People often ask me which HR trends should be on their radar. It’s a fair question, because I organize two of the HR profession’s most popular conferences, UNLEASH America and UNLEASH World. During the programming process, I work closely with hundreds of human resources leaders and industry influencers, as well as HR technology and services providers. Spotting key trends is easy, because patterns appear as I reflect on the topics speakers pitch, along with themes that emerge among exhibitors, attendees, and startup competitions.
This year, 7 closely related HR issues and opportunities are trending:
- Asynchronous work
- Distributed, remote and hybrid work
- Upskilling and reskilling
- Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging
- People analytics
- Employee experience
- AI and automation
These HR trends probably sound familiar, but they continue to define the future of work. That’s why they’ll take center stage at our conferences in the year ahead. For details on what I’m seeing and hearing about these hot topics, read on…
7 HR Trends That Matter Now
1. Asynchronous Work
Asynchronous work is the future of work. It’s an environment where people collaborate and complete tasks without real-time presence or communication.
Some industries have relied on asynchronous work for decades. For example, in the software sector, developers often work from wherever it’s convenient. They rely on a blend of standards, practices, and tools that support distributed project management, team problem solving, and interactions. This improves productivity in various ways — especially by reducing interruptions when people want to focus on their primary tasks.
Asynchronous work also improves the accuracy of strategic planning and decision making. Without accuracy, running a business is very difficult.
Many companies are still striving to enable asynchronous work. This includes connecting systems of record so relevant data is secure but also highly available. The goal is to ensure that information isn’t scattered, so people don’t need to call or message others whenever a question arises. Speed bumps like these can create huge volumes of reactive work.
An asynchronous work infrastructure is the foundation of another key HR trend: distributed, remote and hybrid work…
2. Distributed, Remote, and Hybrid Work Models
The pandemic was like a time machine. It instantly catapulted much of the world into a variety of work models that many of us discussed for decades, but hadn’t implemented. Now, these work models are here to stay.
For example, consider one of our biggest clients. At the start of 2020, this company was planning an 18-month global roll out of Microsoft Teams. But when the pandemic struck, they actually rolled-out Teams within only a few days!
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Organizations of all types suddenly had to embrace flexible work arrangements. Now, although some teams are returning to the office, remote work structures remain. This is driving demand for hybrid work, where people can engage remotely at least one day a week.
Another HR trend emerging from the pandemic is the four-day work week. Previously, this was also widely discussed but not widely implemented. Then, during quarantine, flexible work arrangements became a necessity. This paved the way for ongoing adoption of the four-day work week and other innovative scheduling models.
Pandemic-era flexible work arrangements also helped many employees improve work/life balance. This is yet another HR trend that received attention in the past, but was rarely achieved.
Flexible work models aren’t perfect. But I doubt we’ll ever return to a world where people go to the office and work from 9-5 all week. We’ve seen flexible work succeed, even under the most difficult circumstances. We now know it doesn’t make sense to endure long, expensive commutes and childcare struggles. And why limit creativity and productivity to a prescribed time and place?
3. Upskilling and Reskilling
Although tech industry layoffs are rampant and a recession is looming, the war for talent continues to escalate. But this isn’t really news. It’s been building for years. So, what is the HR trend to watch here?
Many workers who perform repetitive tasks increasingly feel frustrated by a lack of career growth. For decades, we’ve discussed the gap between these jobs and knowledge work. But now, the gap is growing even wider, as technology continues to advance and employers invest more heavily in upskilling and reskilling knowledge workers.
To keep top talent onboard, employers are making learning and development a priority. Professional development is also a powerful way to attract new talent in an increasingly competitive hiring climate. But what does this mean for people with jobs that are likely to become obsolete or automated soon?
Professional growth is increasingly important to people in every line of work. So employers are investing in learning programs to help attract and retain a future-ready workforce. HR departments are finding that implementing and maintaining effective learning programs is much faster, cheaper, and easier now. That’s because learning systems are adding innovative tech like AI-driven capabilities, interactive video, and augmented reality to improve learning experiences. They also offer APIs to connect learning platforms with other HR and business systems, so employers can more easily assess employee skills, track development progress, and measure learning outcomes.
Ultimately, this means employers are becoming better-equipped to help individuals grow in their careers, while helping their organizations succeed.
4. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Another key HR trend focuses on workforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). This isn’t just lip service. It has been a serious priority for years, and the commitment continues. Here’s why:
Studies show that diverse companies outperform others. That’s partially because they can tap into a broader range of employee perspectives — spanning age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and more.
In healthy cultures, all employees are paid equally for similar roles. But that’s not the only requirement. People also need to feel welcome, respected and included in relevant meetings and decisions. These pillars of DEIB are more important than ever in today’s dynamic work world, and they’re becoming even more integral to the fabric of vibrant organizations.
5. People Analytics
For decades, data analytics has played a central role across business disciplines — finance, logistics, e-commerce, sales, marketing, and information technology. Now it is becoming common for HR applications such as learning, recruitment, performance management, and employee experience platforms.
Going forward, HR teams will increasingly rely on people-oriented analytics systems to make evidence-based decisions. For example, when relocating an office, decision makers will want to assess talent, performance, and many other data points to determine who should staff that office.
Also, look for AI to play an increasingly important role in people analytics applications, so organizations can improve decision support, performance analysis, and predictive processes.
6. Employee Experience
Now more than ever, organizations are emphasizing employee experience — including onboarding, workflow, culture, career development, and other aspects of work life. This is because a positive work experience correlates with higher engagement, productivity, satisfaction, commitment, and retention.
Also, employee experience is gaining traction because analytics systems are becoming more prevalent. This means more organizations have the capacity to evaluate the impact of employee-focused initiatives. Measurement typically focuses on onboarding, training, and other career experiences such as project assignments and promotions.
Employee experience is derived from customer experience and personalization initiatives used in marketing to assess customer preferences and develop relationships based on those interests. Similarly, the more an HR organization learns about employees and their preferences, the more effectively it can design custom work experiences with a more positive impact on engagement, performance, morale, and commitment.
7. AI and Automation
I’ve mentioned AI previously, but AI and automation deserve a separate discussion. That’s because both are transforming HR processes by dramatically streamlining tasks and enabling HR teams to focus more on strategic priorities.
AI and automation are critical to people analytics and employee experience initiatives. For instance, they can help detect when an employee is unhappy and at risk of resigning. Then, they can recommend ways to correct the issue before it’s too late.
In addition, these tools can alert HR and business managers when employees aren’t receiving appropriate onboarding or learning support. They can also assess and recommend an employee’s unique training path based on the market’s changing demands and the organization’s talent realities.
AI and automation will increasingly permeate HR, reduce the burden of administrative tasks, and offer invaluable insights regarding employee growth, performance, engagement, satisfaction, and commitment.
Final Thoughts on Current HR Trends
The pandemic unleashed work changes no employer could predict. But that’s only the beginning. Now, changes that started several years ago are leading to even more challenges and opportunities ahead.
In today’s volatile talent market, workers continue to place new demands on employers. Meanwhile, HR tech innovation continues to accelerate, giving organizations even more powerful and effective tools to improve all facets of work. As employers rapidly adopt new tools and techniques to improve organizational impact, the future looks bright across the HR landscape.