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An open letter to my fellow HR leaders

It was almost a year ago, to the day, when we made the decision to close down our offices worldwide and transition our 430 (at the time) employees to the world of fully remote work. 

It was a situation we had never encountered before, but our crisis management hats were worn (and worn out) again and again as the COVID-19 pandemic rolled on. And while we’re not out of the woods yet, with some of our locations still under strict lockdown and others trickling slowly back into the offices in a new world of hybrid working, we have learned so many lessons in the past year that will carry on with me through the rest of my career. 


And so on the 'anniversary' of the COVID-19 pandemic disruption, to my fellow HR leaders, industry veterans and newcomers alike I want to remind you:

You have all overcome so much in the past year.

new-normalIt 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 2020 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 – while also still juggling their normal day-to-day responsibilities.

Visit our COVID-19 Resources Hub for more inspiration to guide your people  through the pandemic »

Now, here we stand, at the start of a new era. 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?

I urge you to ask yourselves the same questions. Consider:

How will you and your teams adapt to hybrid work as the new normal? How will the availability of vaccinations impact your day-to-day routines, policies and employee engagement? How will your business prove that Diversity, Equality & 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? How did you go about engaging employees during COVID-19? Consider the lessons you learned in 2021, and what you want to keep and use in 2021 and beyond. 

Here, our accountability begins.

What lessons have HR leaders learned in 2020? 

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. 

lessons-learnedThe year shed light on employees’ mental and physical wellness, virtual connection, values and productivity.

Hard times breed innovation, and 2020 has been a case study in adjusting to meet new needs. Challenging the status quo and making an impact with limited resources. 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. Here are a few key themes that emerged:

How the Role of HR will change throughout 2021

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. 

arrow-leadingI know that this will undoubtedly impact the role of HR leaders when it comes to 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.

In the past, as a business function sometimes placed on the back-burner, HR has not been seen as such a central aspect of overall business success. This past year has  shown that we crossed the chasm and are central to digital transformation.

Our employees are expecting more from us, and we need to deliver

HR leaders must work together with employees to understand their changing needs and determine how as employers we can lead the way in providing the very best support to our people. 

rg-diversity-mockupIn 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 wholly 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. 

The hybrid workforce is expected for 2021 and beyond

work-from-home-laptopMany 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, creating 'digital campfires' around which employees can connect with one another. 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. 

A final note for my fellow leaders

The way we work is forever changed. We now must embrace the opportunities in the new way forward. HR leaders must remain focussed 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, 

people-holding-hands-1While 2021 has already brought us unique challenges, and will continue to do so, 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. 

Remember what your business and your people have been through in the past year. Take a moment to breathe, and as you do I have to say well done to you, and to your teams, for getting through 2020. Thank you for challenging yourself, for challenging others and for pushing us through to a brighter future. 

Be safe and well,  


Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks

Robert is the Group HR Director at Reward Gateway. While running is his top way to unwind, he also loves going to gigs, watching football and cricket, and is known to enjoy the odd ski weekend.

Group HR Director

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