underlying sentiments in your workforce as opposed to traditional ranked responses. AI also predicts future behavior based on current data, which plays a key role in retention and performance management strategies.

  • Customize dashboards – Data does no one any good if it isn’t accessible. One way to put the right information in front of the right people is to curate data using your HCM. For example, with PDS Vista, you can create dashboards for specific users or groups, from the C-suite down to specific department managers. Gathering this information in one place makes it easy to absorb key information quickly without combing through multiple reports. 

Remote Team Building

Strong cultures rely on team building to promote engagement and workplace satisfaction. Strategies often include workshops, recognition, extended onboarding, team meetings and collaboration, and coaching-style management. But with a remote workforce, some of those tried-and-true techniques will need to be redesigned. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams can be used to hold team meetings and support remote communication, but they can only go so far.

Many HCM platforms offer performance management functions, online chat boards, and other tools that support team building. You may also want to supplement your efforts with online events such as:

  • Virtual team games
  • Online team-building workshops
  • Personality assessments
  • Sharing pictures or favorite things
  • A virtual coffee break or happy hour

Fine-tuning your technology to better support remote workers can also be a great help in building effective teams. For example, Ceridian recommends investing in operational agility, intelligent talent management software, and predictive analytics. 

Work-Life Balance

If there is anything 2020 taught us, it’s that work is about people. To work effectively, people need human interaction. They need stability and purpose, support from managers and colleagues, face-to-face interactions, and regular feedback. Those things are even more important when working from home, and they require more intentional effort.

Paradoxically, work can’t just be about work. It has to be about the whole person, including mental health and “off” time. There are several ways companies can lean in to this whole-person work-life balance according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health:

  • Support from managers
  • Team check-ins and connection through tools like Zoom or Teams
  • Staying alert for changes in personality or caliber of work, which may indicate mental health struggles
  • Online training to sharpen skills
  • Mental health services through an Employee Assistance Program

Effective work also requires that employees have adequate down time. Lines between work and home were already becoming blurred before the pandemic. Now, as more people work from home offices or living rooms, it's harder than ever to leave work at work. One way employers can help is to encourage a “virtual commute.” Microsoft Teams, for example, has introduced new functionality to help employees wind up tasks for the day and transition away from the office.

Remote Recruiting and Onboarding

Recruiting took a huge hit when the pandemic began. Many companies stopped hiring altogether, and others had to find creative ways to interview and onboard candidates without in-person interactions. If you are among those who halted hiring activities, you may be looking for ways to get the wheels turning again. The good news is that virtual recruiting has been around for a while and many of the tools you'll need are readily available. You'll just have to adjust your hiring and onboarding process to meet the needs of a remote workforce. Here are some things you'll need to consider:

  • Recruiting Technology - If you have a robust HCM platform, you may already have the tools you need to streamline the candidate screening and nurturing process. Many platforms include an integrated ATS, and some also include job board posting, time tracking, online scheduling, and other tools. In addition, you will need a way to interview remote candidates. Zoom is still a great option for video interviews, and phone screenings can be helpful in the early stages of recruitment. 

  • Employer Branding - If the majority of your recruitment activities will be taking place remotely, you'll need to step up your branding efforts. Employer branding helps candidates get to know the culture and values of your company. That's especially important when they can't visit your office in person. For example, take a new look at your company social media pages, your jobs page, your mobile app or website, and your application process. 

  • Remote Onboarding - Take a fresh look at your onboarding process and look for ways you can intentionally engage new hires. For example, SentricHR recommends virtual onboarding activities alongside the paperwork and documents for HR. 

Find Your Stride With Remote Work

Finding the right blend of tools and processes for remote work will take some time and intentional effort, but it will be worth it. As the workforce continues to evolve, remote work will be standard for many companies in the very near future. Laying the foundation with a robust HCM platform is one of the best things you can do to set both your organization and your employees up for success. 

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