7 HR trends in 2021 to keep an eye on

There are no new trends to witness in 2021 – but all of them will be more intense than they used to be ever before.

The pandemic overshadows anything one can name when thinking about the year 2020 and probably will be one of the leading themes of 2021. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 is no more than a catalyst for the changes that were occurring earlier.

To show what has been accelerated and augmented by the uneasy events of 2020 and will be dominant in 2021 we prepared a list of seven trends that will shape the HR narratives throughout the year.

Remote work going big

The concept of working from home using a tech-powered solution is not new at all. The term was coined in 1970 when the employees became frustrated with the time wasted commuting by bus or car. Also, the environmental aspect of telecommuting has risen – working from home reduces the emissions and the noise.

Despite the pop-cultural rise of the interest in the work-from-home concept, many institutions were cautious about adopting this way of working, especially those from the public sector or more conservative industries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything and transformed the way we work by accelerating this trend from years to days. According to the International Labour Organization, 94% of all global workforce live in countries that have imposed some kinds of limitations in the movement to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. The only way to keep the economy at least partially operational without going to work is to telecommute. The Eurostat data indicates that remote work after COVID has risen from 15% of employees who ever worked remotely to 40% of the total workforce telecommuting every day.

Remote work has multiple advantages. It reduces emissions and frees the traffic from many commuters. It allows companies to save on office costs by limiting the number of employees working on-site. With fewer employees comes lowering maintenance and renting costs. The employee saves time and gains a good deal of flexibility when not forced to go to the office. It is also a great way to achieve a better work-life balance.

On the other hand though, one would be insane to see only the upsides. The remote work generates multiple tensions between the employee and employer, starting from concerns about productivity to reduced team spirit to the threat of overworking.

But the change has been done and the remote work is going to stay with us for longer. Probably forever.

The increased role of employee mental health

With the year 2020 bringing pandemic and the levels of stress unseen before, many people have experienced a mental breakdown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late June 40% of Americans reported struggling with mental disorders or substance use. To show the level of stress – up to 26.3% of the US population has shown symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms due to lockdown and isolation.

In these troubled times, hit by the lockdown and with the economical crisis luring on the horizon, companies had to mitigate risks and manage possible threats – and having their staff mentally broken suddenly become one of these threats.

That’s why the employers started to care for the employees’ wellbeing and overall mental condition. Companies tackle the feeling of loneliness by delivering virtual coffee meetings and online games. Also, due to the mood of “sharing the same reality” the topic of anxiety, depression, and fear has come public in many workplaces.

Twinkl Educational Publishing comes as a good example with their “It is OK” campaign.


Shifting toward data-powered HR

The HR department is considered a kingdom of soft skills and this remains true – a good HR specialist needs to have high empathy backed by flexibility and conversational skills. But this approach is frequently supported by the hard work of data analysts and data scientists supporting the Human Resources departments in their data mining and insight-harvesting skills.

The data-driven approach is highly beneficial for HR teams by delivering hard numbers to back their claims, be that the need for a higher budget, new positions or training. Also, data gathering and applying KPIs is the first step toward measuring and optimizing processes. When it comes to HR it can be:

  • Productivity
  • Employee churn
  • The skill demand and supply in the company
  • Time effectiveness
  • Best performers
  • Productivity leaks

The first and most important HR-related metric is work time. Encouraging employees to measure their working time is the way to improve overall company performance.

Increased work flexibility

The lockdown has been a harsh experience for the entire society. Transferring nearly all spheres of life into the digital space has not come without hassle. Parents have been stuck in an uneasy position between helping the children with their online school while still in charge of their work duties.

Lockdown was necessary, so the employers had to respect the new rules, sometimes being stuck in an uneasy position by themselves. This situation made both parts more flexible – the employee had to manipulate his or her work time to deliver the results while not abandoning the family, while the employer had to accept some innovative concepts – like starting a workday after the lessons ended and delivering the results in the morning next day.

The spread of remote work has also added to the process, effectively blending the private time with the work time and delivering something that would be called “more work-life balance” before the pandemic. But now parents call it “madness”.


Lifelong learning forced by the situation

Lifelong learning is all but new when it comes to modern HR trends and management. The rapid changes in the world combined with even faster technological progress make employees adapt to changes. Or rather – force them to do so.

According to the OECD report, the pandemic has highlighted both the pros and cons of online learning for adults. For many learners, the time they gained by staying home instead of commuting was the time they always lacked to learn a thing or two.

On the other hand, though, digital skills were a key factor when it comes to online learning. Before the COVID 23% of highly educated people participated in online courses, compared to 14% of people with lower computer skills. With the forced digitalization induced by the lockdown, the digital skills had to improve. Also, going online was the only way to learn, no matter the level of education.

Last but not least, the pandemic-induced crisis resulted in many individuals losing their jobs. For a large group of them combining the forced isolation with unemployment was a time to change the career path – gain new skills and try something new.

Diversity and inclusion

Despite the natural diversity in the society, the business paradigms and narratives used to be non-inclusive, showing monoethnic groups, and not addressing the gender diversity in companies.

The problem is severe on many levels and overlooking gender-related challenges in the company is one of them. Marissa Meyer, a former Google employee and former CEO of Yahoo, pointed out that the needs of pregnant women are still unaddressed in many companies. The ads and visualizations depicting people of various ethnicities are also just building their way toward the mainstream.

But the process has started and was clearly visible in 2020. According to the World Bank data, building gender equality in the workplace can contribute by £120 trillion to the global economy. Also, McKinsey data indicate that building more gender and ethnically diverse teams can boost productivity by 21% and 33% respectively.

In the harsh time of crisis coming after the COVID-19, boosts of any kind will be more than welcome and thus, the diversity is to stay here longer.

HR agility

All the pandemic has come with the rapid and unexpected changes. In the age of strife, the HR teams were responsible for managing all the human-related activities in the companies. So in fact, any gap in skills or employees’ mental challenges or barriers were in charge of the HR department.

In the new world, specialists had to find new ways to deal with new problems. The agile approach known from the IT world has found its way to the HR department. Finding new models combining the flexible work time, cooperation with freelancers, and managing the diverse teams (not to mention diverse payroll models).



The human resources department is a silent force behind the company’s flexibility, productivity, and efficiency. These specialists manage the most vital source of the company’s competitive advantage – people.

That’s why staying on the cutting edge is the only way not to fall back.

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