The next few years will be a time of seismic change in the rapidly advancing digital workplace.

Chalk it up to a combination of trends — from the the death of classical hierarchies and top-down management to a new focus on inclusion, productivity and innovation.

To understand what the future holds for human resources (HR) professionals in 2017, we asked four industry experts for their perspectives. In the first of this two-part series, we'll hear from two of them, David D'Souza and Chris Russell.

  • David D'Souza is head of London for the CIPD, a professional organization in the UK for HR and people development, and also head of engagement for the CIPD branch network. "I'm often asked what the biggest change in store for HR is, and my answer is always that it will be something we don't see coming — a shift that changes businesses, and thereby necessitates a change in and response from HR. Predicting that there will be something unpredictable is the most honest thing that we can do," he said.
  • Chris Russell is managing director of RecTech Media, a Trumbull, Conn.-based HR consultancy, The self-described "mad scientist of online recruiting," he's built dozens of job boards, apps and recruiting tools since he started in 1999.

Here are four of the trends they predict will shape the future of HR in 2017 and beyond.

More Digital Workplaces

"We will continue to see the trend towards more digital workplaces — be that through collaborative tools, the encroachment of wearable technology into the office or more of a focus on people analytics.

"This will present increasing challenges around the good practice of handling that data and using it to add value.  What is organizational data and what is personal?

"This is not a decision or area for IT to resolve. This is less about legal requirements and more about what it is to be a good employer, and HR should be at the heart of thinking about how working practices mature.

"Virtual reality (VR) is a massive opportunity for recruitment and learning and development professionals, given its ability to create truly immersive experiences in a safe environment and its increasingly accessible pricing.

"We will see increasing automation, hopefully strategically employed to augment our capabilities and free up resources rather than for opportunist cost saving." —David D'Souza

New Ways of Working

David D'Souza
David D'Souza
"We will continue to see the evolution of the law and debate around zero-hour contracts, the gig economy and the changing nature of employment. This will continue through 2017 and beyond as organizations continue to vary their organizational structures to find ways to be more competitive.

Learning Opportunities

"We will see some organizations in this space recognizing that investing in people is a way to be more competitive. Employee wellbeing needs to be at the heart of their strategy — with the cost of not doing this being crippling in terms of both time and goodwill." — David D'Souza

Development of Ethical Workplaces

"HR practitioners will be expected to lead and set the standards of what is acceptable in terms of conflict and debate in the workplace, while at the same time reflecting hard on their own values and principles and how they manifest in their work.

"Inequality, access to education, social mobility, democracy, voice, immigration and the ethics of technology are all issues that will bridge our personal and professional lives. It will be complex and at times difficult, but it also places HR where it should be: at the heart of ensuring inclusive and productive workplaces, championing better work and working lives." — David D'Souza

Acceleration of  HR Technologies

Chris Russell
Chris Russell
"HR technology will accelerate in 2017 as more software developers and vendors try to put structure around recruiting and HR processes. What I fear is that many of them will simply create technology that doesn't solve practical problems.

"Too often I see new products come out that don't take into account the actual workflow of a recruiter or human resource professional.

"Technology like artificial intelligence sounds cool, but folks in HR and recruiting are not techies. They need products that are simple, easy to use and, most importantly, save them time.  If it doesn't make the recruiter's job easier, think twice about adding it. " ­Chris Russell

Tomorrow: Six more HR trends from Jeff Wellstead, a partner in the Digital People Practice at Digital Works Consulting, and Perry Timms is founder and chief energy officer at PTHR (People and Transformational HR Ltd.)

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.