Human resource (HR) departments have long been integral to organizational success, and they’re likely to remain that way for decades to come. But the nature of HR is likely to evolve with new technologies, research, and trends.

What does the future of HR look like?

Remodeling the Workforce

For starters, we may see HR leading the charge in remodeling the shape of the average workforce. Increasingly, employers and consumers alike are valuing diversity and inclusion; companies are working harder to ensure a mix of people from different backgrounds are included at all levels of the organization. In the future, this is going to become an even bigger priority.

But this is a minor change compared to the next generation of workforce management. We’re already starting to see a blend of human beings and machines in the workplace, and in the near future, this is going to become more prominent – even in businesses filled with mostly high-skilled, white-collar workers. How will you handle the transition from a human position to one handled by an AI algorithm? How will you ensure that humans and machines can collaborate and maximize productivity together? How will you optimize the balance between human beings and machines in the workplace? And how can you tell what an optimal balance is?

These will be the big-picture questions dictating HR development in the future.

Remote Work

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was gaining popularity. Employees were getting a feel for the benefits of the arrangement, such as cutting down on commute time, improving flexibility, and even increasing productivity. At the same time, employers get to save money and see better results. After the pandemic forced businesses to rethink work and increase safety, these benefits became more apparent to a wider range of businesses.

Today, HR departments are evolving to treat remote work as the default – rather than a temporary or gimmicky new approach to conventional work. That trend is likely to continue into the future as remote work becomes even more widely accepted.

The Evolution of HR Software

Today’s HR departments and organizations rely on HR software like Rippling to handle things like payroll, benefits management, and employee device management. Using one platform, they can store, review, and gather information, send messages, and even generate reports to analyze data. It’s seemingly comprehensive.

But in the future, these platforms will likely become even more robust. We’ll see the addition of new streams of data, real-time analyses, and possibly the inclusion of machine learning and AI algorithms to increase productivity or improve results.

Culture and Unity

Part of HR’s job is to create and sustain the culture within an organization, and make the team feel unified. This is increasingly difficult in a world dominated by remote work, but it’s increasingly demanded by the workforce.

Accordingly, HR will need to find new channels for communication, teambuilding, and collecting employee feedback. Organizational culture management is going to evolve into new forms, and employees will have to develop a different set of expectations for how it’s facilitated. In line with this, HR leaders will have to remain agile, forging culture-based connections when they can while still preserving the structure of the business.

The Gig Economy: Here to Stay?

Technology is responsible for introducing the “gig economy.” Though freelancing and gig work concepts have existed for decades, apps like Uber, Fiverr, and Airbnb made it much easier for individuals to offer their services as freelancers. In turn, corporations have attempted to take advantage of this by relying more heavily on contractors and freelancers instead of making the investments in full-time employees. This is favorable as a cost-saving measure, but it also introduces more flexibility into the organization. And while workers miss some benefits, they also have more freedom to control their workloads and explore other opportunities.

However, it remains uncertain whether the gig economy is here to stay or whether it was something of a temporary detour. Either way, HR departments will have to adapt to keep in line with current trends.

The Employee Experience

We’re already seeing a wave of momentum favoring the development and maintenance of the “employee experience.” In other words, how does an employee feel about the business and engage with the business, from the moment they’re recruited to their ongoing career development? Positive employee experiences lead to higher morale, higher productivity, and higher employee retention. The subjective nature of the employee experience can also reveal a lot about how the organization operates.

In the future, employee experience will become an even higher priority – and become easier to measure and control. Better tools will make it easier for employees to provide feedback about their experiences throughout their careers, and better analytics platforms will make it easier to figure out which changes to make to improve the business.

Data-Driven Insights

Nearly all departments and all industries are increasingly relying on data to improve, and HR is no different. In the future, HR will become even more reliant on data to operate efficiently.

Today’s HR departments use a variety of data points to create images of job candidates, employees, and organizational efficiency, such as hours worked, employee retention, and metrics related to recruiting, training, and development. Data may become even more granular in the future, studying nuanced elements of employee behaviors from the moment they’re recruited.

Most of these data will be collected automatically, with the help of device tracking and robust HR software platforms – which leads to our next points.

AI and Automation

HR departments are also likely to incorporate more AI and automation. Automation is a no-brainer; if you can automate a task that ordinarily requires manual human effort, you’ll instantly reduce the hours your employees need to work. Not only does this save the organization money, it also frees up human employees to focus on more important things.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will also serve a bigger role in the future. With sufficiently advanced machine learning algorithms, HR leaders can quickly and efficiently crunch the numbers they’ve gathered and come to a final conclusion. And in the right context, a suitable AI could even handle previously human-exclusive tasks, such as handling employee conflicts or interviewing candidates.

Sustainability and Image

Today’s consumers care more about sustainability, and not just environmental sustainability. Human and social sustainability require businesses to engage in socially responsible hiring and employee management practices. Today, this includes hiring people from a diverse range of backgrounds, treating employees fairly, and compensating them well. In the future, these are going to become even bigger priorities for consumers, which means businesses will need to do more to make their operations transparent (and show off their sustainability efforts).

The very nature of human and social sustainability may also evolve in the near future. For example, if machines are gradually replacing human jobs in a certain industry, will it be considered socially sustainable or responsible to maintain at least some human jobs?

Cycles of Progression

Over time, the rate of change within HR departments is likely to increase; in other words, HR progression will be accelerating. As we’ve seen, technology tends to evolve exponentially. New technologies get incorporated into existing businesses that create even newer, better technologies. And once things like machine learning and big data analytics get thrown into the mix, it’s hard to stop that momentum.

This acceleration will also be fueled by competition. As HR departments begin pushing the limits of their productivity and effectiveness, other HR departments must follow suit to keep up. Nobody wants to be left in the dust with a years-old platform that’s now becoming obsolete in mainstream workforces.

Even with the onset of AI, automation, and a machine-heavy workforce, HR departments are going to remain important for productivity and sustainability for the foreseeable future. However, the role of an HR manager or HR director is going to change substantially in the coming years. No one can predict the future, but we can see many of these trends already developing in the present. The transformation is already unfolding.

Frank Landman

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.