Workforce Management Outlook: 5 Things to Expect in 2021

Monday, December 28, 2020

We entered 2020 with the optimism that comes from experiencing the country’s longest ever run of continued job growth and economic expansion. But no one ever imagined the unprecedented challenges that would soon hit with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

Organizations globally scrambled to transition to remote work, all while facing the difficult realities of economic uncertainty, financial pressures, staff reductions and furloughs, and growing social unrest. It’s safe to say HR and business leaders are looking forward to a fresh new year – one in which we can apply the lessons we’ve learned in 2020 to boost agility and resiliency — and absorb whatever workplace shock could come next.

Here are five predictions for where the industry is headed in 2021, and where HR and recruiting teams should focus for the biggest impact.

1. The role of the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) leader will be elevated as executives are held accountable for tangible progress.

U.S. companies rushed to hire Chief Diversity Officers following immense societal pressure for social justice and workplace inclusion. But limited resources, funding, and accountability measures have historically prevented senior D&I leaders from driving progress and typically led to high turnover for these roles. In fact, among the 2,000 Directors of Diversity in our talent database, 32% are likely to respond to an unsolicited recruitment message right now – as indicated by our proprietary Talent Retention RiskSM algorithm.

Large companies have started tying executive pay to meeting D&I goals, and we expect this trend to accelerate in 2021. With real incentives, D&I leaders are in a better position to move beyond tracking diverse supply chain expenditures to drive real impact on overall employee representation. Because hiring diverse employees will remain a top challenge next year, HR, executives, Procurement, and D&I leaders should collaborate on a strategy for building and sustaining a steady pipeline of diverse talent, especially for contingent roles that serve as talent pools for full-time positions, and measuring, benchmarking, and communicating diversity hiring progress.

2. The HR function will increasingly be recognized as a true business partner.

A company’s biggest asset is its people. HR directly accelerates profit and market expansion by finding and keeping the right talent the organization needs to grow and prosper. As a perceived cost center, however, HR is typically one of the least funded departments. While the C-suite has talked a big game on the importance of HR in the past, talk will become action in 2021 as organizations embrace drastic workplace shifts.

Executives will lean on HR to lead the charge and advise on work from home (WFH) incentives, remote work strategies, evolving cultural and D&I considerations, health-related workplace issues, and more. HR will move out of its silo, working collaboratively with other departments – Legal, IT, Marketing, Procurement, Finance, and more – to navigate the new world of work, hire the best and brightest talent, and align workforce-related initiatives with broader business goals.

3. Hiring will be faster and easier in 2021 – if leaders embrace the right technology and strategies.

The battle for talent never ends, but the companies that have predictive data and insights at their fingertips to drive confident decision-making, benchmark progress, and contextualize hiring and retention performance will be at a significant advantage. HR and Procurement leaders will expand their full-time and contingent talent pools next year, even in a hyper-uncertain and newly remote labor market, by tapping AI and analytics.

Talent assessments will change as well. Candidate fatigue pre-COVID was at an all time high with prolonged recruiting models that left candidates frustrated by extensive application processes and tests – only to be followed a high incidence of recruiter “ghosting.”  Few organizations could justify that these hurdles led to a better hire or positive impacts to their recruiting brand. In most cases it led to an artificially reduced candidate pool and an increase in job cart abandonment. In 2021, as hiring continues to recover, lean hiring models and versatility in reviewing candidates broadly for roles will win key talent and increase your brand’s value.

Companies that use the technology to create a leaner and more impactful model will be able to identify which candidates are open to changing jobs, which roles are best staffed remotely versus on site or with access to an office location, which markets are the best to recruit from for specific roles, and what and when to communicate for optimal outcomes for the prospect and the hiring organization.  HR leaders will also use these tools to uncover which of their employees are at risk of leaving, and nurture them with the right messages to keep them engaged and from leaving the organization. Using AI and predictive insights to guide the hiring process and make faster, more efficient workforce decisions will quickly become part of organizations’ “next normal.”

4. Organizations will adapt to a more fluid and flexible work environment.

WFH as component of location is here to stay. Even after the virus is under control, we expect to see a healthy mix of remote and on-site work arrangements, with each organization making the decision that’s best for their business. This choice and flexibility will allow organizations to quickly pivot back to a fully remote workforce if there’s ever a need.

Organizations will need to assess how fully remote, flex remote and on-premise work interacts with each other to ensure a positive operating model, impact to customers and the employees alike. Not all roles are suited for remote long term and many employees will not have the right mix of soft skills to be successful.

How we establish this framework will impact how we assess, on-board, manage and monitor performance for a very different workforce in 2021 and beyond.

Side note: Flexible work environments will also impact employee compensation and benefits; organizations will need to put checks in place to ensure their employees’ financial packages are tied to both the nature of the role and the location in which they are working to reflect cost of living, commuting, and other expenses related to their workplace and office environment.

5. Total talent management will see more action and less buzz.

Total Talent Management, a concept which has historically been embraced more by analysts, consultants, and journalists than practitioners, will finally become reality next year. HR and procurement teams were forced to work together (many for the first time) to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, as the virus and its workplace impact cut across all workforce categories: full-time, contingent, SOW and gig.

As such, there’s a new dialog within the C-suite on the importance of making better decisions across the organization and inclusive of all talent categories, especially as companies bring employees ‘back to work.’ Employers now have more technology and data than ever before to obtain the transparency, control, efficiency and critical business insights that serve as the building blocks for Total Talent Management. Therefore, they’ll embrace all methods and channels of finding workers, maximizing access to the best possible talent across the full spectrum of labor – full-time, part-time, contingent and freelance – and be in a better position to create and manage the ideal workforce mix that serves the unique long-term needs of the business. Organizations will also realize the value of leveraging contingent talent to scale the workforce, build out critical skillsets and foster diversity.

Final note: The past year was certainly one for the history books. While the new year won’t magically eliminate the challenges we’re experiencing today, it does bring opportunity for HR and workforce leaders to rethink approaches and use our collective lessons learned to help cushion the next shock waves that are sure to come.


Geoffrey Dubiski, Chief Solutions Officer
Geoffrey (Geoff) Dubiski joined Workforce Logiq in August, 2020, as Chief Solutions Officer.  Previously, Geoff was a Managing Director in EY’s People Advisory Services business and leader for EY’s Total Talent Workforce Management and Supply Chain offering. Geoff’s 25 years of human capital planning experience, includes integrated workforce planning, workforce analytics and decision support, AI-driven automation, location based talent strategies, technology investment planning, and partner selection support for contingent workforce (MSP/VMS) and full-time employee (RPO) related projects.

Geoff is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with an MS in Labor Relations, and is a SHRM-SCP (Senior Certified Professional) and is an SIA CCWP (Certified Contingent Workforce Professional).

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