Zoë Harte of Upwork is smiling into the camera in front of a window in a brightly lit room.
Zoë Harte. Image: Upwork

HR trends: Why we’re on a ‘one-way train’ to workplaces of the future

21 May 2021

Upwork’s chief people officer, Zoë Harte, discusses the biggest HR trends and challenges facing leaders in the new working world.

There have been massive shifts in the world of HR over the past year, encompassing everything from how and where we work to the technologies we depend on every day. But according to Upwork’s Zoë Harte, there are plenty more changes to come.

As chief people officer at the hiring platform, Harte leads HR and hybrid workforce solutions, connecting independent talent and freelancers with companies of all sizes.

Here, she highlights some of the biggest HR trends she’s been privy to over the past 12 months and what she sees on the horizon.

‘Use this time as a way to rethink the programmes, policies and previous conceptions of the workplace’

What are some of the biggest HR trends leaders need to be aware of right now?

The first is how to make business more efficient. The impact of the pandemic forced companies to look inward and prioritise what will maintain business continuity. Companies looking for increased flexibility in their workforces tapped into independent talent to adapt to the changing business environment.

We will continue to see this trend long after 2021. Companies will continue to lean on technology and strategic ways of embracing a more agile and distributed workforce of remote freelance talent in order to drive results.

The second is expectations of flexibility. With remote work suddenly becoming the reality for so many, more companies will see that traditional hiring boundaries based on location is not always the most strategic way to hire the best talent possible.

On the talent side, according to Upwork’s Future Workforce Pulse report, increased schedule flexibility, no commute and greater autonomy were found to be key benefits to remote working. Ultimately, the future workforce will be hybrid, prioritising high-quality talent and not limited by geography.

The final trend is empathetic leadership. 2020 challenged everyone in different ways. It created an opportunity for organisations to deeply listen and better understand the needs of employees and be aware of their emotions during this turbulent time. Businesses will continue to cultivate compassionate workplace environments that prioritise mental health when creating programmes or policies.

Can you talk a little more about the types of leadership hybrid teams will need?

Upwork defines hybrid work as a mix of full-time employees working alongside freelancers within the same team. This new type of work will definitely call for a new type of management style. Leaders should prioritise connection, regular communication and clarity in order to keep the business cohesive and focused on achieving critical results.

As we saw with the pandemic, and as I anticipate will continue with the long-term trend of hybrid work, this model drives outcomes-based leadership, or the idea that your business is less reliant on individual performers and more about the holistic goals.

In other words, tangible desired outcomes are the priority and everything else about an organisation – from the way it engages with talent to the remote work policies it enacts – is extremely purposeful and goal-oriented.

How can leaders successfully implement more human approaches?

A human approach to leadership means not just recognising but celebrating and learning from all aspects of our teams to drive transformative results.

It’s also important to encourage greater diversity in leadership, ideas, innovation and teams, which will then lead to better outcomes and successful business results.

Ultimately, empowered teams that have emotional and psychological safety will be bolder and more innovative because there isn’t a fear of risk of failure stemming from company culture.

What do you think are the biggest challenges on the way for HR professionals?

Understanding that we can’t go backwards; there’s no ‘when things get back to normal’. Organisations everywhere have had to process the impact of the global pandemic and now one of the biggest challenges and opportunities is how do we lead better post-pandemic?

This is a one-way train and it’s up to us to keep moving forward and transform the workplace for better.

What advice would you give to people working in HR at the moment?

Embrace it! Use this time as a way to rethink the programmes, policies and previous conceptions of the workplace.

This is a chance to infuse more empathetic leadership practices throughout your work and pave the way for the future of work.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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