There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major changes to the employee experience—most notably the shift to remote work on a mass scale. As many employers came to find, this was a welcome adjustment for their workforces: 45% of respondents in a recent survey listed the ability to work remotely as the work change that had the most positive impact on them over the past year. Organizations found that their teams could work just as well—if not better—when given the freedom to do their jobs from home or remotely in another fixed setting.
We now know that the distributed workforce is here to stay in a bigger way than we could have imagined pre-pandemic. But with that comes a new world of HR. To explore what that means for employers, HR departments, and talent acquisition teams alike, we commissioned 451 Research to create The Future of HR: Preparing for a New World of Distributed Work report.
The findings outlined in the report are pulled from 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise Workforce Productivity & Collaboration Employee Lifecycle and HR 2021 survey, which polled over 560 global workforce employees, including more than 95 human resource executives.
The report sheds light on how employers who embrace the new distributed workforce opportunities are evolving to be more competitive, nimble, and responsive to the changing world of work. It also predicts that HR leaders in the post-pandemic era will carry new responsibilities for maintaining compliance in a remote-first world, spend more time supporting globally distributed workforces, and ultimately, have an outsized impact on shaping the working experience at their companies long into the future.
A new set of priorities for HR departments
One of the most notable findings of the report is that HR has emerged as one of the primary stakeholders directing the work experience evolution, adding a new layer to the function that didn’t exist before. Almost half (48%) of respondents to the Employee Lifecycle & HR survey said they’re thinking more deeply about flexible work while 43% said they’re focusing more strongly on supporting distributed work.
The report also gives us a glimpse into what HR professionals are prioritizing in the coming months. As many businesses come out of hiring freezes and worker furloughs brought on by the pandemic, it’s clear that recruiting, onboarding, and developing talent is a key focus area right now.
What this means for employers
More organizations making the shift to distributed workforces means geographical borders are no longer a boundary when it comes to hiring top talent. But that also means the hiring and payrolling of geodiverse employees must evolve in order to keep up. Employers that aren’t able to scale their remote hiring practices will be left in the dust to their competitors—and the 23% of employees surveyed who, post-COVID, would prefer to work remotely full-time.
Also addressed in the report is a new focus for HR leaders on compliance, with 46% reporting that maintaining compliance like workplace safety, labor standards, employee data privacy and security, and anti-discrimination is top of mind. This comes along with the biggest area identified for improvement—employee engagement—and that need may continue to grow as HR seeks to understand the impact distributed work has on employee sentiment.
Another major evolution is the prioritization of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. DEI initiatives usually begin with race, ethnicity, and gender diversity, but can expand further into age, geography, and lifestyle (like working parents who need flexible hours). This is a huge focal point for most respondents to the Employee Lifecycle & HR survey, with only about 5% saying their organization doesn’t have and is not considering a DEI commitment or program.
The world of distributed work has both positive and negative implications for DEI initiatives. But it’s worth noting that distributed work knocks down some geographic barriers for hiring and has the potential to improve DEI at an organization by providing a larger, more diverse pool of candidates to hire from.
Whether your organization is fully distributed or you’re just dipping your toes into the world of remote work, it’s important to understand the gravity of this shift and what it means when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent.
We’d say that one of the biggest (and most exciting) takeaways to come out of the report is that HR will now have a greater impact on strategic decision-making. This comes through new workforce initiatives and new work models that will empower HR departments to redefine the traditional borders of work at an organization-wide scale.