What HR and People Analytics trends to expect in 2021 [+Tips on how to create your return-to-work plan]

What HR and People Analytics trends to expect
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

2021 is proving to be an exciting, but at the same time challenging year for HR. Last year, we saw just how crucial data-driven HR is for maintaining day-to-day business operations while reinventing how we work in the COVID era. However, People Analytics experts say that 2021 is when we’ll really see some interesting HR and People Analytics trends materialise and become indispensable for business. 

With the new positive developments in vaccinations across many parts of the world, there is a glimpse on the horizon that we will soon start returning to the old-new way of working.

And as that time approaches, the Chief HR Officers need to secure a plan for swift, flexible and smooth post-COVID-19 recovery, as well as establish new processes to secure better response to these types of “black swan” scenarios and what to come as an aftereffect of this year’s reactive activities.

To prepare you for these challenges on the horizon, we’ve talked to some of the experts who will be presenting at the Nordic People Analytics Summit, to discover HR and People Analytics trends we can expect in 2021 and beyond, and how they can be leveraged in creating your return-to-work plans.

HR and People Analytics trends we’ll see in 2021

What HR and People Analytics trends to expect
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst 

1. Organisational network analysis

ONA has consistently shown up on top HR trends surveys for the last decade but has yet to go “mainstream,” says Starling D. Hunter, Partner and Chief Research Officer at JOIN21. The reasons for this include limited knowledge of concept among leaders, poor communication of its benefits by its promoters, and a lack of user-friendly applications. Therefore, ONA and software-based solutions that support it will assume a more prominent role in people analytics approaches. 

“In addition, because network data is not expensive to collect, represent, or maintain, the benefits of ONA will, we expect, be equally available to small and medium-sized enterprises who may not have large budgets to devote to people analytics initiatives,” Starling adds. “Finally, we expect that through the addition of the network perspectives on people analytics, leaders and individual contributors will be able to view their organisations and roles within them differently.”

Learn more about the Nordic People Analytics Summit

Relying on workplace relationships and connections between people when creating return-to-work plans

ONA (organisational network analysis) offers some very unique insights when preparing post-COVID recovery plans, says Starling D. Hunter, Partner and Chief Research Officer at JOIN21. ONA represents organisations as networks of relationships, not just the formal ones (who reports to whom) but also the informal ones like knowledge and information sharing, advice-seeking, friendship, trust, communication via collaboration platforms.

Drawing from a recent project, Starling shares that connections between people were still there even after COVID, but what changed was the strength of the connections. People still trust and support each other; they are still communicating and seeking each other out for advice, he adds; they’re just doing so just less intensively and less frequently. 

People who used technology, like email and collaboration platforms to communicate, largely continued to do so at pre-COVID levels. However, those that relied on high-bandwidth communication like face-to-face meetings have seen the most decrease in the strength of their connections, described Starling. 

Based on the above network insights, he suggests several actions.

Firstly, because the strongest relationships were among people communicating in-person, time, space, and opportunity needs to be allowed for those people to re-engage, to re-establish their connections. Where people are coming back in groups, he recommends taking their pre- and post-COVID levels of connection into account. People who’ve not stayed well-connected should be given the opportunities to meet again in-person. 

Secondly, those key individuals who maintained high levels of connectedness, especially across key boundaries, need to be explicitly recognised for their efforts. In addition, debriefings with them about how they managed, what additional support they need(ed), what they learned, etc., should be undertaken. Similarly, the same needs to be done where the network of relationships fragmented the most. Valuable lessons are contained there for how work, the formal structure, and key processes need to be re-designed, affirms Starling.

What HR and People Analytics trends to expect
Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst

2. A bigger emphasis on employee wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is one of the HR and People Analytics trends that will mark the field in 2021.

The pandemic highlighted how important it is to focus on the wellbeing of our employees. Companies have realised that preventing poor employee wellbeing and employee absence is more efficient than dealing with the consequences. However, that doesn’t only imply physical health, but taking care of all aspects of the wellbeing that make employees happy and healthy.

Pieter Weijnen, People Analytics Data Scientist at Rabobank says the term employee wellbeing can imply many things.

“There is a physical aspect; am I sitting in my chair from 8 till 5? or do I take the time to go outside and take frequent breaks? And of course, there is a mental aspect as well; am I able to detach at the end of the day? Or do I feel like I should be available 24/7? The culture within the company and your team are also important. Do you, for instance, feel comfortable sharing when you are not doing well?”

These are things that go far beyond simply calling in sick, adds Pieter.

According to Manana Rtskhiladze, Global Workforce Analytics Lead at Electrolux, the outlooks are positive. Many organisations have prioritised employee wellbeing and have been trying to continuously listen to their employees through pulse surveys. 

How to improve employee wellbeing 

Pieter Weijnen will be sharing more on How predicting absence can help to improve employee wellbeing during his session at the Nordic People Analytics Summit. But he shared some pieces of advice for companies looking to invest in initiatives to advance employee wellbeing by predicting absenteeism drawing from his experience with a predictive absence model.

Data plays an important role but is in itself not enough to make change happen, says Pieter.

“In order to really create an impact for your employees, it is crucial to collaborate with wellbeing experts and company doctors. They can really help to broaden your perspective and help you with selecting the relevant data.” 

The collaboration with experts helped them decide to focus specifically on long term absence. “Towards the end, their knowledge is key to interpret the results and translate these into actions,” states Pieter.

What HR and People Analytics trends to expect
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

3. Integrating remote, hybrid and fluid workforces in return-to-work plans

Regarding return-to-work plans, Manana Rtskhiladze sees that organisations are flexible and are planning to take employee preferences into account, whether it be remote/ hybrid or returning into the office.

All concerns and curiosities of home-working will now re-appear in our back-to-office planning, which may, in turn, bring the “fluid workforce” discussion to the fore, states Mark Hayton, Global Lead – Organization Development Analytics at Nokia.

“For most companies, the pandemic has driven a need to combine and amalgamate data from multiple departments into one serviceable output to enable effective decision-making. People analytics should be looking at working types, and the impact of distance working on organisational and cultural features,“ adds Mark Hayton.

He states that the next set of discussions at the executive level will revolve around:

  • How many bricks and mortar do we need in the future?
  • What is the impact on efficiency, on innovation, on our customer relationships? 
  • Have we been able to adapt and pivot? 

These are all questions about an organisation’s people and their capabilities, clarifies Mark.

4. Greater expansion of people analytics beyond HR

Considering that we are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution and this global pandemic has accelerated the speed of it, it is clear that HR has a very important role to play in regards to new ways of working, how they impact productivity, innovation etc., emphasises Manana Rtskhiladze. She asserts we’ll see more collaboration between different analytics teams in organisations and the expansion of people analytics data sets to non HR data. 

People analytics will help HR to step up to make data-informed decisions to support business and employees in the best way. But people analytics won’t be crucial only for HR. It will grow and become more and more valuable for the business, Manana says.

Additionally, HR Business Partners will become more data literate, which doesn’t mean that they need to understand analytics in detail, but rather to be more confident to discuss the data with the business, she adds.

What HR and People Analytics trends to expect
Photo by Sajjad Hussain M from Burst

5. Revolution of HR tools, processes and methods

Technologically, the proliferation of no-code apps is yet to be fully exploited by companies, expounds Mark Hayton. 

He sees feedback techniques evolve further away from standard census style surveys, and from pulses, towards analyses of comments, chats, images and even voice. Also, there is a whole untapped world of electroencephalography, which is yet to be explored.

“Organisationally, many HRs will also now start to face tough choices around the levels of administration, consultancy and developmental psychology to engage in, with maturity in each area, effectively pulling many HRs apart. Will HR still be a thing in 2022? It may be, but not as we know it,” adds Mark.

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