Written by Sabby Gill, Chief Executive Officer at Thomas International

It’s that time again when we all look back over the past year and use what has gone before to make predictions on what is to come. 2020 is going to be a tough act to follow and forecasts this time round are tricky! Data from this year is skewed and full of anomalies, workplaces and team dynamics have transformed overnight, global trading partnerships are being renegotiated and we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. But we have got our finger on the pulse and looking ahead at 2021, we will see a range of opportunities and trends. Here we lay out four key trends for next year. 


A whole new level of flexibility in how, and where, we work

We like to think that we have had flexible working in place for some time, but 2020 has brought this to a whole new level. This trend is here to stay, and 2021 will see increased variations in acceptable schedules, locations and methods. This is a progressive step forward –  the greatest shakeup in office working for decades – that should be embraced and supported.

There’s a balance to be achieved, though, between enabling employees to work outside of standard office hours, and expecting them to. Many companies have reported increased productivity while workers have been using early mornings and evenings to work, leaving periods in the daytime free for childcare or recreation. However, the challenge of always being “on” combined with pressure from remote presenteeism and the fear of being thought of as slacking are all challenges HR leaders need to be mindful of as we start the new year.  

HR teams should encourage line managers to create routines as flexibility is fine, but some semblance of routine helps staff to know when and how to stay in contact with each other. Added to this, understanding their workforce’s levels of motivation and adaptability, and preferred communication styles will allow better flexible management. With these measures in place, HR leaders can build essential trust across the business regardless of where employees are based. 


The approaching wave of recruitment activity – an opportunity and a risk

While recruitment in some sectors such as financial services, healthcare and tech have remained buoyant, most areas have seen a sharp downturn over the past nine months. Graduates have been particularly hard hit, seeing the largest fall in the UK since the 2008 financial crisis in a drop of 12% this year.

However, things are about to change and  we may well see a massive upturn in hiring during the first half of 2021. Recruiters and HR specialists will already be finding themselves inundated with applicants for every vacancy, and this will only continue. Especially as many roles can now be filled by remote workers, reducing the need to recruit locally. Whilst there will still be high unemployment through 2021, most sectors will experience growth and look to rebuild their teams. Companies embracing more flexible attitudes to standard working hours and locations will see the greatest recovery.


Predictive hiring becomes mainstream

It’s important to be able to predict who will be productive and engaged in certain roles and working environments. Predicting best-fit makes good business sense, but also plays a part in improving individual wellbeing, which in turns leads to increased productivity. As the increase in candidates-to-roles ratio becomes apparent, it will become harder to predict who will deliver productivity and drive your business.

The question becomes how recruiting companies can be sure they are finding the best talent from this unusually large pool. The answer will be an increased use of predictive hiring tools – platforms that predict success by measuring aptitudes, personality traits and other characteristics, providing comparable data. This assists recruiters to reduce costs whilst improving productivity, since best-fit candidates generally have a longer tenure, both in their initial jobs and within the enterprise longer term. This can, in turn, reduce direct onboarding and replacement costs, decrease new hire training costs, and speed their time to competency. 

A strategic focus on addressing the skills gap

Many businesses are facing reorganisation and significant operating change going into the New Year. It’s going to be vital that they remain agile and able to deploy skills across the business when and where needed. HR leaders must find ways to ensure their staff are receptive to changed duties, roles and priorities.  

Redeploying staff will require additional training and support. Employees will recognise that a flood in talent on the market means each new role will be harder to acquire, so internal development will look even more appealing. They will expect employers to invest both cash and resources in this area, so offering a strong learning and development plan will help retain staff and attract potential candidates. Psychometric testing enables HR managers to identify the exact areas in which an employee needs to strengthen or grow, and can support targeted, lean development plans.

Moving on with confidence

2020 has, without a doubt, been a year of turmoil for many businesses. As we gear up to leave this year behind, it is vital that HR teams arm themselves with the right tools to take on the new year.

Considering the trends and opportunities mentioned on this list, is a useful first step that HR teams can take to approach employee engagement proactively.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.