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The year gone by saw more pressure and stress in the workplace: an unsteady economy, more challenging work hours, and job cuts. And it is just expected to increase. The world over, human resource (HR) teams are trying to keep pace. “The only way to have a competitive advantage will be to keep reinventing the fundamentals of HR," says Bhuvaneswar Naik, global head of talent management at SAP, a German software corporation.

Challenge in talent acquisition 

The impact of automation, though already visible in the past few years, may become cause for worry, especially in a country like India, with its services industries. As more jobs get automated, talent acquisition will enter a new phase—people will need specific skills to get employment. And once that talent is part of the workforce, retaining it will also require constant effort from the HR team. 

Russell Rozario, vice-president, HR, Metropolis Health Services, points out another challenge: HR teams may have to look at related industries to hire talent. “For example, we are reaching out to the retail space because people have some knowledge about the healthcare space, or to telecom, because they have worked within an industrial distribution network." 

Staying relevant 

Organizations have traditionally trained their employees, but now, the responsibility will shift to employees, believes Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder of staffing firm TeamLease. “While skilled people will be good at certain roles, companies will have to look at people who are curious to learn. These are the ones who can seamlessly move from one role to the other," she explains. Chakraborty suggests a mix of apprenticeships as well as massive open online courses or certifications to stay relevant in the rapidly changing professional scenario. 

In an article published last year for the World Economic Forum, Stephane Kasriel, chief executive officer, Upwork , a global freelancing platform, said that “no matter how much training is on offer, companies probably won’t have all the tools they need and freelancers will begin filling those gaps". Kasriel believes that to be relevant, employees will need to keep renewing their skills as often as every five years. 

Digital will be key 

As more millennials join the organized workforce, HR will have to employ analytics to understand the needs of people in a more customized, individual-specific manner, and provide solutions through the use of mobile technology and newer platforms. The possibilities are endless: mobile-friendly platforms for communication, performance management, continuous feedback and pulse surveys, easier HR systems, automated processes, chatbots, and more.

“Automation of HR processes must take place to reduce effort spent in redundant processes. The time made available through automation can be used to truly partner with business and people, towards better employee experience," says Richard Lobo, head of HR at Infosys. 

Redefining diversity 

Diversity won’t just be demographic, says T.K. Srirang, senior general manager and head of HR, ICICI Bank. “The approach to diversity is likely to become more nuanced where organizations need to look at harnessing thought diversity as an important aspect of workforce diversity. The focus is on harnessing the full potential of people by acknowledging and encouraging each person’s unique perspective and ways of thinking."

With the practice of people spending almost their entire working lives in one company coming to an end, the freelance industry will get a boost. A diverse workforce will now mean a mix of full-time and freelance employees, young and old, and all genders. 

“Diverse workforce is a trend we can see, but it will make employee engagement more complex," says Bernard Martyris, chief of HR for the outsourcing firm VFS Global.  

Performance management 

In all likelihood, ideas like performance ratings, year-end rankings and reviews will be phased out. 

“Continuous dialogue between the employee and his manager, his clients, and even HR will become more important. It will touch every aspect of the employee’s life cycle in a company, starting from how he is welcomed, how his work hours are, the reviews coming from his manager or his peers," explains Naik.  

Changes in work ‘space’ 

According to a study by US-based furniture manufacturer Steelcase, lack of privacy is the foremost complaint among employees. Not many offices have been able to juggle collaboration with privacy. This year, organizations will have to reconcile people’s needs for both types of settings. “Instead of providing only open-plan work settings, organizations should create settings in which people have a mix of both open and structured spaces," says Praveen Rawal, managing director, Steelcase India. 

It is not just workplace layout that will undergo change, but the space itself. “Work (out) places, working from home, pop-up workplaces will come into prominence, backed by improving infrastructure around IT bandwidth and cloud-based solutions," explains Chakraborty. 

Focus on data analytics 

As companies become more reliant on technology, every step of the employee life-cycle will be recorded. The extent of data available with the HR team will go beyond the date of joining and remuneration increase. Take a seven-step sales process, for instance. If an employee is good in the first five, but data shows he is taking too long in the negotiation and agreement closure stages, companies could offer training for the last two steps.

Not just training, data analytics will also enable HR to corelate reasons for attrition and client loss, for instance, and take redressal measures.

According to Ashutosh Telang, chief human resources officer, Marico Ltd, a consumer goods company, “We will see an onslaught of even more digitization, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and robotics at the workplace in the coming year. Data analytics will facilitate sharper people insights and predictive analytics for proactive and better-quality HR decisions."

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