2021 HR Areas of Improvement: Make These 21 Bold Moves

HR areas of improvement for 2021

Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, CloserIQ, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Business upheaval placed heavy burdens on HR in 2020. As we move into 2021, business owners and HR teams will not have a respite. They will continue to face complex challenges. However, those that commit to HR areas of improvement will have a profound impact.

Indeed, they will help their organizations find a way to succeed in a world that is unrecognizable. Their influence will extend beyond the company. Compassionate HR leaders will help employees and their families deal with ongoing crises. The cumulative effects of these efforts will ultimately help communities recover.

Here are 21 HR moves to make in 2021. Each one is carefully chosen to solve a timely HR problem. If you make these changes, you will transform labor management across your business. As a result, you will enjoy increased productivity and lower operational costs. In addition, the efficiency gains will free up time to focus on high-value projects.

2021 HR Areas of Improvement

1. Unify HR and Payroll

Our first bold move will pay off every day. A one-stop HR system (HRMS, HCM, or HRIS), with payroll integration eliminates the need to collect and record timecards. Likewise, you won’t need to tally hours or PTO. Quit manually entering data for payroll. In addition, it will simplify FMLA. Learn more here: #1 HR Strategy for a Strong Rebound: Unify HR and Payroll.

2. Use Mobile Location Management

Next, consider how you track remote employees. Mobile Location Management is a feature of time and attendance software. Employees clock in and out for shifts with a mobile device. The system records their location when they punch in and out. Additionally, supervisors can organize employee groups based on work locations, schedules or job types.

Geofencing makes mobile timekeeping apps even more powerful. With geofencing, managers can define a radius. Select the employee(s) to which the fence applies. When employees clock in with their mobile device, their location is recorded in relation to the fence. Consequently, if an employee clocks in outside of the fence, the software flags it as out of bounds. In addition, systems can send an alert to the manager or block punch-in outside of the geofence.

For more information about how Mobile Location Management can make it easier to track offsite employees, download our ebook How to Use Mobile Location Management for a Distributed Workforce.

3. Get a Facial Recognition Timeclock

A touchless biometric clock combined with a cloud-based timekeeping system is a must-have in 2021. Facial recognition works better than fingerprint clocks for shift clocking. It’s quick, accurate and uncomplicated. Therefore, it solves many labor management challenges. First off, your employees will stop wasting time at shift changes. Secondly, it prevents buddy punching. Lastly, you can retire PIN clocks that become petri dishes of pathogens.

To use a facial recognition timeclock, first register each of your employees’ faces in the device. Then, when an employee clocks in, the scanner captures an image of their face. Finally, to confirm identity, it performs geometric measurements to match the face to one in its database. This advanced technology is now affordable for small businesses.

4. Reassess Your Hiring Policies for Bias

Now that we’ve addressed some timekeeping moves, let’s turn our attention to hiring. Bias can creep into hiring processes in multiple ways. Since we have a long way to go to achieve racial and gender parity, it’s clear that bias is still widespread. Learn more here: Root Out These 7 Insidious Hiring Biases to Increase Workforce Diversity and here: Diversity and Inclusion Efforts That Really Work.

5. Create a Structured, Remote Onboarding Process

Chances are, when HR needs to onboard a new hire, at least one party is offsite. Perhaps both. However, this doesn’t work well with onboarding paperwork that is actual paper. Fortunately, HRMS have onboarding portals. The employee can access the portal through an HR app on a mobile device. This allows them to complete their onboarding paperwork at home. This creates a much better experience. For example, they can take their time comparing benefits. In addition, they can split up the tasks so they are not as overwhelming. With paperwork out of the way, it frees up their first day. Consequently, they can spend unhurried time getting to know their new team. Indeed, onboarding is a hot-button HR area of improvement.


Remote HR work presents its challenges—don’t let onboarding be one of them. For a comprehensive guide to remote onboarding, get our eBook: How to Quickly and Remotely Onboard Employees Post-Pandemic.

6. Use Applications With Filtering Questionnaires

As a Human Resources professional, your to-do list is miles long. Thus, freeing up some time is always a plus. That is where filtering questionnaires come in handy.

An applicant tracking system (ATS) allows you to add prescreening questions to your application. This ensures applicants meet basic qualifications like education level. In addition, you can create scoring rules that weigh certain questions more heavily. As a result, better applicants will automatically rise in your review queue.

Learn more about prescreening questionnaires here: Save Time With Prescreening Questions.

7. Require Active Enrollment

Do you roll over employees’ plans if they don’t actively choose new ones? Research shows that requiring employees to actively opt-in improves engagement with benefits. In other words, employees are more likely to learn about and use their benefits. If your employees take advantage of health, wellness, and financial planning benefits, they will be healthier, happier, and more likely to perform at work.

8. Review and Update COVID-19 Policies

The pandemic situation is evolving rapidly. Your policies regarding contact tracing, sanitation, work-from-home programs and employee symptom checking affect productivity, compliance, engagement and business reputation. Now that the first vaccines are shipping, some employers are wondering whether to require them for all employees as soon as they become widely available. Talk to your legal counsel and start shaping your policies.

9. Default to Remote-First

To manage remote employees, priority one is making sure they can actually do their jobs offsite. 100% remote companies have this mastered. Because they never had onsite staff, consequently, their workflows are remote by default. However, few companies that were forced to abruptly send employees home have redesigned their operations. In fact, some don’t even realize they need to. Let alone appreciate what a major undertaking it is.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab insists that in order to be successful with a hybrid model, all processes have to default to remote. Even for those who work in the office. He explains in “Challenges and Opportunities in the Remote Workplace” (HR Exchange Network).

  • Offer the same perks for onsite and offsite staff
  • Create team-building exercises that are fully inclusive
  • Where possible, eliminate meetings by using a project management tool
  • Structure necessary meetings to be asynchronous (all participants don’t need to meet at the same time)
  • Have an agenda and documentarian
  • Remove wide-angle video cameras from conference rooms
  • Require that onsite staff dial into video calls just like offsite staff do

Of course, if you want to make this HR move, you may need to build processes from the ground up. Make sure you document them in your Human Resources Management System (HRMS) so your team can follow them.

10. Use Scorecards for Interview Evaluation

A candidate scorecard enables your hiring team to rate applicants based on the same criteria. Using the job description, you can create a scorecard with star or number ratings.

Standardizing the review process ensures each interviewer is thorough in their evaluation. In addition, it speeds up the feedback process. Plus, it simplifies collaboration. More importantly, it prevents bias. Learn more here: How Manager Feedback and Interview Evaluations Improve Hiring.

11. Use Online Timecards

Paper timecards hold companies back. Thus, if you use them, consider these questions:

  1. Is your current system accurate, or do you sometimes overpay/underpay employees?
  2. If you were audited, could you produce timesheets for the past three years?
  3. How long does it take to process payroll?
  4. Is unplanned overtime inflating your labor costs or impacting cash flow?
  5. Would you like 24/7 mobile access to timecard data?

For more information about switching to online timecards, see: 6 Important Reasons Even (Very) Small Businesses Should Use Online Timesheets. 

12. Use PTO Tracking Software

Just as paper timesheets are an efficiency buster, so is manually tracking PTO. PTO tracker software is much simpler than using spreadsheets. In addition, you can customize it for EPSLA, state and federal laws, union contracts, and company policies. Learn more here: With PTO Tracking Software You Can Happily Ditch Your Spreadsheets.

13. Start an Anonymous Suggestion Box

Now that we’ve talked about timekeeping and hiring. Let’s spend a minute on engagement. As you work through your problems, do you seek solutions from your team? After all, they are your eyes and ears on the ground. If you request and act on suggestions where possible, it can only have a positive impact. Accordingly, many HR platforms have a suggestion box feature on their HR portal. Remember, however, that if you start one, don’t forget to check it regularly!

14. Use an Employee Timeclock With a Thermal Scanner

Keeping your workplace safe and healthy is a top priority. Unfortunately, asymptomatic COVID-positive employees have unknowingly triggered outbreaks. Consequently, as you create your infection-control plan for 2021, consider temp checks at clock-in.  Indeed, a relatively inexpensive timeclock can do double-duty as a health screening device.

15. Use Timeclock Prompts for Symptom Checks

Similarly, your timekeeping software can also do double duty. In fact, this HR move can work in tandem with the previous one. If you can configure prompts for job codes and skills, why not set for symptom screening? To learn more, see: Successful Return-to-Work Strategies: System Checks With Timekeeping Software.

16. Conduct a Skills-Gap Analysis

Let’s turn our attention to talent management strategies. With widespread uncertainty, you want to be ready to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Furthermore, some of these opportunities may require a pivot. Pivoting requires an agile, multi-skilled workforce. To increase the agility and competency of your team, it’s critical to know your baseline. A skills-gap analysis reveals your weaknesses. Thus, it can show you where to focus recruiting and training. In addition, when you’ve completed it, you can create a better hiring and development plan for 2021.

Although skills gap analyses are time-consuming, it’s worth the work to ensure that your entire company is fully prepared for success. The team at Salesforce shows you how to do it here: Perform a Skills Gap Analysis.

17. Cross-Train Employees

Let’s continue down the training and development path. Armed with the results of your skills-gap analysis, you can now create a plan to up-skill your workforce. Fortunately, this will bring many direct and indirect benefits. For example, career development improves retention. Retention, in turn, reduces painfully expensive turnover.

Similarly, cross-training makes employee scheduling easier because multi-skilled employees can cover more positions. Cross-training will make your business more agile and resilient.

Indeed, with quarantines and schools that have become revolving doors, absence management is not going to get any easier in 2021. Use cross-training to lessen the impact of absenteeism.

18. Map the Employee Journey

Let’s address another important HR topic–the employee journey. The employee journey is everything that happens from the moment a job candidate applies to their last day of work. Truly, a thousand little things combine to create a positive or a negative journey. Or—as is probably the case—something in between. If you want to improve the employee journey, first you have to map it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. First, build an employee persona for each job position or department. (Leave out age, gender, and ethnicity. Only track these for diversity analysis.)
  2. Next, create a roadmap of interactions.
  3. This step will take some time and effort to research: evaluate and document the experience. You will need to talk to a LOT of employees. What works? What doesn’t? Specifically, include the following touchpoints:
    • The application, assessment, and interview experience
    • Onboarding. This is a biggie. It should be well-planned and continue for up to a year.
    • The payroll and work tech experience
      • Employee timekeeping
      • PTO management
      • Benefits enrollment
      • Performance reviews

Keep in mind that your managers shape the employee journey considerably. If the quality of management is inconsistent, employees on different teams can have a vastly different journey. As you speak with employees on various teams to map the journey, you will learn how your managers are doing. (If we were to add a bonus #22 HR area of improvement, it would be Hire or Train Better Managers.)

19. Formulate an Employer Value Proposition

Like employee journey mapping, an Employer Value Proposition (EVP) also helps articulate the employee experience. In other words, what it’s like to work for your company. The EVP includes the obvious components: salary, health insurance and pension plans. Plus work-at-home policies, flexible schedules, on-site childcare, etc. In addition, charitable and green initiatives are part of it as well.

In fact, Gartner posits that companies that deliver on their EVP can decrease yearly turnover by 69%.

“Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and Employer Branding (EB) are to the human resources department what marketing is to the organization. Through our EB efforts, we manage to position ourselves against our competitors in the marketplace by communicating the salient features of our employer value proposition offering to prospective candidates.” Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

20. Design a Career Paths Program

Now that you’ve mapped the employee journey and written an EVP, you can start an important project that can improve employee retention. Consider that one of the main reasons employees quit is due to lack of career development. Therefore, if you increase training and development, you will most likely improve employee retention. There are many additional benefits as well and these will compound over time. For example, the collective expertise of your workforce will increase. In fact, these experienced teams will drive innovation. Plus, engaged employees will sing your praises, thereby improving your brand.

For a step-by-step guide to creating a career paths programs, see Create a Careers Path Program in 7 Steps or Lose Your Best Employees.

21. Map a 2021 Hiring Plan

Building on the previous four steps, you can now create a well-informed 2021 hiring plan. There are advantages to a proactive rather than reactive hiring approach:

  1. Prevent lapses in production
  2. Ensure steady business growth
  3. Unhurried recruitment results in higher quality hires
  4. Prevent burnout and turnover due to understaffing
  5. Anticipate onboarding and training needs
  6. Reduce stress on the hiring team
  7. Stay within your hiring budget

For a step-by-step guide, see: How to Create a Yearly Hiring Plan.

In conclusion…

In 2020, we lauded essential workers. Doctors. Nurses. Teachers. Grocery store stockers and checkers. Parents working at home while helping kids with remote learning. The driver who brought me vindaloo curry during lockdown.

These heroes deserve our praise. We would like to nominate another intrepid group: small employers and their tireless HR teams.

How has the pandemic and economic free-fall required HR leadership?

  • Abrupt workforce relocation due to shelter-in-place and lockdown orders
  • Widespread absences due to quarantined employees, sick employees, and lack of childcare
  • Mass lay-offs and furloughs
  • Employee fear and anxiety
  • High volume hiring for essential businesses
  • New paid sick leave, expanded FMLA and Paycheck Protection Loan qualification

In the earliest days, we thought [coronavirus] was strictly a healthcare issue. But it became clear how quickly it morphed into a people issue and how CHROs are playing a critical role in helping their companies get through this. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., President, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

In 2020, Human Resources supported businesses and employees with ingenuity, agility and compassion. We are confident they will continue to do so in 2021.

The Swipeclock team wishes you success in the new year.


Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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