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The World of Work in 2021

This paper outlines the major influences set to shape activities in 2021 and can be used to inform the decision making of Group HR Directors, Group Reward Directors and other HR specialists in the year ahead.

Expert contributions from Human Resources professionals cover topics including geopolitical trends, the economic state of play, technology, the world of work, and the role of the organisation in society.

1. 2021 Geopolitical Trends

2021 will be an uneven year. Key trends include regional economic downturns in most key markets apart from China as the full impact of Covid-19’s costs hit, and a heightened use of key global summits to re-establish US influence, possibly leading to increased trade and global health policy tensions. Much resetting will take place, including the inauguration of President Biden and the transition to a post-Brexit UK.

2. Economic Update

Brexit, Covid-19 and trade wars have meant more focus is rightly placed on supply chains. Whether you are in HR in a global or domestic business, on-shoring will be reviewed, government will want to stimulate more local manufacturing and supply, and have assurance for business-critical supply chains. There may be significant OD implications for your business.

3. Technology Issues

The de-centralised workplace – there’s no going back: flexible working is here to stay. The innovation acceleration – forcing industries to digitise rapidly in a bid to survive. The growing concern of algorithmic bias. Greater pressure to contribute to carbon neutrality and to walk the walk on sustainability. And the passion economy: a swathe of new online skills marketplaces enabling individuals to earn a living by trading on their personal reputation.

4. Remuneration and Corporate Governance

The Covid-19 crisis has created many significant challenges for businesses. Admirably, most are pivoting rapidly to flexible working arrangements, improving their digital engagement and adapting the mix of products or services offered. Similarly, HR Directors, Reward Directors and Remuneration Committees are having to be nimble in rewarding both top executives and the wider workforce in ways that are internally and externally defensible.

5. Employee Benefits Priorities

The focus on a common threat has also brought a sharpened focus on responsibility and the role we and other companies play in society. We’ve all recognised that health is paramount and priceless, but the level of disruption and change impacting our societies and our workforce brings with it a real need to recalibrate how to support our colleagues and their families in adapting to the new environment. It’s not entirely altruistic – there is a need to ensure that we meet customers’ needs and remain productive, but it is also done with a genuine sense of higher purpose and a drive for wellbeing.

6. Employment Law and Policy

Employment laws are likely to change to reflect new working realities and also adapt to meet the shift in expectations of employers from society and staff that the workplace reflects the rapid societal changes. Employee activism is growing and we are starting to see more employee claims backed by well organised and focussed group litigation funds. Diversity and Inclusion will remain at the top of the agenda and much more attention will be directed at trade secrets and the protection of the business and its intellectual capital.

7. The World of Work in 2020s

In 2020 we experienced unexpected disruption which has affected the entire world economy. However, the forces that were affecting employment before the pandemic haven’t gone away. These underlying trends: an ageing population, a more professional workforce, employment rates and skills shortages, pay and productivity, combined with the scarring effects of the pandemic, will shape the global labour market over the next five years. HR Search Firms, such as Strategic Dimensions, need to be mindful and responsive to these forces.

8. Future of Talent

As working adults, we devote significant time and energy to our companies. This has been true for generations and will be constant for the foreseeable future. What is changing, however, is the relationships we have with our employers and the relative importance of work versus life/family domains. Aspirations, mobility, wellness, equality and diversity have significant implications for the ways companies manage careers and plan for leadership succession.

9. Role of Organisation in Society

As much of the UK endures another coronavirus lockdown, the national conversation encompasses diverse topics of wellbeing and mental health, remote working, online schooling, support for businesses and aid for those at risk of financial or health insecurity. These seemingly disparate dimensions are connected by an invisible thread – the question of the role of the organisation in society. And moving beyond words to action, measurement and impact is key. Those companies that embrace their role in society as a source of competitive advantage will be those whose reputations, values and value are enhanced in the post Covid-19 world.

10. The Future of Corporate Learning

Gone are the days when executives would go away to attend a residential programme and bring back a set of take-aways. Although the campuses of top business schools will remain critical assets for corporate learning, ready to welcome groups when appropriate, ‘getting away from work to learn’ will no longer be the default. Instead, world-class, faculty-led learning in engaging, interactive group settings will be just one click away.


The full version of this briefing paper is available here.

CRF are an HR membership organisation, and sister business to the HR search firm, Strategic Dimensions. To discuss CRF membership please get in touch.