Winning Predictions for the Workplace and Human Capital Management in 2021



Every year, executives and analysts turn their attention to the human resources industry and try to predict the future of human capital management (HCM). 


For the most part, these predictions act as an exercise in critical thinking and educated guessing. But this year, when the tumultuous events of 2020 and the far-reaching impact of COVID-19, the predictions feel like they hold more weight – we’re all on high alert for good advice, and we don’t want to miss something that might be helpful as the year goes on. 


Below, we’ve collected the four most relevant or interesting workplace trends we see gaining traction in 2021. There’s no guarantee that all of these trends will apply to every company. But as the HCM industry pivots to support businesses through the uncertainty of a post-COVID-19 economy, it’s critical we all understand the forces at play. 


1.  Deloitte says we’ll prioritize tech that helps us return to our humanity

The very human reality of COVID-19-induced social distancing and work from home has required leaders in the workplace to consider the health and wellbeing of employees in a whole different way. 


In its 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte draws attention to how this will affect our HR tech choices. In particular, how we’ll prioritize tech that helps us connect, socialize, and experience our humanity together. 


“In today’s world of perpetual disruption, it’s time for organizations to shift from a survive mindset to a thrive mindset,” writes Deloitte. “Making this shift depends on an organization’s becoming—and remaining—distinctly human at its core, because today’s environment of extreme dynamism calls for a degree of courage, judgment, and flexibility that only humans can bring.”


Deloitte weaves the theme of bringing out our humanity with technology into several trends for 2021, including using tech to design work for well-being instead of work/life balance and giving employees more agency in their professional development choices


2.  Sierra-Cedar sees a greater adoption of AI for HR

HR research organization Sierra-Cedar sees artificial intelligence (AI) hitting its stride in 2021, with companies adopting technology with AI for HR tasks like recruiting, service delivery, and learning and development. The increased usage of AI will continue to grow over the next 10 years, when “ up to 50% of organizations will have HR technology that provides daily recommendations and workforce insights based on AI and machine learning. 


While vice president of research and analytics for Sierra-Cedar Stacey Harris still sees a lot of discomfort with AI among managers and employees, she thinks more ethical standards and regulation will go a long way to normalizing the technology in HR.


3. Josh Bersin says companies will continue to build internal talent marketplaces

Renowned HR analyst Josh Bersin shared a number of his predictions for 2021 in his HR Tech Conference keynote. One that stood out is the continuing need for organizations to maximize employee lifetime value by formalizing the pathways employees can use to reskill, upskill, and take on new roles within an organization. 


These internal talent marketplaces, facilitated by HR tech that takes a proactive approach to performance management and professional development, will be key for organizations that want to retain their best talent for the duration of an employee’s career, not just the estimated 2-year average a knowledge worker spends in a given role. 


Click here to learn more about how SyncHR’s position management-based org chart tool supports internal talent marketplaces in 2021 


4. McKinsey & Company sees remote work as the new normal for some occupations

McKinsey & Company estimates that as much as 20% of the workforce could continue to work from home three to five days a week once the pandemic ends without negatively impacting productivity, about three to four times as many people as before the pandemic. 


What’s interesting about McKinsey’s take on remote work is that it won’t be determined by occupation or industry, but by tasks and activity. Once an employee’s day-to-day workflow is successfully moved online with the appropriate technology, it may not make sense to require them to come back into the office. 


Comparing time spent on different activities within different occupations, McKinsey found that finance and insurance occupations have the highest potential for continued remote work, followed by management, business services, and information technology. 


Preparing for anything

Coming out of the events of 2020, most organizations have a new appreciation of agility, both at the employee, manager, and organizational level. Moving into the new year, agility will continue to plan an important role in responding to the changes and grappling with the challenges of remote work, changing employee needs, and a recovering economy. It will be fascinating to see how companies use their HR and HCM technology to navigate those changes and find success in the new world of work.


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Sarah Greesonbach

Sarah Greesonbach

Sarah Greesonbach turns cutting-edge research and data into captivating HR technology marketing content. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR, and her writing helps HR executives and professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance.

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