Article: Top 10 workplace trends to look out for in 2021

Strategic HR

Top 10 workplace trends to look out for in 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world forever and has had multiple implications on the world or work as well. While 2020 saw a major upheaval at work, talent, and technology, what does 2021 have in store for us? Here is a look at some emerging trends that will define the workplace in 2021.
Top 10 workplace trends to look out for in 2021

Undoubtedly, 2020 was ‘The Year’ for HR, and the role of HR became more indispensable than ever. In 2020, companies worked proactively to create a sense of stability and safety for people, and the role of HR is expanding more and more to fill this need. The role of HR has gone beyond the necessary functions to keep the engine running – keeping people physically protected; managing staff exhaustion and the stress that comes from the pressure to perform during a crisis; keeping the staff connected and supporting them in isolation; devising and mapping new roles and job responsibilities as the business models change; and future proofing the workforce as layoffs and job elimination become a norm as we enter the next normal. 

While 2020 saw a major upheaval at work, talent, and technology, what does 2021 have in store for us?

Advancing the emphasis to enhance work-life balance and personalize employee-related services, the role of human resources will continue to evolve in 2021. From mere gatekeepers of an organization, HR is seeking to become the conscience-keepers of its strong workforce. In coming years, HR will enjoy the Veto Power at the high tables of the organizations. With senior management highlighting the need for employee loyalty, the often ‘overlooked’ workforce is in for a treat. What is even more heartening to see is the willingness of HR to use technology to accentuate this transition. Here are some key HR trends to look out for in 2020:

The hybrid workplace: 2020 was a year where work from the office went on the downward slide. While work from office is not completely out, it’s clear that it is also not 100% in. People still find it important to meet face-to-face — just not every day, in the same office. And this has made companies rethink working models. So while earlier, everyone was high on reducing office space and offer more flexibility to employees, now companies are beginning to experiment with mixing remote and office work — or what we know as hybrid working. 2020 was the year of hybrid work. Employees are keen on a hybrid workplace model, where most of their time is spent in the office but they have the flexibility and freedom to work from home when it works best for them. In the second year of the pandemic, expect hybrid work to dominate our world of work.

The rise of HR: “HR always fought for a seat at the table and now it’s HR that’s setting the table,” stated Kartik Krishnamurthy, Managing Director, Cornerstone On Demand Asia in a recent interaction with us. And rightly so. 2020 was indeed the year of HR’s resurrection, where HR rightly got its due importance. In this unprecedented crisis, it was the HR department that led the recovery from the front, because most of the issues had to do with people. From safety to remote management to making tough decisions like giving furlough to some workers and growing the roles of others to engagement to learning to performance management, HR held the fort to keep work going as usual. Thought leader and global industry analyst Josh aptly stated at Perspectives 2020 when he said, “For us in HR, it is really time to be the heroic leaders of the response.” In the second year of the pandemic, expect the big acceleration of the transformation of HR to continue as the way we work continues to transform and HR’s role to spearhead and manage that transformation smoothly gains greater importance.

Decentralized global workforce/larger talent pool: As remote working became the “new normal” and employers began to develop effective, reliable virtual recruitment methods, it became clear that recruitment no longer needs to be tied to the location of the physical workplace. Companies now have access to talent from literally anywhere around the globe, without needing to physically relocate the people they hire. What’s more, remote and flexible work is accessible to groups of talent who are otherwise not considered for location-based work: such as parents, caregivers, or those with disabilities that make it difficult to work from a typical office. This benefits both employers and employees alike: by opening up the talent pool, improving diversity and inclusion, and making new jobs and markets available. In 2021, we can expect to see more companies hiring beyond the boundaries of where they operate, and broadening their view on who can be considered for a given job.

Innovation will make or break: The year 2020 is said to be the year that accelerated transformation, digitization, and prompted organizations to go beyond and adopt to new business models. Innovation was at the core to business continuity and it will continue to be a fundamental expectation to respond to the never ending challenges, demands, and opportunities posed by the new code of world. For years, we have been hearing examples like Kodak, Blockbuster which refused to innovate and failed to respond to the demands of consumers. 

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness: The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. The quote is taken from the book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. What really makes this quote the most powerful quote in today’s time is creating a truly rock-solid culture that always looks at innovating, and disrupting themselves will withstand the unpleasant vicissitudes of business and unexpected events powerfully when they arise.

Acceleration of digital transformation: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen,” Vladimir Lenin once said. In the world of HR, this statement holds true for HR technology and digital transformation. As companies that could move into a remote working environment closed their physical offices in the interest of business continuity, it was technology that served as the bridge between employees and employers. Those companies that had already embarked on a digital transformation journey were better prepared to manage the unforeseen crisis. And those companies that hadn’t yet adopted technology were left with no choice but to accelerate their journey. In fact, even companies that were at the forefront of enabling technology turned to newer tools and upgrades - including those that could help measure employee pulse continuously, help support the mandate for physical and mental well-being of the employee and help organizations adapt quickly in a fast-changing talent marketplace.

Enhanced adoption of remote working: It has almost been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic struck and changed the world forever. It has had multiple implications on the world or work along with the undeniable impact it had on global economies and healthcare. The immediate questions for organizations and leaders to ponder upon are: How will we work, live and thrive in the post-pandemic future? How is COVID-19 reshaping our world – potentially, forever?

What the future of work would entail is still very ambiguous, but one thing's for sure that it will be hybrid in nature with a combination of people working remotely and office goers. Employers expect to move about 44% of workers to work from home during the pandemic, according to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2020. Organizations like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Square have already announced their plans of having their employees work from anywhere even in the future. What is interesting is the fact that organizations that used to shy away from allowing employees to work remotely are adopting it with much gusto now. During this year, one big lesson that we learnt was the fact that we can accomplish most tasks remotely without a significant drop in productivity or quality. Most employees appreciate flexibility, especially those with long commute times. However, there are some flip sides to it as well like blurring of lines between work and personal life, impact of mental well-being, decreasing human interaction, etc. Given these pros and cons, organizations have to rethink their working arrangements and develop a hybrid model. It can be safely said that the pandemic has normalized remote work and it is here to stay! 

Uprise of flexible work schedules: One thing that has come out as a game changer for the year 2020 is the rise of the flexible work schedules. A flexible working culture is built on trust, communication, collaboration, and connect, just as in a regular office set-up. Organizations must take into consideration the readiness, impact on client service, and the investment required. Needless to say technology is the backbone of the flexi working culture. Flexible work is no longer only for gig workers or freelancers; many “traditional” employers are also offering flexible schedules to their employees now. This has indeed become an important part of the hybrid model of work. Employers who completely stayed aloof from this concept, are now embracing it with utmost ease. The employees are being given the options to work from home as well as work from the office. It is true that a lifestyle change has taken place and people might feel overwhelmed at times. But let's look at the larger picture. The productivity across industries has seen a huge rise. Overall, flexible hours at work let you manage things at your own pace. 

More focus on training and up-skilling: “Tell me and, I forget, teach me and, I may remember, involve me and, I learn," said Benjamin Franklin. These words turned out to be the biggest reality in 2020, as the pandemic came with sheer suddenness and put us in a difficult situation. In 2019 global giants like Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Walmart pledged massive investments in re-skilling programs. The pandemic highlighted the need for such programs and a large number of organizations shifted their focus on learning that will benefit them in the long run. We can easily say that the year 2020 was the year of learning for employers and employees alike. The year 2021 should continue on the same path,  It's time for leadership to reimagine the work their people do in partnership with intelligent technology. It is time to ask themselves the true questions about their readiness of the organizations to compete with any upcoming crisis. The employers need to allocate a handsome budget to up-skill and re-skill the employees that will lead to a strong foundation of learning. According to a Degreed survey ‘State of Skills 2021: Endangered’ that surveyed 5,000+ workers, team managers, and business leaders, the demand for technological, social and cognitive skills will soar in 2021. 

With remote work becoming the new normal, we should accept that we need to learn things that have never been learnt before. Lastly, the role of L&D professionals will now lean towards coaching employees to develop a growth mind-set around continuous professional development. Driving a growth mind-set culture by highlighting the importance of learning from failures and taking risks, and encouraging self-directed learning will be the key. 

Employee health and mental well-being: With the health crisis dominating 2020, the importance of wellness came to the forefront. However, what many didn’t expect was the looming mental health crisis to follow suit. With the sudden shift to remote working and inability to draw healthy boundaries between work and home, over and above personal challenges faced by families globally, mental well-being grabbed attention. Yet, not enough has been done to address it. With the aggravated stress and burnout, individuals with existing mental health concerns have also experienced a setback, given the inability to keep up with coping mechanisms, or accessing in-person therapy or even being able to socialize. Isolation, uncertainty, and anxiety have accelerated the advent of a global psychological pandemic. In these times, while some employees are able to push themselves, some suffer in silence and are able to do more than they can, but yet made to feel it isn’t enough. The constant need to push oneself to prove their contribution,  under such extraordinary circumstances, has only worsened the current state of wellness. With the rising concerns and awareness on addressing mental health, and industry wide conversations on prioritizing employee well-being, 2021 is likely to see an imperative and non-negotiable change in the way work is done, ensuring both wellness and productivity.

More focus on D&I: The last year was of great significance when it comes to diversity and inclusion - be it the unrest triggered as an outcome of unaddressed systemic racism, leading to the Black Lives Matter Movement, or the setback to advancement of rights and access to workplace opportunities for women, in light of the rising inequalities in distribution of work at home, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community being exposed to threats as a result of being isolated with unaccepting families and no community support. The grave hits to years of progress and deprioritization, consequent to the crisis, has ushered in an urgent need to reimagine the diversity agenda. So what does 2021 have in store? 2021 is an opportunity to walk the talk on inclusion, equity and belonging. The year when we step beyond the number of diverse hires, and proactively foster inclusion in the cultural fabric of an organization. The year when corporates, those that hope to be sustainable and attract the best talent, realize that the only way forward is together. 

Organizations have an opportunity to break boundaries and make an impact in even the homes of their workforce. Beyond engagement activities with families, here’s an opportunity to engage with the community beyond the borders of the office and create a platform for some much needed conversations on change. Be it sensitization sessions on dividing responsibilities equally, or through interactive sessions that bring down the walls between generations and mindsets. 2021 is the year to step up inclusion.



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Topics: Strategic HR, #Outlook2021

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