Emerging HR roles to look out for in 2021


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Earlier this year, digital solutions firm Cognizant revealed 21 HR roles that are expected to emerge over the next decade. Caroline Leroy outlines the ones employers are most likely to begin recruiting for in 2021.

Job roles are continually evolving and adapting to keep up with the fast-paced nature of business. Still, there are critical milestones that act as triggers and accelerate the evolution across industries.

Much like how the 2008 financial crisis changed the way chief financial officers (CFOs) operated within organisations, the pandemic could see HR leaders gaining a voice in the C-suite. At least, this is according to a study conducted by The Cognizant Center for Future of Work and Future Workplace.

While some industries have struggled to retain employees, let alone survive, the research predicts that the pandemic will lead to seismic changes in the world of HR and the structure of HR departments, including the creation of up to 21 new roles.

It is undoubtedly true that new roles will be created as a result of the pandemic. After all, the events of the last year – particularly the mass adoption of remote working practices – has forced many organisations to modernise their business processes.

The new WFH

The technology that has enabled remote work to be so successful over the past nine months has, unfortunately, led to a very modern phenomenon – e-presenteeism.

Up until this year, working habits – getting to the office for nine o’clock, having lunch at midday, packing up and leaving at five – have dictated the way people live.

However, remote work has enabled employees to become more flexible. Hours are less regimented and there is no longer the need to rush to catch a train or bus or drive any distance. To put it simply, starting and finishing times have become much more fluid.

But in becoming more fluid, working habits have inevitably changed. The boundaries between life at work and home now no longer physically exist. Employees are now literally bringing their work home with them, leading to many finding it hard to detach themselves from their jobs.

In all probability, remote working practices are here to stay, but for them to be successful, it is highly like that organisations will need to implement new roles to help manage the process better. One position that could emerge to manage this is a Work From Home (WFH) Facilitator. The new role could involve the creation of procedures and processes that look to reduce the risk of e-presenteeism setting in such as, rules that dictate when emails or internal messages can be sent – e.g. not before 9:00 am or after 6:00 pm.

Such a role is not likely to have been on the radar of many HR leaders 12 months ago; however, the adoption and success of remote work has perhaps encouraged decision-makers, satisfying them enough to recognise this is more than just a short-term fad.

The consensus among many experts is that remote working habits will continue beyond the end of the pandemic. The latest ONS figures show that almost a quarter (24%) of the UK workforce now works exclusively from home.

Nevertheless, for remote work to be successful, organisations will have to address issues relating to working away from offices. This includes ensuring that employees have access to the right equipment e.g. office chairs, desks, keyboards, etc, that their working conditions are conducive to producing good quality work and that they are supported in both a professional and personal capacity.

Beyond the responsibilities mentioned above, a WFH Facilitator would also likely address issues around employee engagement and integration.

Business behaviour

Before this year, there were some concerns that remote working could lead to problems with employee engagement. These have, so far at least, been unfounded.

Indeed, a study conducted by O.C.Tanner, a global specialist in corporate culture, revealed that an increase in organisational and leadership transparency throughout the pandemic led to an 85% rise in employee engagement.

Consequently, upping the transparency game will be something that organisations will need to adopt in light of the pandemic. A role such as the Head of Business Behaviour could help ensure this happens. This role is one that is likely to already exist in a lot of organisations, often under a different guise.

Many HR roles require approachability and transparency, yet an additional responsibility that may fall under the requirements for a Head of Business Behaviour would be analysing behavioural data sets, while also ensuring that the organisation is using data ethically and safely.

Leveraging data

Historically, HR departments have been sceptical about using personal data. However, over the last decade, there has been an acceptance that leveraging internal data forms an essential part in helping organisations to better understand the general feeling amongst employees.

The need to become more data-driven is a theme that is very apparent in the emerging roles. No fewer than 10 of the 21 positions mentioned in Cognizant’s study require some data competency skill-set.

This shows that organisations are likely to need to increasingly rely on data and it is unlikely that roles within HR would be exempt from adopting more data-driven processes.

The good news is that the impact of the pandemic on working environments has highlighted the pivotal role that HR plays in the successful running of any organisation.”

The HR Data Detective is a role that would require someone to investigate trends or inconsistencies in data, integrate all HR data and ensure its ethical implementation within an organisation.

Up until now, the lack of data reliance within HR can likely be attributed to many decision-makers considering HR to be a luxury rather than a necessity. As the study suggests, the fact that HR is often seen as a “back office” function means that other business areas have been prioritised when it comes to implementing data processes.

The good news is that the impact of the pandemic on working environments has highlighted the pivotal role that HR plays in the successful running of any organisation. In turn, many organisations have taken the first baby steps when it comes to using data to improve their HR processes.

The appetite for change will be an influential factor for organisations that are looking to rebuild their HR structures. Still, the signals so far are positive: events throughout the last year have increased discussions around general workforce transformation and highlighted the need for HR roles to become more digitally-enabled and data-driven in 2021.

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