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HR and Payroll Technology Trends for 2021

I always like to start the year by thinking about what might be coming in the year ahead for those who work in HR and payroll – surveying those in the industry and doing lots of research into the emerging trends – some seem obvious and some are less so. 2020 was a year like no other, and the positives we take away from last year are clearly a boost in creativity, flexibility and a huge shift in responsibility for individuals to take ownership of their working practices as they work remotely. The same can be said for those who are still ‘going into work’ in many sectors such as care or manufacturing – with an onus on employees and their employer to create safe working practices and adapt to a new way of working.

READ ALSO: Ways that 2020 will forever shape the way we work

The trends I see for 2021 are:

The home office vs the new office

It might seem like this one has been done to death over the past year with many debates online about whether or not people will want to return to the office. I also send a huge appreciation to those working in the sectors where home working is not an option – front line, essential or ‘key workers’, whichever is the description of the moment.

Interestingly, for many businesses who thought ‘it can’t be done’, moving to an entirely remote workforce- mandated by ‘if you can work from home you must work from home’ has seen a huge shift in opinions of many leaders about if home working is actually effective but let’s be honest, for many although the road was a little bumpy at first with extending licenses and agreeing new GDPR processes this has become the norm and many employees are seeing the benefits of less commute time and the ability to take regular breaks whilst at home.

With this being said, however, a key question is how to make sure employees remain productive at home – and safe. I’m sure many of us have been in one of the many teams or zoom meetings and heard ‘I’m not turning my camera on today’ and wondered why – it could be the person isn’t feeling up to it, has screen fatigue – or it could be because they are in bed whilst they are working and don’t want to share that part of their ‘home office’. All this aside, the shift to home working for many has resulted in a need to carve out a small piece of their home to set up a formal working space.

One of the main responsibilities of employers is for the health and safety of their workforce and the home office set up is just as important as the actual office. With online display screen equipment and workstation assessments being available it is critical that employers provide facilities for employees to assess their home working situation to ensure they are working safely.

For those who are not able to work from home (such as many frontline services), the responsibility is to ensure the working environment is ‘COVID Secure’ with Personal Protective Equipment being just one of the measures employers are using. Technology has developed swiftly to reduce the risk in workplaces – some examples include ‘clocking in machines’ which assess the temperature of the employee to determine if they can be permitted to work on that day, or self declarations as employees enter the premises that they are well and free from symptoms. Whilst this has been a direct response to the pandemic situation there are clearly longer term benefits to such a system (how many of us have suffered no cold or flu episodes in the last year)?

READ ALSO: How to improve teamwork among remote working employees

People management and people processes

At Phase 3, it was always a tradition on the first day of a new employees journey with us that the whole team would come together to welcome the employee and we would go out for lunch in one of the many local eateries in Manchester. HR has had to completely rethink the employee onboarding experience for those working remotely, and flexible working requests have likely increased tenfold compared to previous years. With unemployment at a huge peak due to the effects on specific sectors recruiting teams have also seen massive surges of applicants for entry level vacancies. Essentially, HR has had to start again with the people processes.

This might have happened through natural evolution – with no real review of processes but swift decisions being taken to react to the situation – but the new year provides an opportunity for HR and Payroll teams to sit together (remotely) and work out how new people processes can be adapted to improve the employee experience and create opportunity for team members to still interact regularly.

There are some ‘big hitters’ when it comes to processes that I would start with – onboarding being the highest priority but also offboarding to ensure the employee does not simply feel ‘abandoned’ on their last day. Consider how your HR technology can support improved people processes – many businesses we work with have technology which gives full autonomy to managers and employees through self-service applications but development has been limited in the past due to wanting to retain the ‘personal touch’. My challenge to you is that systems don’t need to feel systematic – it is possible to highly tailor the employee experience whilst interacting with systems. I always compare this to booking a holiday online – I can choose my destination of course, but flight times, which seats on the aircraft, if I wish to check-in online or in person, whether I have meals included or not and even if I take a group or personal transfer. are all options I have the ability to choose. Why doesn’t this model also fit with HR systems? The answer is it does – but the question is: have you turned it on yet?

READ ALSO: How HR departments must adapt in the pandemic’s wake

New technology

Certainly, technology has adapted to accommodate the changing ways in which we have worked over the past year, but many businesses with outdated or not fit for purpose systems have really seen that gap between requirement and delivery widen. We are seeing a huge increase in the HR and payroll technology market for businesses deciding that enough is enough and we need now to invest in people technology. Embarking on a system selection journey is never easy – with so much choice it can be a little daunting – my advice here is to clearly define the business case and use this business case as a way to ground your thinking on exactly what it is you must have, should have, or could have in the future.

Flexible working

Children being home-schooled

With many employees with caring responsibilities (both for parents and children), the need to work flexibly has been at the forefront of numerous employers’ minds. Flexible furlough provided an ‘easy out’ for employers – if employees had to split their working week between work and home-schooling for example, the business could furlough the employee for those part time hours and cover some of the costs.

This did cause a fairly critical problem though – those employees were actually needed in the business to be working, and yes the recovery of the pay did help but not as much as the extra capacity would have done.

A new, person-centred approach to working started to emerge – and many businesses ahead of the curve on this asked their employees, ‘what could we do to make life easier?’- The answer for many was to scrap the traditional 9am – 5pm with flexi or toil logs tracking every minute the employee worked. A new person-centred approach means that employees can choose where, when, how and how much they wish to work. Certainly, I recognise the value in offering employees complete freedom as to how to structure their working day (who am I to say when their child needs some one-on-one time for home-schooling, or when they need to go out to pick up a partner from work).

Instead, giving employees the complete freedom to structure their working week has seen an increase in productivity and also an increase in collaboration. Gone are linear pieces of work that must be started and completed by the same person – project management tools and collaboration tools have been key to the success of this new approach. What has been most interesting is seeing how other employees have responded to the flexible working approach their colleagues have taken – with team members having a chat over coffee on an important project at 9pm when the kids are all in bed- or first thing in the morning before taking their partner to work.

A critical question for businesses is, ‘how do you measure productivity?’ – Is it by hours worked or by outputs delivered? How can your technology help you with that?

READ ALSO: How to improve work-life balance for your employees

Data and analytics

I end with my fifth trend.  Data and analytics in HR and payroll have been on the trends for the past 5 years at least. I think this year more than ever businesses are asking for evidence because we have lost the anecdotal visual evidence of being in the office. A simple question such as how many people are in work today becomes much more difficult to assess for a leader – they can’t walk around the office building to see how many empty desks there appear to be. The development of HR and payroll technology has also meant the development of reporting and analytics methods.

When I log into Office 365 each morning, I am presented with a daily briefing which tells me what meetings I have, how much time I have for rest, how much time I have collaborating with others in this week and if I have enough focus time. Imagine if logging into your HR technology did the same – you are presented with key information about your team, who is in, out, showing signs of fatigue, who has delivered on all their objectives and who is struggling, who is showing positive mood and positive mental health and who has mental health which is concerning. These kinds of questions are not out of reach for the majority of HR and payroll systems – the key is how to break them open and get answers to those questions, presented in a timely manner to the people who need to know. I firmly believe the ‘daily briefing’ style approach will be the norm for many HR and payroll solutions over the coming year.

Technology Trends to look for in 2021

• The home office vs the new office
• People management and people processes
• New technology
• Flexible working
• Data and analytics

The technology trends here are just a few of those which might impact HR and payroll professionals. Throughout the year we share our insights on new and emerging trends in response to huge levels of change and pressure from businesses to develop new and improved ways of working. Follow us on LinkedIn to stay in touch with the latest trends or read our blog

This blog has been written by James Proctor, Director of Consulting & Services at Phase 3.

James Proctor from Phase 3

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