HR leaders in Saudi Arabia are shifting focus to post-Covid-19 era

04 January 2021 3 min. read

Almost half of human resource functions in Saudi Arabia have shifted their lens from short-term Covid-19 firefighting to more strategic HR topics, focused on preparing their organisation and people for the future’s new human capital reality.

In the period following the outbreak of the pandemic, HR leaders faced a number of immediate challenges, from ensuring employees were safe and that they could transition to remote and virtual working, to providing mental health support amid working from home challenges.

Nine months into the pandemic, “HR must swiftly transition from putting out the fires of Covid-19 impact and its aftermath and switch to playing the long game of shaping the workforce of the future for their enterprises,” explained Nazeeh Abdullah, Head of People & Change Advisory at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.

Nazeeh Abdullah, Head of People & Change Advisory, KPMG in Saudi Arabia

According to a KPMG survey of Saudi-based human resources executives, a majority believe that a “new reality” will unfold in the post-Covid-19 era, and almost 40% of organisations are currently adapting their HR strategies to meet changing demands. This new reality will impact most facets of the HR operating model, and require “new priorities, skills and mindsets” said Abdullah.

Hybrid models

In terms of priorities, embedding hybrid working models (from the office, from home, remotely elsewhere) is high on the list. 50% of respondents said that they are adopting digital technologies to support remote working and collaboration, while 25% are in the process of helping leaders develop new management and leadership skills to support remote working.

Meanwhile, 75% of the HR executives said that the HR function needs to rethink productivity and performance measures in light of the shift to increased remote working.

Abdullah: “As we adapt to the new remote virtual way of working, leaders want to help all employees to be safe and healthy, digitally ready and actively engaged. Sustaining a sense of team and managing this unique experience is critical in this journey.”


With the workforce set to change dramatically over the next years, skills alignment is another top priority. Nearly 25% of HR executives surveyed by the global accounting and consulting firm expect that between 51% to 60% of the total workforce will need to be reskilled or upskilled, covering all areas of reskilling, including new digital capabilities.

The top skills required by the HR function are managing performance and productivity in a predominantly remote environment (75%), deploying digital HR service management (75%) and delivering transformational change management (50%).

A new operating model

Beyond reskilling, nearly two thirds of respondents believed that the HR function needs to completely reinvent and transform itself, to respond more effectively to future disruption such as another pandemic. “The pandemic has presented the HR function with an opportunity to be a preeminent value driver. It is time to rise to the challenge and shape the workforce of the future to help build successful and innovative companies,” Abdullah noted.

Other top-ranked initiatives include reducing costs to accommodate organisational financial realities, and adopting HR technologies that can improve productivity and effectiveness.