Which HR priorities survived the pandemic, and which ones fell to the wayside? HST professors weigh in

It’s clear that the modern workforce continues to evolve under the effects of the pandemic, including the world of human resources. Today, we stop to reflect: what were the biggest HR priorities before COVID-19? Which of those remain at the top, and which have been put on the backburner?

We can examine these changes by looking at what was being studied in universities, discussed at global HR conferences, and put into practice in HR departments pre-pandemic. We asked some industry frontrunners—HST professors—to give us some expert insight into what exactly these HR priorities were, and what they are now.

Our special professor guests included:

  • Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, IT professor and CEO of Openroom S.L.
  • Daniel Laya, Human Resources & Transformation professor at HST and CEO of HRbots
  • Rocío Bonet, Associate Professor at IE Business School
  • John Guziak, Adjunct Faculty at HST and Human Capital Partner at Deloitte
  • Garret Kilmer, alumni from the Master in Talent Development & Human Resources and current HR professor at HST
  • Federico de Diego, Adjunct Faculty at HST and Senior HR Executive

Here’s what we learned.

Which areas of HR were put on the backburner because of the pandemic?

Miguel Ángel: “Pre-pandemic, companies were focusing on creating a strategic plan for a technological transformation of HR.”

Rocío: “Human resources was focused on simplifying—making tools easier and simpler.”

Which HR priorities will survive the pandemic, at least in the short term?

Miguel Ángel: “This new year of 2021, the topic of reskilling and upskilling has taken a backshift but will be necessary. It is still an unstable workforce, and organizations have to be more resilient and agile. Because of this, workforce planning has also taken more importance. Reskilling and upskilling are essential for workforce planning.”

Rocío: “It’s difficult to plan in 3-5 years, so organizations must be AGILE. The future of HR revolved around making more flexible and straightforward processes.”

John: “HR has to expand, and reskilling and upskilling is essential for this. Remote work will continue, so we must redefine remote work.”

Daniel: “Two areas of focus for the future of HR: reskilling/upskilling and digital transformation. There has to be a change of mindset for the upcoming digital transformational.”

Federico: “Well-being in the workplace is still important. Remote working will continue to change, focusing on well-being, later on leadership, and, after, on creating more horizontal salaries. Before, salaries were decided by experience/education, and in the future, they will be more horizontal because people can be trained for almost any job. With the pandemic, they will work anywhere. Digitalization is something that the pandemic has shown to be super important. Leadership models should be agile.”

Garret: “Pre- and post-pandemic data in HR is the priority. The future of HR is data in HR. Not just collecting it, but using data in decision-making and building a system that interconnects with other business areas.”

Which former HR priorities are no longer relevant? Either because it’s already been thoroughly covered, or because of the pandemic (or any other reason).

Miguel Ángel:Employee experience was a focus but will no longer be as it has already been covered.”

Rocío: “Any process that is slow, non-agile and takes too much time. For example, succession planning will no longer be a priority because these processes usually take too much time and resources.”

Garret: “The part of HR that will no longer be a priority is the employer branding with no substance. For example, saying you care about diversity/inclusion but not actually representing that in your employees.”

John: “The workplace is no longer a location but a culture. So, since we are in remote work, we need to work on remote work culture. HR needs to do engagement surveys once a month, not just a year, and must adopt a collaborative approach. Employee experience is outdated at the office, and now we focus on the remote digital experience. We used to say that people left bosses, now people leave systems. So better systems in place can help create a better workplace. Well-being still is fundamental as we continue to work remotely.”

Federico: “Organizations that do not evolve or adapt to the agile mindset. Organizations have to think of the three stakeholders: employees, governments, and the board.”

Daniel:Talent/leadership development was left behind because of the pandemic. This is because of the urgency of the pandemic and because mentoring is limited. Career planning is no longer a focus because jobs can be so broad; taking the “next step” can limit an individual’s potential. So, by definition, succession planning is no longer a focus because organizations have to be agile, and usually, these types of processes take a lot of time.”

It’s clear that HR is an ever-shifting landscape, and the global pandemic only highlighted the full extent of the VUCA environment that companies are operating in. Reskilling and upskilling are thriving, in large part as a necessary response to the accelerated digital transformation brought about by the need to shift remote. With the rise of remote work, HR will need to learn how to do all the things they usually do in an office: build a culture, foster engagement and collaboration, and translate that to the digital workforce.

When HR leaders from around the world once again convene to discuss HR priorities and the forecast for a (hopefully!) post-COVID world, these are some of the things they’ll have to consider. As for what else the future holds, well, only time will tell.


Lizbeth Hernandez, Talent + Leadership Editor for Rewire Mag, was born and raised in the small town of Aguadilla in Puerto Rico. She later moved to San Juan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. She was involved in the Society of Human Resources Association (SHRM) and was a collaborator for Her Campus. Currently, she is pursuing the Master in Talent Development & Human Resources at HST.