The opportunity for HR in 2021: An Open Letter from Reward Gateway Group HR Director
Robert Hicks

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To my fellow HR leaders, industry veterans and newcomers alike: 

The year we feared would never end, is officially over.

It has been quite the challenge - one that, at times, has seemed insurmountable. We’ve led our teams through a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and calls for improved inclusion and social reform. We reacted quickly, charted a new course, and then another, and then another. It’s safe to say that the “priorities” set forth at the beginning of the year took a backseat quickly as the health and safety of all became our top concern.


Through it all, HR remained an important function of businesses everywhere as offices emptied, employee engagement became more difficult and wellness became a renewed priority for all. To keep businesses running smoothly despite stay-at-home orders, practical and scalable HR initiatives took center stage, as HR leaders faced challenges connecting the workforce and maintaining company culture remotely, and doing more with less time and fewer resources.

Now, here we stand, at the start of a new year. The “new normal” is our reality, and with 2020 behind us, it's important to reflect. I’ve been asking myself as of late, what have I learned? Where do we head next? HR leaders - we have a seat at the table now. What will we do with it? 

How will you and your teams adapt to hybrid work as the new normal? How will the lure of a vaccine on the horizon impact your day-to-day routines, policies and employee engagement? How will your company prove that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion wasn’t just a trend from 2020, but a fundamental change? How will you leverage this newfound focus on HR to better the world of work? 

Here, the accountability begins.

What Have We Learned? 

 1. The Role of HR is Changing
 2. Employee Expectations are Changing
 3. Work as We Know It Has Changed

Looking ahead to the new year, it’s important to reflect on the lessons 2020 offered us, and how the insight gained can drive our teams forward. 

Hard times breed innovation, and 2020 is a case study in adjusting to meet new goals, challenging the status quo and making an impact with limited resources. The year shed light on employees’ mental and physical wellness, virtual connection, values and productivity.


With this, to guide us through the next year, we asked our own teams and other external industry leaders to share their insights and predictions for 2021. Throughout, a few major themes emerged: 

The Role of HR is Changing

In the coming year, 47.8% of HR leaders surveyed predict that their teams will leverage technology to create an enhanced and streamlined employee experience - something that will be integral as we try to bridge the gap that remote work has created. This will undoubtedly impact the role of HR leaders in the employee experience as they adopt the latest technologies to better their companies and increase engagement.

As for the responsibilities of these leaders themselves, 22.5% of HR leaders surveyed believe that the C-suite will expect more from HR departments in 2021, relying on them to drive tangible impact and growth. With this, another 44.6% of respondents believe HR will be more involved in company-wide digital transformations. 

Employee Expectations are Changing


This year has not been easy for anyone. As such, HR leaders must work together with employees to understand their changing needs and determine how best to meet them. 

In fact, it is predicted that employees will look to their HR teams for wellbeing support and to institute diversity and inclusion initiatives in the coming year.

Coming off of a year that brought so much - a pandemic still unresolved, social justice movements, a newfound focus on mental and physical health – employees are making their needs heard.

To respond to these needs, HR leaders must communicate openly with their employees, encourage them to express their concerns and requests and work to implement change as smoothly as possible.

Work as We Know It Has Changed

Many adapted to what seemed like temporary remote work, but now’s the time to restructure and support hybrid work in the long-term, leaning on technology resources to do so. While our employees rely on their own technologies to get the job done - laptops, VPNs, video conferencing and collaboration tools, headphones and what have you - HR leaders will need to adapt accordingly - embracing technology that connects the distributed workforce and supports cultural change.

Now that real high-fives and water cooler chats are a thing of the past for now, we will need to find alternatives to these integral aspects of the employee experience – from real recognition moments to a strong sense of belonging. With 48.3% of respondents predicting remote working will become standard and 34.4% believing employees will determine how and where they want to work, HR leaders must continue to adapt, and work with the business to deliver the solutions that allow the best employee and business performance. 

Looking Ahead 

The way we work is forever changed. We now must embrace the opportunities in the new way forward. HR leaders must remain diligent in their efforts to increase the productivity and dedication of teams, bring the best out of their people no matter the circumstances, and foster communities of support and camaraderie every step of the way. Ultimately, it's the people that make your company what it is. They are the guiding force of all we do, and keeping them engaged must remain a top priority in the coming year, 

With that, 2021 will bring its own unique set of challenges. We must not forget the lessons 2020 afforded us - they are invaluable as we take these next few steps forward into the unknown. As leaders, as business people, as colleagues and as friends, these challenges will only make us stronger, and we will continue to make the world a better place to work – for all. 

Best wishes to all in the new year. 


Robert Hicks