Several years ago, PAN ran a global campaign on behalf of SAP SuccessFactors called Workforce 2020. Last year, a former colleague I worked with on that campaign — who now manages PR for the original HR tech unicorn, Workday — messaged me: “Wow – we did NOT see 2020 coming when we did Workforce 2020, did we?”
No, we did not. We didn’t see most of 2021 coming either. If you believe that “a company’s greatest asset is its people,” then you’ve probably noticed that assets are moving in 2021. People are changing jobs at record rates and companies are investing real, tangible financial assets (cash) into technologies that can support retention.
According to Crunchbase, funding for companies classified as “HR tech” has more than doubled since mid-July. Total venture investment is at nearly $7.5 billion for the year, more than the totals for 2019 and 2020 combined. In 2021 alone, 15 companies in HR tech have been classified as unicorns — compared to just two prior to 2018.
How should the HR tech industry respond to such rapid growth? As someone with a clearly vested interest in promoting HR tech companies, here’s an unsolicited starting point: Re-define the industry to address more holistic trends and challenges.
If you believe that “a company’s greatest asset is its people,” then you’ve probably noticed that assets are moving in 2021. People are changing jobs at record rates and companies are investing real, tangible financial assets (cash) into technologies that can support retention.
HR tech puts a very large environment — everything related to employment — in a very small and specific box. Employee engagement, performance management, corporate learning and DEI are all large and growing subcategories that require the participation and support of all employees beyond HR. The industry has long been working to elevate the profession and drive this collective effort.
Therefore, our job as PR professionals is to extend HR tech far beyond its HR core, using broader societal and workplace changes as catalysts to usher in a new future of work.
The age of purposeful work is here. Companies are increasing their efforts to elevate their competencies around purpose-driven work. Messaging solutions around empowerment and enablement for all employees, driven by HR, helps relate to purpose-driven work and creates an opportunity for valuable, people-centric narratives.
The workplace is, in theory, moving toward greater representation — and telling stories that hold companies accountable and give voices to those lacking historical opportunities should be prioritized. We have an opportunity to add voices to the conversation when it comes to who sits at the table in the workplace of the future. We need to take that opportunity seriously.
There’s a widespread discussion about how work will look in a post-pandemic world. Some tech companies have been reluctant to take a side in that debate — especially as it relates to RTO and hybrid work. Others seem to be misguided by the historical assumptions that in-person environments are inherently more productive — a position scrutinized by tech insiders. That said, the conversation around hybrid work enablement is shifting as it becomes clearer that we will never fully return to a pre-pandemic employment setting. Companies that accept this reality sooner rather than later will be the ones best equipped to help shape a future that suits their needs and positions them for success.
One of the many rationales behind the Great Resignation is an idea posited by The Atlantic that this shift is really more of a Great Reset — a clear break from the past and the desire to create new and positive experiences. HR tech sits at the heart of these powerful winds of change. But as long as it stays in a narrow, human resources-specific box, the industry misses an opportunity to move beyond its core and emerge as the power behind the new world of work. If the industry embraces these changes and aligns with this new workplace future, its prospects will be brighter than ever.
Learn more about PAN’s transformative NXT Stage Approach.