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HR Priorities for 2021: How to Jumpstart Your Processes

HR trends to look out for and to prepare for in 2021

Aimie Ye

by Aimie Ye - January 7th, 2021


With a year of unprecedented events and changes behind us, HR pros are looking to stay on top of 2021 trends. Many new regulations, procedures, and workplace paradigms came about in 2020, as the COVID pandemic impacted businesses all over. From creating new work policies to tracking FFCRA leave, there’s nothing that human resources didn’t tackle. To be prepared for anything this year throws at us, we’ve identified a list of priorities -- and suggestions around them -- for HR pros to expect this year. 

HR Priorities for 2021

  • Remote working and learning

  • Flexible time tracking, PTO and work policies

  • Employee engagement & wellbeing

  • Paid sick leave

  • New legislation

  • DEI

  • HR process automation

Remote Working and Learning

The transition to remote work is without a doubt the biggest trend to prepare for in 2021. A recent Gartner survey of company leaders identified that 80% will allow their workforce to work remotely at least part of the time, even post-pandemic. On top of that 47% plan to allow employees to work completely remotely. These numbers show what we already know and likely expected -- that HR managers should plan existing processes around the remote work model, whether that’s remote onboarding of employees or virtual training plans.

If your business intends to stay remote for now (or forever), here are a few topics for consideration:

    1. Remote work policies. You may want to review or create a remote work policy now that it’s becoming the norm. Rally the leadership team, constantly communicate about policies, research best practices, and take a role-specific approach. Policies should live and be acknowledged in your HRIS so your team is always in the loop and you can access data at any given time.   

    2. Digital onboarding. If you don’t have plans for returning to the office, you’ll want to make sure your hiring and onboarding processes are as buttoned up as they used to be (if not more!). Digital onboarding systems make it a lot easier to send & sign digital offer letters, preview benefits, and set-up payroll for your new team members. They also make the employee experience more enjoyable from day one. You may want to seriously consider investing in a consolidated HR system to minimize time spent on manual processes. 

    3. Data privacy/security. HR is often tasked with keeping employee information confidential, and the shift to remote work may heighten data privacy risks. Working from home has opened doors to wifi-related security incidents, browser-based attacks, phishing attacks and more. While these developments have increased cybersecurity risks, effective HR software like GoCo runs on modern technology, is SOC 2 certified, and comes equipped with 2-factor authentication.

    4. Remote learning. Be prepared to train your new and existing employees virtually. Choose a delivery model, use the necessary conferencing and chat tools, and manage progress with automated checklists.

      Flexible Time Tracking, PTO, and Work Policies

      Flexibility is the name of the game. No one knows how this year is going to pan out yet, and a lot of it depends on the status of the pandemic. The three most important things to remember are:

      Working parents are pulling overtime at home, and HR can play a large role in keeping morale high this year. Additionally, women continue to be disproportionately impacted by the current circumstances. To support your working parents and also stop women from leaving your workforce, you’ll likely want to consider offering flexible work hours or WFH options. Whether this means allowing your team to work earlier or later hours, or even a compressed schedule, make sure to ask how you can best support your team while still maintaining productivity levels. 

      If you do decide to incorporate more flexible options and policies into your HR model, you may also be considering adjusting previous PTO policies. Whether that means allowing carryover, paying out unused PTO, considering unlimited PTO, or giving vacation priority to essential workers, make sure you have a modern time tracking and PTO request system that changes with you. A flexible HR document system allows you to edit, review, and approve new policies that make sense in the new year. 

      Employee Engagement & Wellbeing

      Though the wellbeing of your employees should be top of mind every year, the “new normal” brings this focus to the forefront. Surveys show that loneliness is a growing concern for the remote employee experience. HR plays a key role in fostering social connections in these times of isolation, so here’s what you can do this year:

      • Create space to talk about what’s going on in the world. Schedule frequent check-ins throughout the workweek, and create social groups virtually. 

      • Implement strong team communication, project management, HR, and video conferencing tools to make interactions easier between team members. 

      • Consider offering online training

      • Ask for employee feedback. Consider collecting anonymous feedback on how to improve the virtual experience.

      • Consider reimbursing employees for home office related items, since they are likely  there to stay for a while. Having a centralized HR system also allows you to streamline processes like reimbursement workflows, so you never miss a step. 

      • Update your employee handbook and communicate changes frequently so your team feels valued and in the loop. Make sure it’s easy to send out mass updates and require acknowledgement in your HRIS

      • Remind your employee of health benefits, telehealth options, and any additional resources your business may offer for mental and physical health.

      Paid Sick Leave

      The FFCRA regulations and Paycheck Protection Program provisions are likely no stranger to HR managers. What happens now that the FFCRA has expired? With 2020 over, federal Emergency Paid Sick leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave will be extended, but is not mandatory to offer. If your business does decide to voluntarily offer COVID-19 paid leave to employees this year, accurately tracking and employee requests and leave policies will be crucial. Choosing an HR software with emergency paid leave tracking will make collecting and tracking COVID-19 time off request, approvals and documents much easier. You’ll want to make sure leave balances, documentation data, required reasons for leave, and waiting periods are all taken care of.

      New Legislation

      To start this year on the right foot, make sure you’re aware of any new laws, at the federal or state level, that may pertain to your business. For one, minimum wage is expected to increase for many states, which directly impacts payroll. Keep yourself up-to-date on increase dates, minimum wage laws, and how legislation impacts your policies. 

      Additionally, educate your HR team on the newly approved round of PPP loans that differs from the first round. The amendments to the PPP could prove to be very powerful for your HR processes this year, and have even expanded to cover payment towards HR software, cloud computing, and other HR and accounting needs. As most small businesses have felt the impact of COVID-19, capitalizing on PPP loan options and additional grants could make a world of a difference.

      Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

      Similar to employee wellbeing, DEI is not (and should not be) a new concept for HR. However, 2020 presented a major opportunity for change in the workplace, as America continues to grapple with the ongoing tragedies of racism, deeply embedded in our culture. If you know work needs to be done, but don’t know where to begin, here are few good starting points for re-evaluating and addressing DEI in your workforce:

      • Review your recruitment procedures. This means not only adjusting procedures to provide expanded access to ethnic minorities and people of diverse backgrounds, but also implementing bias interrupters in your hiring policies to ensure that BIPOC, LGBTQ+, etc. will not suffer from discrimination in your company. Try to reduce hiring from referrals, remove discouraging language, and use software instead of people to screen applicants. 

      • Support anti-racism and color-consciousness. Make sure to continuously involve leadership, open up a dialogue on why change is needed, and invite employees to weigh in. 

      • Review existing policies around anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, compensation, awards and recognition, dress code and more to align with DEI efforts.

      These are only a few among hundreds of ways to continue to improve DEI in the workforce in 2021.

      HR Process Automation

      The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a strong spotlight on the need for HR process automation. With the amount of new legislation, policies, and employee engagement efforts on the table this year, HR has less and less time to focus on administrative, manual tasks. Manual tasks span a wide range of HR topics, from printing out paper onboarding documents to manually setting up payroll, and even using a paper-checklist for employee requests. Modern, consolidated HR technology makes previously time-consuming tasks like running payroll, open enrollment, and collecting onboarding documents a lot easier. 

      Additionally, HR software reduces the risk of human error, minimizes double data-entry, and offers a centralized place for document management so that you never misplace a form. 

      If you’re ready to focus on higher value HR priorities in 2021, take a free interactive tour with GoCo to learn how to streamline all of your HR processes and checklists.