HR and IT expertise

Thanks to all of the above, HR and IT have had to improve their relationship in 2020 — though there is still work to be done, Tynan said.

“HR and IT in most organizations are not as good friends as they need to be,” she said. “Both of them think of each other as the ‘party of no.'” And while both are working on a more service-oriented approach, “I still don’t see enough relationship building between HR and IT,” Tynan said.

While HR may have once thought it could “escape IT,” Hanscome said, the proliferation of cloud solutions for the workplace has further pushed these branches together. HR’s increased reliance on platforms that are based in the cloud — which are thus updated “several times a year” — only highlights the importance of an HR and IT function that oversees information management more generally.

“Part of what you’re buying with the cloud is an ongoing stream of updates, but if you don’t have the resources or rigor to monitor those updates and their value, you aren’t getting what you paid for,” Hanscome said.

To fully take advantage of the newest and shiniest HR tech, a new mindset may be needed, he added. The past year showcased the need for various workplace events, such as onboarding, to easily be performed across several functions. And employers have work to do.

“Holistic [workforce experience], when truly embraced by an organization, forces a new level of coordination, collaboration, cooperation and communication the likes of what few companies will have seen to date,” Cole said.

2021: The year of cleaning up the digital experience

For the HR tech space, 2021 may be marked by attempts to “clean up” the reactive strategies put in place during 2020 and turn strategies that worked into long-term plans and processes, Tynan said. 2021 may not be the year IT and HR become best friends — both will be “busy rectifying all of what happened” in 2020 — but tides could turn in 2022, she added.

The challenge of 2021, Tynan said, is that the HR tech ecosystem is rapidly evolving and doing so in increasingly complex ways. “On the plus side, you are going to have a lot more choices and tools to do really nuanced things related to engagement, D&I, learning,” she said. The bad part? “Integrating all of these is going to be hard.”

But employers may have little choice in the matter. The digital experience, for remote employees, is the only experience they may receive at their companies, Cole said. “And so organizations with a larger and/or growing remote workforce need to design, deliver and evolve their digital workplace and experience that infuses well-being and organizational elements such as culture, values, connection, purpose, and even belonging.”

Above all, 2021 may be about making clear that employers hear their employees, wherever they are. “Everybody talks about the future of work,” Hanscome said, and for some time it has been somewhat philosophical. But this year? “The future of work gets more pragmatic in 2021,” he added; supporting employees in the aftermath of one of the toughest years in recent memory will be the top priority for many.