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Alight named by Fortune as one of the ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ in 2024

Move over 2020, let’s look forward to 2021!


Following one of the most eventful years in living memory, many people will be glad to see the back of 2020.

But as we look to the future, what can we look forward to in 2021 and how should businesses prepare for the new year?

Brexit, remember that?

It seems a long time ago that the UK voted to leave the EU. Although the country officially left in 2020, nothing much changed as the UK was still in the transition period while negotiations continued.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. But as it stands, not much will change in the short term as the UK will still broadly adhere to the regulations it signed up to when in the EU.

However, during 2021, we may see variations in employment legislation both in the UK and the EU. These variations may mean that further divergence may occur.

From an HR perspective, it’s important to stay on top of these changes in order to avoid any potential penalties. So, if you are an employer headquartered in the UK and have employees in the EU or vice versa you need to make sure your systems keep up to date with developments.

Thinking in weeks and months rather years

This year has seen many businesses have to totally reassess their ways of working. Strategic planning has gone from being measured in years to months to in some cases weeks. This is due to many companies battling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What events have shown is that expecting the unexpected should be considered when developing your strategy and business continuity plans (BCP).

Prior to 2020, whoever would have thought that entire estates of offices and facilities would have had to close and only reopen with social distancing measures in place?

Business continuity plans would have been dusted off so that companies are able to function this year and into 2021. Many companies may now take stock and look to update them based on the lessons learnt in 2020.

Moving into 2021, there will be a belief amongst some that change can happen far faster as demonstrated by the ability for many companies to react during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Change has indeed accelerated over time due to technological improvements, but in 2020 we have been travelling at warp speed.

In 2021, it may slow slightly while people pause for breath and reassess the best strategies for modernization. Should core processes stay inhouse or is it more cost effective to outsource these to specialist providers?

However, companies will still need to successfully manage change and more organizations will reassess their change management strategies.

Working from home is here to stay in the medium term

“The office is dead, long live the office” we wrote in The Age of Agile HR Report, highlighting that although a large number of people now work remotely there is still an innate need to meet in a tangible space.

Since we published the report, many businesses across Europe have had to make sure that employees that can work from home, do so. So, returning to the office for some in the short term is still some way off.

In 2021, working remotely will increasingly be the norm rather than the exception. For many it will have been well over a year since they stepped foot in an office. Being as productive from home, companies will have to come up with credible reasons for a return to the office full-time.

This makes moving systems to the cloud more important than ever. Human Capital Management (HCM) systems like SAP SuccessFactors and Workday will be important. Being able to access systems remotely is now expected given the way people are now working.

Being able to manage and develop people remotely can be a challenge. Into 2021, we see increasing adoption of Continuous Performance Management (CPM).

CPM enables managers to check in regularly to keep their teams engaged and on track. These regular check-ins can help to alleviate some of the feelings of isolation some remote workers may feel.

Hopefully, in 2021 people will get to meet in offices again, although, maybe not Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. There is however still a need for human contact and meeting face to face as remote working can reduce creativity.

Early access to pay

The potential for employees getting early access to pay has been talked about for a number of years. But now it appears companies are starting to implement this.

With several countries experiencing rollercoaster economic growth in 2020 and many companies shedding employees, there can be increasing financial pressures on workers actually in jobs.

As a result of this there may be a greater demand for people to be able to access their wages slightly sooner than normal.

So, in 2021 we may start to see more innovation and creativity in payroll. Companies may implement initiatives like early access to pay and daily pay to support their employees.

Moving away from on premise solutions

The speed of change quickened in 2020, beyond what many people ever thought was possible. Companies needed to be agile to be able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many commentators believed that the increase in broadband speeds in many countries over the past 10 years, coupled with more systems being in the cloud enabled many companies to carry on trading albeit remotely.

2020 has demonstrated the need for systems to be on the cloud. This will be increased as companies look to reduce their real estate. So, what space they retain in the future will be at a premium.

If systems are hosted in the cloud, there is less need for companies to have so much space dedicated for their own servers. This is another way to reduce their real estate footprint even further.

Solutions like FastTrack payroll can be implemented in as little as 12 weeks. This enables companies with an immediate need, to transition to the cloud quickly.

FastTrack not only manages multi-country payroll, but now can be implemented for single countries with up to 5,000 employees. This makes for a very compelling argument to move payroll to the cloud.

Goodbye 2020. Hello 2021

As we move into 2021, change will continue to happen. Maybe at a slower rate or perhaps be even quicker. Your business needs to prepare for the unexpected.

If we are to learn anything from 2020, it’s to almost expect the unexpected.

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