The Workplace Trends that Matter in 2021

Our hopes and expectations for 2021 are admittedly low — it just needs to be better than 2020. But even with the slow rollout of vaccines, there is little to believe that the first part of the year will be any different (though our cousins in the US may feel the new start with a new President). Even so, some trends have stood out to us for the year ahead.

The Workplace Trends that Matter in 2021

Our research into this article reviewed the top culture and workplace trends for 2021. While we identified a range of issues, the following are the ones we think will matter most:

  1. The employee experience and mental wellbeing is crucial 
    **If there’s a silver lining about 2020, it’s that the discussion on mental health is here to stay. Since the beginning of the outbreak, employers and employees have had more open conversations about mental health. Now, more than ever, employee wellness is a priority for employers. It’s easy to see why — with so much fatigue in the workplace, the risk of burnout is higher than ever. But, on the flip side, employers that support their employees report a 
    23% increase in employees with better mental health and a 21% increase in the number of high performers. **
  2. Work flexibility is more than just location
    Last year, we predicted that the increasing demand for flexibility would lead to more remote working. While the pandemic certainly accelerated that option, COVID-19 has shown that we need to be flexible with when our people work, not just where.
  3. Your boss may be watching you
    An unfortunate side effect of the mass shift to remote working is the startling number of companies that have implemented tools that passively track and monitor their employees. This highly invasive process of tracking ‘productivity’ erodes trust and fuels tensions. Less than 50% of employees trust their companies with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information about the data. 
  4. **Companies look to contractors to fill skill gaps
    **With the relentless pace that the business world progresses, it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to fill gaps in the organization. 31% of businesses surveyed by Gartner reported that they can’t create skill development solutions fast enough to meet evolving needs. Instead of cultivating these talents in-house or hiring long-term solutions, many will seek to ‘rent’ employees for a short period to fill the skill gaps they face. 

Accelerated by the onset of the pandemic, these major workplace trends result from ongoing pressure for change. However, one thing is clear, we need to be intentional about the core of our business practices and services. People are burning out, and having too many goals will only lead to more problems (not greater "employee engagement"). 

Therefore, succeeding in 2021 is a question of empowering your employees to act for themselves. Here’s how you can succeed.

Flexibility – the winning way
While 2020 forced businesses to work remotely, the new frontier of flexible work will be when people work, rather than where. The pandemic exposed the fact that not everyone’s work schedules are the same — with mothers taking a disproportionate share of the burden. Time is a precious commodity, and because of pandemic circumstances not everyone can work the same hours. Gartner’s 2020 ReImagine HR Employee Survey showed that only 36% of people performed well at organizations with the standard 40-hour week, while 55% succeeded at organizations with more flexible working time. 

Developing flexibility is about developing efficient resilience. This could mean identifying new skills, promoting internal development or reaching out to contract workers to fill specific gaps. It could also mean adopting a ‘sprint’ approach with regular reflection points to keep projects on track.

Empower your people, don’t spy on them 
It’s the nightmare of an authoritarian state — constant surveillance and little privacy — but there certainly is a lure. After all, leaders need to make sure that their teams work consistently and push their projects forward. However, deceptively installing monitoring software won’t build trust. 

It may seem strange that Friday Pulse will speak out against monitoring. After all, we’re a company that helps monitor how people feel and work with each other. But the key difference is that Friday Pulse asks people to actively participate with the purpose of helping them become better leaders and happier in their work life. It’s a platform for open and responsive discussions for the development of leaders, not surveilling productivity. 

In this light, we encourage companies to trust their employees. As one of the Five Ways to Happiness at Worktrusting and allowing employees to set their own working hours and have more personal freedom, enables them to do great work rather than just work. 

Develop the employee experience
Companies that will survive – and perhaps thrive – in 2021 will not only have to mitigate threats, but also seize opportunities. However, we often don’t identify when we’re overwhelmed or feeling burned out. This is where a positive employee experience that is sensitive to the needs of individuals works incredibly well. 

One of the most common complaints we’ve heard about companies trying to improve their employee experience is that they have no idea if it’s working. Though more than 60% of US businesses offer a wellbeing program of some degree, few have clear definitions on wellbeing and ways to track it (if only there were a way to track that kind of improvement). 

What is the return on investment when you build a fitness centre, install a pool table or provide free snacks? Most organizations simply don’t know, and now that many of us are working from home these physical incentives seem even more off track. 

Companies need to recognize that employee experience is more about “how” we work — how we can work well and live well. Relationships are an essential part of this experience. Collaboration, coordination and communication are all dependent on healthy and strong relationships. Sometimes it is about working less (a scary thought, we know) and spending more time with each — even remotely during lockdown. It’s about developing ‘pandemic soft-skills’ and how to better work with one another. 

There isn’t a one-off solution to improving your company’s culture. You actively need to manage your employee experience. Friday Pulse is designed to help companies look at the strengths of their workplace culture, and identity and improve on any weaknesses. For more information, please reach out to us today. We’d love to help make your 2021 your best year yet.