Expertise less ordinary

Ideas to spark inspiration!


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14 tips to improve online Teaching

Here are 14 quick tips to make online teaching better, from Kyungmee Lee, an expert in online learning.

1. Record your lectures – don’t stream them

If students are unwell or are struggling with internet access, they will miss a live streamed lecture. Record videos instead and send them to your students so that they can watch in their own time.

2. Show your face

Researchhas shown that lecture videos that show instructors’ faces are more effective than simple narrated slideshows. Intersperse your slides with video of yourself.

3. Keep videos short

Videos longer than 15 minutescan cause issues of slow downloading and learner distraction. If you have more to say, record two or three short videos.

4. Test out slides

Make sure you test slides on a smartphone before shooting your lectures so all text is readable on small screens. Font sizes, colours, template designs and screen ratios can be double-checked.

5. Use existing resources …

It is unrealistic to expect that you, on your own, will produce a semester’s worth of high quality videos. You can use pre-developed resources available online and provide students with clickable links.

6. … and make sure they’re open access

Using open resourceshelps prevent access problems for students. If any of your suggested resources are not accessible, you will receive an inbox full of student emails and eventually waste all your time troubleshooting. Spending a few extra minutes carefully searching for fully open access materials will save you a headache later.

7. Give specific instructions

When you suggest online media which runs for longer than 15 minutes, students will be put off watching. Instead, suggest the exact parts they need (eg 13:35 to 16:28) as this can even make students more curious. When you provide more than two resources, label them in the order you want students to approach them. Simple numbering, based on the level of difficulty or importance of each resource item, can be of great help for your students.

8. Provide interactive activities

Most learning management systems, such as Moodle, Edmodo and Blackboard, include a range of functions to create interactive learning activities such as quizzes. Step-by-step guides to creating them are widely available online. Use them.

9. Set reasonable expectations

When you create quizzes, you should make sure all questions can be answered by referring to the given learning resources. When you ask students to write a summary of lecture videos, you should make it clear that this is not a serious report. Making this as a mandatory assignment but a low-stakestask will produce the best outcomes and responses from students. A set of 15 quiz questions or a 300-word limit will be sufficient to engage students for 30 minutes.

10. Use auto-checking to measure attendance

If you tell students that their attendance will be measured by their participation in a quiz, it will increase compliance. However, you won’t have time to check them all, so use the automatic checking and grading features on the learning management systems.

11. Use group communication carefully

Group communication shouldn’t be used for direct teaching. Instead, set up “virtual office hours” on a video conferencing tool like Zoom. Simply log in at the appointed time and wait for students. Focus on providing social support and checking if any issues need to be addressed immediately. This can be a great way to collect student feedback on your online teaching as well. Make meetings optional and be relaxed. No need to be frustrated when no one shows up: students are still happy to know that this option is available.

12. Let students take control

You can set up online group spacesfor small groups of students and ask them to support and consult with one another before sending emails to you directly. You can post a couple of questions to help students break the ice and start conversation. Encourage students to use the communication tools they prefer. Some groups will click well and some will not, but this little tip can make students feel socially supported and reduce your inbox traffic.

13. Don’t hide your feelings

Online teachers’ emotional opennessis a great instructional strategy. Tell your students that it is your first time teaching online and you are learning while teaching. Explicitly ask them to help you, reassuring them that you will do your very best to support their learning as well. They will be sympathetic since they share the same emotions, and you will be set up for success.

14. Repeat

Online students do not like frequent changesin their learning style. They are happy to repeat the same structure and activities. Once you find a teaching style working for you, feel free to repeat it each week until you are back in your classroom.


First published in by Kyungmee Lee, Lecturer in Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University

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Tips and Ideas to help Parents working at home with Children

Working from home tips and ideas

Check out these tips from Parent Club – a Scottish Government website offering up-to-date guidance children’s health and education.

Coronavirus has affected everyone’s life and the changes we’ve all made still take some getting used to. This is especially true if you’ve been working from home while juggling your childcare responsibilities.

To try to help you keep up with your work and your kids, we’ve put together a few handy tips from parents who have been there. These vary from general tips that every parent can try out, to ones that are perfectly suited for your own child’s age group.

Tips for everyone

Tip #1: Stay flexible

There’s no magical system that will work for every family, so try different options to find one that works for yours. Even when you find your own special method, try to remember that it won’t work every time and some days will be tougher than others. However, if you’re a little flexible, you’ll soon find a way that works for both you and your kids, where everyone is getting things done most of the time.

Tip #2: Find your own quiet corner

Chances are, if you don’t usually work from home then you won’t have a nice space set up and ready for you! If you can, try to set aside somewhere in your home to be your work area. If you have younger children, this could be the corner of a room – so you can still keep an eye on them. Just be sure to let them know that this is a no-go area for them.

Tip #3: Prioritise & schedule

With the kids around, you’re not going to have as much time to dedicate to work, so it’s important to use this time wisely. Make a list of key tasks that you need to get through each day and try thinking about what important tasks you can do during quieter periods.

Tip #4: Teamwork

If you have a partner living with you, and you're both working from home during this time, try to agree a plan between you of when to spend time with the kids. This will mean that you’ll have time for work while the kids are also getting some much-needed attention from your partner and vice versa.

Tip #5: Embrace the change

Coronavirus is affecting everyone. You’re not the only one in this situation, and many of your co-workers may also be working from home with kids to look after too. So don’t try to juggle it all as though it’s ‘business as usual’. Let your line manager and colleagues know that you will be balancing childcare and home learning with work, and block time out in your calendar for this. 

You may need to change or even reduce your hours in order to manage – talk to your line manager if this is the case. You could also ask to be furloughed – there’s more information on this on the Working Families website.

Remember that this isn’t ‘business as usual’ and that you may not be as productive as you usually are – but that’s totally fine. We’re all in this together.

Tip #6: Me time

During this difficult period, you’re going to be multi-tasking on a completely new level and you’ll need a break yourself. If you can, try to take some time for yourself, even if it’s just for a cuppa or a quiet five minute break.

Tip #7: Get outside 

Now that the days are shorter it’s important that you get plenty of time outside. When you’re working from home you often have no reason to go out. But it’s very important that you spend at least a little time outside during daylight hours, as this can improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

Tip #8: Stay warm

It’s easy to get a bit chilly in the winter months, especially if you’re trying to keep the cost of heating bills as low as possible. Instead of having the boiler on 24/7 you can make sure you have a cosy jumper on and remember to keep the doors closed in the house. You could even make yourself a hot water bottle and sit with it on your knee! This will make a big difference and stop you reaching for the thermostat.

Extra tips for parents with babies (0 – 1 year old)

Working from home with a baby can be an incredibly difficult task. You’re already probably running on less sleep than you’re used to and your little one will need round-the-clock care. Now, on top of all that, you’re having to juggle work too. Here are a few tips specific to babies that might help you be a little more productive.

Tip #1: Take advantage of naptime/bedtime

Naptime can be a great time to get those more difficult tasks completed. Every baby will have its own pattern when it comes napping, but whether they have frequent short naps, or longer naps less often, these precious moments of quiet can be a great time to focus. However, if this is still proving to be difficult, and if you’re able to, try to hold off on doing more complicated tasks until the little one is in bed.

Tip #2: Enjoy the little moments

This is a stressful time for everyone as different worlds all collide in new ways, so it’s important to enjoy the little moments. Taking a quick break to get a little snuggle can really give you a little boost when you might need it most.

Tip #3: Wear that baby

If it helps you get time in front of your laptop, and your baby enjoys a little snuggle time, use a sling or baby carrier to keep them close to you while you work. Chances are, your colleagues will know that you have a baby, and if you have any video calls scheduled, your colleagues may delight in getting the chance to see your little one.

Tip #4: Multi-platform tools

If you are able to, look into working on multi-platform tools like Google Docs. This means that you can easily swap from the laptop to your mobile phone in the event you are trapped under a suddenly sleeping baby.

Tip #5: Dealing with crying babies

Dealing with a crying baby can be an emotionally draining experience for any parent, especially if you are unsure why they are crying in the first place. You can check out our why is my baby crying page, for some excellent tips on how to soothe your little one.

Extra tips for parents with toddlers (1 – 3 years old)

Working from home with a toddler can sometimes be a particular challenge for parents. At this time in their lives, toddlers are able to communicate with their parents, but not completely understand the world around them. These extra tips might be able to help you deal with this wonderful, but challenging, period in their development.

Tip #1: Take advantage of naptime

At this stage, your kids may now be having longer, more regular naptimes, and you can use these to your advantage. For example, this might be a great time to arrange that important conference call.

Tip #2: Enjoy the little moments

Your kids are more likely to be more settled and play happily and quietly after they have had some quality time with you. So, taking some time out regularly throughout the day to spend with your child means you’re more likely to get peaceful moments in between to concentrate on your work.

Tip #3: A little undivided attention can go a long way

If your toddler is trying to get your attention, there’s a pretty good chance they aren’t going to stop until they get it. Try to find time to put down the work and give your little one the attention they need and deserve. After a little undivided attention from you, your toddler is much more likely to get on with some independent play – and let you get back to the laptop.

Tip #4: The favourite toy

If your little one has a favourite toy that they just can’t get enough of, then try keeping this for those "must concentrate" moments. Chances are, they’ll be happy to get their number one friend, and you’ll get some much needed time to focus on work.

Extra tips for parents with children (4 – 8 years old)

At this age there is still plenty you can do to keep kids occupied if they're not able to go to school. From getting them to help around the house to scheduling virtual playdates, here are a few extra tips to help you out.

Tip #1: Mix it up

Keep things fresh, new and exciting by mixing up activities with your kids. You can switch between options such as screen time, games, puzzles and arts and crafts to keep them occupied while you get time to concentrate on work. And if you have time for a quick break, you can even join in!

Tip #2: To-do lists

To-do lists can be a great way for you to keep on top of work duties, but they can also be a great way to keep your kids occupied and engaged. Get them to make their own to-do lists filled with everything from playing different games to tidying up and even helping around the house. If your kids aren’t quite able to write yet, why not get them to draw their to-do list instead?

Tip #3: Virtual playdates

Outside of school hours, scheduling virtual play dates can be a great way to keep the kids occupied while you try to do some work. Even though they can now see their friends more, they’ll still love the chance to catch up with them online.

Tip #4: Movie time

One great way to keep the little ones occupied during an important call or task you need to complete is to put on their favourite film. Yes, you may be watching it for the millionth time now, but it’s a good chance to keep the kids settled when you need it most.

Tip #5: Set expectations & rewards

If you have something important you need to concentrate on, or a call you need them to be quiet during, then tell your little one exactly this. They won’t always listen to you of course, but if they do, make sure you praise them for doing such a good job. That way they are more likely to keep doing this next time.

Tips for parents with pre-teens (9+ years old)

At this age, if your kids are not able to go to school they may be missing their friends, and it’s understandable that they might get a little frustrated by this. Unfortunately, you don’t have the opportunity to fall back on the long forgotten ‘nap time’ but there are still a few things you can try to help your day go a little easier.

Tip #1: Mix it up

Keep things fresh, new and exciting by mixing up activities with your kids. You can switch between options such as screen time, board games, jigsaw puzzles and arts and crafts to keep them occupied while you get time to concentrate on work – and if you have time for a quick break, you can even join in! Their school should also have sent some activities for them to complete, so make sure time is set aside to work on these too.

Tip #2: Haven’t you always wanted a Personal Assistant?

As your kids are a little older, there’s no reason you can’t get them to help lighten your load and ease the pressure. Need someone to sort your paperwork, take notes for you, or perhaps help tidy around the house? Problem solved! The kids will also feel like they are helping too.

Tip #3: To-do lists

To-do lists can be a great way for you to keep on top of work duties, but they can also be a great way to keep your kids occupied and engaged. Get them to make their own to-do lists filled with everything from playing different games to tidying up and even helping around the house.

Tip #4: Communication fun

Give them a pile of post it notes, or create a suggestion box together – there are lots of fun ways that your kids can communicate with you during this difficult time. That way, they can write down those ‘must know’ questions for you to answer when you’re free.

Tip #5: Loosen up screen time rules

Everyone in your home will be going through this stressful period in their own way, but it can help to temporarily loosen some of the rules you had in place back when things were a little less crazy. Trying things like loosening up screen time rules can be a good way to keep the kids occupied while you take care of a particularly tricky task. You can get them to stay in touch with friends or family through video calling – which might also help them understand that everyone is going through this difficult time.

Extra tips for dealing with multiple children

If you have more than one child, then it’s likely that they’ll start arguing at some point during the day – usually just when you are trying to do something important! Here are a couple of extra tips to help with those moments.

Tip #1: Private space

If you can, try to give each of your children their own private place where they can calm down and play with their own things. It’s helpful to keep a box here with some activities you know help to them relax. When they start getting cross with each other, get them to go to their own space and play.

Tip #2: One to one time 

If possible, try to spend a little quality time alone with each of your children – it can really make a difference. If they’re a bit older, you could ask them what they’d like to do with you during this special one to one time. From reading a little of their favourite book, to doing some drawing together or playing a board game, this is a perfect chance to chat to them and make them feel special, meaning they are less likely to get as wound up during the day.

Click here for more from Parent Club.

January 2021

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What does employee wellbeing look like in 2021?

Keep fit eat fit Employee wellbeing Financial wellbeing Covid-19

The start of the new year this time around will bring an extra layer of challenges for those responsible for deploying employee wellbeing programmes.

Whilst employers know they have a legal responsibility for the health and safety of their workers, they are perhaps now more aware than ever that this also includes broad spectrum wellbeing in its various forms.  So 2021 will be a very different kind of year, and will have its own big challenges, especially if you are in HR, employee benefits or wellbeing.

Going all the way back to 1957, the FT featured an article about how to “keep managers healthy”, quoting a company doctor who recognised that employees rose to the top because of their “better-than-average” bill of health that enabled them to “work longer and harder without showing undue signs of strain”.

Thankfully things have moved on considerably since that era, and the gradual understanding of business owners and senior management has increased and developed to the point where the inextricable link between overall wellbeing and increased performance, and therefore ultimately company profitability, is fully recognised.

Why wellbeing is a key investment for a business

There are numerous published stats from research conducted by recognised companies such as Deloitte that demonstrate a return on investment of at least 5 to 1 when employee wellbeing programmes are deployed – in terms of fewer sick days, higher productivity levels, and lower health insurance claims.  This translates into significant cost savings and turns into a whole new profit centre for the employer.

After the rigours of the pandemic and the ensuing financial devastation, employees are generally going to be more minded to stay in their jobs for longer – as a recent study by Zurich Insurance highlighted.   Therefore an employer who is looking at how to engage their employees in the long-term should regard any wellbeing measures they choose to take as an investment in the employee, their health, and their productivity – as well as an investment in the company.

The pandemic has reinforced for many companies just how much they rely upon employees for their commitment to the company and ultimately labour productivity, which in turn emphasises that HR, compensation and benefits functions are key to defining how work is experienced and how the workforce evolves.

HR professionals will be at the frontline of their organisations, working with senior management to drive forward corporate strategy, and investing in different types of talent, technology and wellbeing tools.  In a world of remote and blended working environments HR and wellbeing personnel will need to have agile and comprehensive tools at their disposal which will fit the new world of work which is now becoming established across the entire globe.

The importance of prevention

In light of the more recent covid pandemic and all the problems that this has highlighted, employee health and wellbeing is in the spotlight more than ever before, and the provision of resources to address and prevent problems arising due to this once in a lifetime situation has now become an increasingly hot topic.

Prevention of disease is critical in the future world of work, and covid has highlighted this with the data we now have relating to higher risk categories of people who are the most susceptible to the disease – e.g. obesity, diabetes, general lack of fitness, unhealthy diet, low resistance and immunity due to poor lifestyle etc.

COVID-19 distributes risk across entire populations, and has exposed significant shortcomings in some countries’ public health and welfare systems.  Governments are going to be looking at ways of working with employers to better ensure that employees are equipped with the knowledge, resources and skills to maintain maximum health, so as to lead a better life and be less susceptible to disease of any kind – and of course less drain on nations’ health services.

Also, it must be remembered that while those whose work can now be done remotely may have experienced newfound gains in productivity and flexibility, they may also be facing challenges to their mental health and social wellbeing as they adjust to the blurred lines between their domestic and professional lives.

New kinds of burnout are appearing as a result of the adaptations to working behaviours, and we are all now familiar with the term ‘Zoom fatigue’.  Filling up a work day with constant online meetings leads to extra workloads while employees catch up with other tasks and encroach on their own personal time – leading to more stress and mental overload.

Managers may need to adjust their management techniques and expectations of their teams now we are fully immersed in the world of digital working from home.  With new processes and working patterns come needs for management as well as employees to adapt.

This applies to wellbeing as much as anything else, and providing easy to use digital tools will be key to successful adoption.

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How Employers Can Promote Innovative Employee Wellbeing In 2021

Now more than ever employers should be focusing on supporting and improving employee wellbeing.

With the upheaval of 2020, many employees have dealt with uncertainty about the future and experienced higher than usual levels of stress. And by finding ways to reduce stress levels and improve employee health, businesses are going to find that workers are far more engaged and productive.

These are some of the ways in which employers can promote innovative wellbeing in 2021.

Use wellbeing apps

There’s a whole range of apps available that can offer a fun and engaging way to relieve stress, improve focus, and generally help with wellbeing. Offering your employees access to these wellbeing apps can make a huge difference to their health and in turn, make them feel more valued and increase their productivity.

Two of the most popular apps when it comes to health and wellbeing are Headspace and Calm. As explained in this Guiding Tech article, both apps are very similar. They offer meditation guidance as a way to overcome stress and improve sleep and focus. You have to work through a series of sessions, completing each one in order to move onto the next.

These apps provide an innovative way to support your employees’ wellbeing at a relatively low cost to your business.

Provide wearable wellbeing tech

Wearable technology is one of the biggest new trends when it comes to health and wellbeing. From fairly basic fitness trackers to advanced smartwatches, wearable tech connects with other devices like computers and smartphones to track things like daily step count, your heartbeat, or sleeping patterns.

While many of your employees might already have some form of wearable tech, if you’re looking for ways to promote wellbeing in 2021, one of the most innovative wearables is Hapbee. As recently reported on AiThority, Hapbee is a wearable tech that uses ultra-low-frequency magnetic field technology to stimulate sensations such as alertness, focus, or calmness.

Investing in such wearable tech for your employees offers myriad possibilities, helping them to monitor and maintain their wellbeing so that they can do the best possible job.

Keep work flexible

Many businesses have had to adapt their working practices in the wake of COVID-19, offering remote working and flexible hours. But to take a really innovative approach to your employees’ wellbeing these should become standard and you should look to be more flexible in all aspects of work.

Allow employees to fit their working hours into a schedule that works for them, give them the freedom to work from home when they want to, and encourage them to take time off when they need to, especially when they’re sick.

Flexible working is particularly important for working parents. Allowing them to fit their working hours around their home commitments will ensure that when they are working they’re not distracted.

Employees that don’t feel they can afford to take a day out sick will come in anyway, they won’t at their most productive and there’s a good chance they’ll spread their illness. Some big companies are even starting to offer ‘unlimited’ holiday days — employees have clear targets and deadlines to meet, and as long as that happens they can take time off when they want.

Taking a flexible, reasonable approach to all aspects of running your business will benefit employee’s wellbeing, making them feel trusted and motivated to work hard.

Encourage personal development

Another key part of your employee wellbeing strategy should be to give employees time and resources to develop their current skills or learn new ones. Sign up to learning platforms and training courses for the latest software in your industry, and assign regular training sessions.

Your employees will feel like they are getting something back from your business and be more engaged, and you’ll have a team that’s more skilled and up to date on the latest industry trends.

As more teams work remotely or move between working from home and the office, work-life balance is going to become even more complicated. In 2021 it’s going to be key for employers to find innovative ways to support employee wellbeing, and offer a flexible, understanding approach to work. 

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2021 workplace wellbeing predictions and priorities

Organisations understand they must consider the health and safety of their employees and as we continue to come to the end of 2020 – with pandemic restrictions still in place- employers are aware they need to take greater responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, Nuffield Health looks at how the nation has collectively experienced the challenges to mental wellbeing brought about by the current pandemic. Here he says that if we act now, and act together, we can use this shared experience of distress to bring about change.

At Nuffield Health, our latest research is aimed at helping businesses to encourage empowering conversations around mental health, so more people access the support they need, earlier. Now presents an opportunity to change the nature and content of our language around mental health and mental fitness.

We believe most organisations, where possible, will look to bring employees back on a phased return to offices in 2021. However, a recent poll revealed when lockdowns were eased, many Brits felt “uncomfortable” going back to their normal lives but worryingly, a recent survey revealed only 15 per cent of employers surveyed staff this year to get an understanding of their needs during this difficult time.

We think this will be a greater priority in 2021 and there will be a bigger focus on the extension of support businesses offer their employees on a remote basis. Previous workplace benefits will, post-COVID-19, be a minimum expectation.

2020’s pandemic may have recalibrated, rather than reset employee expectations regarding perks they can expect from an employer. Many benefits focused on the physical office space may no longer be as relevant to staff post-COVID-19. In fact, most employees will now probably want continued access to remote working opportunities instead.

We will start to see a blend of physical and remote services offered to employees to ensure they continue to receive the same support they did in the physical office. This might include desktop assessments, to enable suitable ergonomic set up while at home, as well as access to remote services such as virtual GP or online emotional wellbeing services.

With the introduction of the UK furlough scheme, employees will expect their roles to be protected, should further peaks occur and there will be an increased focus on financial education. Money worries can have an enormous effect on mental wellbeing, and be both the cause and effect of mental health problems.

Considering this, employee expectations for mental health support from businesses will be, overall, much higher, as many reported experiencing distressing emotions, poor concentration, lack of motivation and stress, while working from home during lockdown.

Immediate and ongoing mental health resources, which can be offered to staff remotely, will become more accessible, including increased counselling options, and support through services like EAPs. Other types of virtual therapy we see growing in popularity might include interpersonal therapy, and access to psychiatric assessments.

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Creating the office of the future

In a remodeled world, it is vital for companies to reinvent ways of working.

The corporate office is on the brink of a major renovation. The lockdowns that began in the U.S. in mid-March in response to the novel coronavirus created an extraordinary migration as employees across the country began working at home. People patched together ways to keep going when the lights went off in office buildings, and, for the most part, it has worked: In the June 2020 PwC US Remote Work Survey, three out of four employers called work from home (WFH) a success.

It’s no surprise, then, to find widespread interest in maintaining some form of WFH once the pandemic recedes. Everybody benefits. Employees avoid lengthy commutes and spend more time with their family. Employers have access to talent regardless of location, improve resiliency through a distributed workforce, and reduce expenses by optimizing their real estate footprint. Even the environment gets a break thanks to fewer people commuting, less business travel, and less heating and cooling of office space. The Remote Work Survey shows that 73 percent of employees would like to work remotely at least two days a week, even once COVID-19 is no longer a concern. Similarly, 55 percent of executives are prepared to expand options for employees to work outside the office.

This turnabout in perspectives is striking. The prevailing view just a few months ago held up the office as a strategic asset to appeal to a new generation of workers located in urban areas, with open-space designs and room to play. Today, skeptical executives who believed employees could not be productive away from the office have come around, or at least have softened their views, and see that working from home can be effective. Now many large companies across industries have announced their intent to let employees work from home at least part of the time going forward.

As a flexible WFH model appears likely to become the norm, the role of the corporate office and its physical footprint are coming under scrutiny. Right now, almost all office workers are working remotely. Will we see the same level of collaboration and productivity when some are in the office and others at home? We’re all leveraging relationships that we have built in the office through the years; how do we build new networks when veteran employees leave and new employees are hired?

The pandemic has shown that the real prize in remote work is not reducing real estate costs — it’s fostering a stronger sense of resiliency. In the future, remote work will also allow greater access to a diverse pool of talent, regardless of where it is located. Our surveys show a small percentage of employees prefer to work remotely all the time, so it’s important to assess what flexibilitymeans for them. Meanwhile, other employees will want to socialize with team members and feel that they are part of the organization. How many people will need a place to collaborate with colleagues in person, and how often?

The answers to these questions will determine both the success of a business and the extent of the physical remodeling that companies will need to do. As leaders think about the role of their corporate offices and how and where their employees work once coronavirus concerns recede — whether it is this year or further in the future — they must clearly define the reasons for employees to return to the office.

Four actions to transition to the office of the future

No solution works for every company. Executives will need to figure out their own path, given the scale of potential changes. But these four steps will help.

1. Redefine the role of the office

Start by defining the purpose of the office in your organization. Go through a careful evaluation of what happens in your spaces. What is valuable enough to keep your people coming in? A significant number of companies outside the manufacturing sector have shown they can work from home effectively, so pinpoint the reasons people need to come back to the office. Indeed, the office may be evolving from a default location where employees go to get their work done to a destination employees visit for specific purposes.

Consider the work that people do. We call this exercise the Six Cs. Each C can be mapped to give employers an idea of physical and productivity space needs.

Creating work products: Analyzing data, doing research, processing orders, and writing documents. These “heads-down” tasks are often performed individually, and largely can be done independent of an office location as long as the employee does not require specific equipment or physical documents tied to the office.

Collaborating: Brainstorming ideas, developing plans, and solving problems with colleagues. Collaborating with colleagues was one of the top reasons many employees went to the office, according to PwC’s Remote Work Survey. Working from home during the pandemic has highlighted forms of collaboration that can still be effective when participants are not together in person. When does being “in person” make a measurable difference?

Communicating: Sharing information, giving status updates, asking for or providing feedback, and answering or following up with clients. Many communications can (and now do) take place over video, email, chat apps, or the phone. Again, when does communicating “in person” make a difference?

Coaching: Developing employees and providing feedback. Prior to the pandemic, coaching was often done face-to-face. However, because it’s largely a one-on-one exercise, most coaching could be virtual.

Committing: Making decisions and committing to actions. Commitments are often determined in formal settings, such as steering committee meetings, and sometimes in discussions among peers or between a manager and an employee. How and when do commitments happen in a given organization?

Community building, or corporate culture: Forming relationships through daily interactions. Some of these interactions purely involve work, but not all. Social activities help colleagues get to know one another as individuals and form relationships that benefit the work environment.

Although the last several months have shown that almost all of these activities can happen virtually at least some of the time, in the longer term, a portion of them will also take place in the office. So how will the split evolve? Once leaders have mapped what their workforces do, how much time they take to do it, and where being physically present adds value and boosts results, they can plan not only the size but the layout of their offices.

The creation of work products, as defined above, can largely move away from the office — and so can communicating, via virtual conference calls or team updates. Much of coaching can be handled virtually, too. Collaborating, committing, and community building, however, are team engagements at their core. Although much of that engagement can be virtual, in-person engagement is most valuable for these activities.

2. Define work-from-home guidelines

Our Remote Work Survey anticipates a flexible WFH model in which employees work in the office a few days per week once COVID-19 is no longer a concern. This generality, however, will apply to employees differently depending on their specific roles, with tailored approaches for greater workweek flexibility. When planning, it can help to create specific employee personas and map their activities, requirements, and propensities for home or office working based on the Six Cs.

Here we’ve divided these employees into four groups: collaborators, connectors, residents, and rovers, and have estimated the target time they would spend in an office.

Collaborators work in teams, but not necessarily in an office space. Think of research scientists, project managers, engineers, or designers. They may need powerful computers or access to specific equipment. And there are times when being together in person is more productive, such as a creative visioning session. Yet, as routine meetings and status checkups increasingly take place virtually, their need for time on premises could decrease significantly.

Connectors are typically the corporate support staff, including IT developers, marketing and public relations professionals, accountants, and human resource specialists. They have varying working patterns and can work in multiple areas within a company location. They work at their desks and in conference rooms. Target times on premises could decline by as much as two-thirds with enhanced remote working tools.

Residents are the traders, engineers, loan processors, and designers who need specific equipment, customized terminals, or powerful computers in the office to do their job. They work alone frequently but may require a specific space and specific tools. Mobility for this group will be more limited.

Rovers — the client-side consultants or sales executives — also work alone frequently, but they can work anywhere. Reducing expectations for their need for office time to as little as 10 percent is not unreasonable — that would mean two days a month in the office. This is likely to have been close to normal for some rovers even before COVID-19.

3. Remodel the office

According to the analysis above, the office of the future is primarily a space for collaboration and community building, though some tasks do require individual work spaces. Few floor plans are ready for this focus now, and given the pandemic hiatus, the remodeling that is currently going on is working in the other direction: Executives at many companies are retrofitting their offices with a “safety first” mind-set, putting up social-distancing barriers to shield people from one another and reducing the office capacity to half or even less of what it was before the pandemic.

For the office to serve its new and more specific future purpose of enabling collaboration and community building, a different kind of major remodeling is ahead. We anticipate that assigned offices and desks, that is, spaces reserved for individual work, will shrink significantly and be converted into unassigned, hotel-type seating arrangements with less square footage per seat than is the case today. In return, space for socializing and collaborating will increase. Huddle rooms will prompt ad hoc collaboration of two to four people; larger conference rooms will host decision-making meetings; hubs will enable project teams to work together. These collaboration spaces will be equipped with tools and technology to enhance the experience. For example, team hub rooms will be configured with “white walls” for brainstorming and powerful videoconferencing technology for seamlessly patching in remote team members.

Once a business maps its groups, it will have a better sense of what is needed in a physical office. Suppose your rovers need to be in the office 10 percent of their time or one day every two weeks: If you have 1,000 rovers, that translates into 100 seats. Now factor in density, or the total space needed for a group. Different groups will use the office space differently and thus will need different types of spaces. Many companies will need significant renovation and an investment in hoteling and basic space reservation systems, as well as phone routing systems.

One final consideration: As a result of the pandemic, some companies are questioning whether to diversify from a single, large office in a major urban center to a hub-and-spoke model, with one or two offices in urban locations and a handful of outposts in the suburbs. The outposts may shorten commutes for suburban workers while still enabling collaboration and enhancing business continuity. In addition to owning or leasing dedicated offices, companies may consider coworking spaces in order to increase flexibility and access for their much more mobile workers.

4. Update your ways of working

Companies that want to make an office-wide shift to flexible remote work will fail if they do not define how ways of working will change in this new model. Pre-pandemic, policies, processes, and the implicit and routine ways of working were defined with an assumption that most of the workers were in the office most of the time. Now that a large number of corporate employees are working from home, those assumptions have already gone out the window, and legacy ways of working have become insufficient or even obsolete.

Office-centric ways of working institutionalized how employees engaged with each other, and collaboration and innovation would often occur organically in hallways or over coffee. (Bell Labs figured that out in the 1950s and designed corridors specifically to let people bump into one another.) Only a third of U.S. workers in PwC’s June 2020 Workforce Pulse Survey rated the tools and resources for collaboration and communication in their organization as “very effective.”

Yet the flexible work arrangements everyone has been using to cope with the pandemic are redefining these norms. As a result, you will need to deliberately establish ways of working that allow for serendipity but don’t risk teams settling into recently improvised ways of working that can create confusion and frustration. These new ways of working benefit the employees not only in the short term but also in the longer term as they develop new skills and enhance their own employability. To define these new ways of working, the following elements are needed.

Standards and guidelines. Establish the parameters of work for regular activities. Set standards for when people are available and how key performance indicators are reported and measured. Outline what a successful meeting looks like and how action points are allocated and reported.

Routines. Remote working requires specific routines, depending on what people do. Some teams need daily huddles, others weekly catch-ups. Social events can also be programmed.

Tools and technology. The infrastructure of remote collaboration was cobbled together for the pandemic. Some companies had protocols in place and robust file-sharing capabilities. Others did not. These technologies will now have to be standard, secure, and straightforward to use.

Risk and controls. Data protection is always top of mind, but in a remote working environment, the cracks are all too evident. If the company email system fails or a file transfer system crashes, work-arounds using personal email accounts can severely compromise corporate data. And considering how many people are accessing systems and trying hard to do their jobs, keeping tabs on these activities is not easy. Companies are scrambling to keep up. Given that cybersecurity and data protection will remain a top priority, getting this right now should be an urgent concern.

For example, consider how a manager coaches an employee in a mobile world. The manager will need new standards and guidelines that outline what good coaching and feedback look like. He or she may define new routines that call for daily check-ins and feedback on the quality of the work product; monthly 30-minute one-on-ones to focus on the employee’s performance and career development; and a midyear check-in for a more comprehensive progress review.

The office and ways of working as we have known them are gone. In their place, we have a rare opportunity to redesign where and how we will work. The view will be worth the climb: On the other side, we can provide employees with better experiences and help them acquire skills they can take with them through their career. We can reconfigure our spaces to ensure collaboration, innovation, and productivity, and reduce operating expenses. We can build in more diversity and inclusion and increase environmental sustainability. The lead time is long — it could be two to three years — to plan for the new footprint, find new sites, remodel the offices for the company’s needs, and transition. So the time to start planning is now. Let the remodeling begin.

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Five Learning And Development Trends To Watch For In 2021

The digitization of learning and development (L&D) went into overdrive when the pandemic hit and 2020 has seen corporate L&D catapulted to the top of the business agenda. It's been a revolutionary year, to say the least, and for many learning leaders, more of a white-knuckled ride.

In light of the accelerated transformation of learning, and with the industry forever changed, what can we expect to see from L&D in 2021? Here are five trends to look out for:

1. Rapid Reskilling

The cataclysmic shift to remote work called for the immediate upskilling and reskilling of entire workforces, often disparately located and speaking multiple languages. That's a far cry from just 12 months ago when learning leaders were planning for skills gaps two years in advance. The pandemic has removed the luxury of time, and with new knowledge being created faster than ever, it's also deterred leaders from spending months creating learning experiences that have a short sell-by date. That's no bad thing given that far-in-advance L&D planning has always seemed nonsensical. 

The order of the day is agility, and it is this — not forward planning alone — that will dominate L&D conversations in 2021. Agile learning methodologies that focus on speed, flexibility and collaboration are the future of L&D. This is the approach that will enable leaders to better manage the revolving door of perpetual skills gaps by ensuring people are rapidly reskilled for the benefit of work and business performance. 

2. Performance Over Skills 

L&D has finally taken its rightful seat at the head of the table, but not without creating increased pressure on Chief Learning Officers and others who hold responsibility for learning to demonstrate its tangible impact on the bottom line. It's a growing trend that will see learning design become increasingly scrutinized for its ability to drive business performance, with a welcome secondary consequence being the end of reskilling for the sake of reskilling. 

In line with this, we can also expect to see a continued rise in the number of transformer CLOs as the traditional remit of skills development is replaced with a longer lens focusing on overall business performance. Although this is still an emerging trend, it will soon become a deafening drumbeat as L&D programs are widely redesigned to drive performance ahead of skills. 

3. Corporate Learning Will Be An Everyday Thing

There will also be a marked uptick in learning "on the job" or "in the flow of work" next year as more and more business leaders realize the significance of integrating learning into people's everyday work as a means of developing applicable skills. 

This will signal the final nail in the coffin for scheduled Thursday afternoon "sit-down-and-do" learning — and it's the beginning of L&D becoming an everyday activity where people are actively engaged in searching for the trusted answers and knowledge they need to satisfy their curiosity and perform better at work.  

4. Integrating Virtual With Digital 

When the first wave of Covid hit, some L&D teams went into reactive mode as they scrambled to make the transition from classroom learning to a digital-first model. The transformation to digital has been rapid in all areas, but the progression in L&D over the past 10 months is arguably greater than that seen over the last 10 years. 

So with the L&D department now having more time to take stock, the key question is this: What should holistic learning look like next year? 

The good thing, if you'll excuse the pun, is that leaders have been quick to learn what does and doesn't work in this pandemic. There was, for example, the quick realization that constant Zooming can be draining and disengaging for learners and so it's been known for some time that simply switching to a virtual classroom is not the solution. 

Instead, the answer lies in marrying the best of a reimagined virtual L&D with the best of digital learning — and striking the right balance in these terms will feature high on the business priority list next year. There is more to this than just achieving the optimum blend, however, because any integration of virtual with digital must also be underpinned by learning in context and inflow and, crucially, it must support remote learners' heightened demand for value and social interaction. 

5. Learning Designed By Data

Perhaps the biggest — and most far-reaching — L&D trend for 2021 will be the mainstream adoption of data in corporate learning design. Yes, progressive companies have been doing this for some time, but next year this will become the standard approach. 

The overarching benefits? Business leaders will be empowered to ask the right questions at the right time in order to understand what matters most and design learning solutions with both learner and organizational outcomes in mind. 

At the same time, and armed with data-driven insight for the first time, more and more organizations will swap stand-alone learning for a culture of continuous learning for the benefit of work — as characterized by active engagement and tapping into tacit organizational knowledge. The result? A self-perpetuating cycle of learning success that can be iterated when needed and which will positively transform the world of corporate learning.

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Reskilling/Upskilling in 2021: Challenges & Best Practices


We are living—and working—within a monumental paradigm shift. The COVID-19 pandemic has divided the global economy into “befores” and “afters". Before and after the normalization of remote work. Before and after the need of many companies to pivot completely. Before and after Zoom fatigue became a thing.

To cope with these changes, companies and individuals alike have turned to training. A recent TalentLMS survey on reskilling and upskilling training shows that an impressive 42% of companies stepped up their upskilling/reskilling efforts after the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, 42% of employees have pursued training on their own.

Why does upskilling training matter so much, particularly now?

Looking back to the TalentLMS survey, a pattern starts becoming clear: It’s the COVID-induced uncertainty and instability that training hopes to vaccinate employees against—forgive the pun. Among the top reasons why managers felt the need to upskill or reskill their employees are “to handle changes within the organization” (68%) and “to train employees on new technologies” (65%).

Upskilling and reskilling training, within this context, becomes not just useful but almost mandatory. It can be the difference between employees collapsing from stress—or learning how to cope within their new environment. It can be the difference between a company taking a major hit or the same company continuing to thrive.

But how exactly? Let’s have a closer look at some of the unique challenges companies are facing right now and discuss how employee training, particularly upskilling training, can help solve them.

Rising stress levels

While this year has been hard on everyone, certain groups of people experience higher levels of daily worry at work. Small business owners are one of these groups, as are female business owners (according to a Gallup article). Other groups are people with mental health problems; people who are called to work from home while also having to homeschool their kids; and people in abusive relationships at home.

And then, there is the stress that comes from all the unexpected changes brought into a business due to COVID-19. Employees feel uncertainty over whether they will be let go or furloughed, whether their compensation will change, or even whether their company will keep operating.

Work stress compounds the already high stress levels, leaving many people prone to burnout and panic attacks. Now more than ever, you need to make your employees feel safe.

Solution: Offer total transparency—and training

Companies have to help employees handle all these changes from a distance. For that reason, transparency is key. Set regular updates of where the company is headed. Gather everyone on a Zoom call to inform them of your plans. Offer an open Q&A session on a regular basis for everyone who has concerns.

Along with transparency, make sure to offer continuous training. According to the TalentLMS survey, 91% of companies and 81% of employees say upskilling/reskilling training has boosted productivity at work. Why? Upskilling employees will not only help them feel like they can cope with the COVID-induced changes, it will also make them feel they remain an important part of the company’s future.

Maintaining a great company culture, even from afar

COVID-19 hasn’t just affected the way companies sell products (or the type of products they sell). It’s also affected the way a company presents itself to its employees—and the world.

Companies like Twitter and Square plan to allow their employees to continue working remotely forever. Also, 66% of founders are reconsidering their investments in office space.

Company culture is your set of values. These values should not be affected by whether your company has a physical space or not—in theory. In practice, however, things are not so straightforward.

How can you keep your employees excited, motivated, and willing to be your best ambassadors when each of them is currently working from the privacy of their own bubble? How can you keep your company culture thriving without things like water-cooler conversations, lunch breaks, and company events?

The short answer is, you evolve.

Solution: Promote continuous communication and socialization

Now more than ever, cultivating a sense of shared vision and community will have a huge impact on employee productivity and retention. But communities don’t have to be anchored in the physical world to be impactful.

Make sure to create (and promote the use of) online spaces for your employees to connect. For example, you can dedicate specific Slack channels or Basecamp campfires to non-work related matters. The goal is to maintain a line of continuous communication and socialization.

At the end of the day, you want your employees to be on the same page—both on a practical and on an emotional level. That’s how you keep a company culture thriving.

New technologies popping up

New technologies will always emerge. Even more so nowadays, where many new SaaS companies have exploded into the scene, offering solutions to pandemic-induced problems. Likewise, companies are forced to transition to digital services (e.g., e-commerce) to serve their customers.

And although this is good news, tech can also be an added stressor for your employees who are constantly called upon to interact with new software and products.

Solution: Offer upskilling/reskilling training

The joy of learning new things can bring to a person should not be underestimated. According to the TalentLMS survey, 66% of employees ranked the joy of learning new things and developing new skills as the top upskilling motivator. Another 80% of them said that upskilling/reskilling training has boosted their confidence.

Upskilling employees is more than a strategic decision in order to maintain your staff’s competitive edge. It’s a way to offer them a sense of certainty and security, during these highly uncertain times.

Final thoughts

The last thing overstressed employees need right now is for training to feel like “more work". As new challenges keep arising, it’s important to be flexible when you train employees. Use your LMS reports. Analyze data often. Check what’s working and what could be improved.

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Top Tips for Managing Smart Working Teams

Top Tips for Managing Smart Working Teams

Being smarter and more flexible in how we work has many benefits both for the business and for individuals. As Smart Working develops, our skills in managing and being part of teams who often work at different times or locations need to develop too, in order to deliver thee benefits

Most of the core management competencies are the same, but they have to be exercised over distance as well as face to face, and asynchronously, as well as in real time. There’s a greater emphasis on being more systematic, and on using new channels of communication effectively.

So here are our top tips for managing Smart Working Teams:

Treat flexibility and virtuality as normal, rather than as exceptions from a regular fixed-time workplace-based way of working

Work from the basis that flexibility in time and location is open to everyone in one way or another unless there are compelling business reasons why not.

In organisations where flexible working is treated as an exception to a default traditional office-based or regular-hours way of working, the benefits of working smarter won’t be achieved.

There should be a single culture of working for all people, with people working in different ways integrated into a single framework with common expectations and methods of organising work. This will create a better and happier work environment for everyone.

Look at the tasks involved in a role and in the work of the team when considering where and when people can work

With ‘flexibility as normal’, it’s a different approach from reacting to requests for flexible working one by one. You can look at the types of activities involved in getting the work done for the whole team, and be more strategic and proactive in supporting different ways of working.  our How Much 7-Step Approach to the Where and When of Work will help guide you through this.

Role-model Smart Working

Show the team how Smart Working works in practice. By showing that you can manage from different locations and when working at different times, you set an example to the team.

This will not only role-model a different working pattern – but how to be well-organised and how to use different collaboration techniques to work more effectively.

Set the foundations of trust

Smart Working involves a trust-based culture. This means trusting employees to act as mature individuals who can, with appropriate guidance and agreement, make responsible choices about how to deliver work.

Trusted employees tend to have greater loyalty and often a willingness to go the extra mile to deliver the best results.

Manage by results, not presence

Trust is part of the necessary context for managing by results. It means not focusing on employees turning up and sitting at as desk, but on the quality of their work.

This will in many cases require more systematic planning, organising and monitoring of work. And knowing what the outputs and outcomes of people’s work should be. Check out the separate resource on Managing by Results. 

Facilitate team agreements

When changing working patterns and enabling more choice in how work is done, it is important to have team agreements (sometimes called ‘team charters’) which set out the expectations around letting others know where and when you are working, keeping calendars and workflow systems updated, ensuring availability for the various kinds of meetings and calls, making work-in-progress available to others, and reporting any problems and issues in good time.

Agreements can also cover issues like providing office cover if needed, either in person or remotely, and covering each other’s work when needed.

They can also cover issues like levels of contact allowable when people are not actually working, but where it may be necessary to help the work of others. In general, agreements should try to protect the work-life balance of colleagues, but some degree of flexibility both ways can be helpful all round – as long as everyone is in agreement and the arrangements are not abused.

Build and maintain team identity

It is quite easy for people who are regularly working remotely or who have a different time-pattern of work to be left out of things or to feel left out. Measures that can support teambuilding and anchor team identity include:

Having a Team Agreement, with strong input from the team, covering collective goals and the principle of working together Regular calls/conferences, and actively promoting interaction between team members through the range of available channels Encouraging team members to help with each other’s workload and share knowledge Regular flagging up of achievements of the team and of the organisation; for example, how the team has contributed to corporate goals and delivered value to customers, and regular flagging up of achievements of team members, to promote a sense of pride in each other’s achievements Encouraging innovation within the team, and seeing that the ideas are shared Use of social networking technologies to promote interaction, not only about work Joint non-work actions, for example, supporting a charity, or the charitable activities of individual members; sporting or social activities, etc. Watch out for problems and issues – but don’t revert to old ways of working for solutions

Managers have to use their ‘smart people skills’  to watch for signs of problems and challenges when people are working in new ways.

This should involve frank conversations with team members and what is or isn’t working about the new work arrangements. There may be issues with the work pattern itself, particular issues about the work, or issues from the wider context of their life.

The manager needs to know when it is a problem they can help to resolve, or whether it is something (e.g. in the case of mental health issues) where it is a situation for referring on to an appropriate professional.

If there are difficulties, resist the temptation to reinstate old ways of working, e.g. by insisting they work fixed ours back in the workplace where they can be managed by presence. This would compromise your own potential to work smarter. And if they can’t deliver results without being watched, then there are deeper performance problems that need to be addressed in the appropriate way.

Celebrate success and acknowledge effort

When you see team members less often, it’s important to recognise their efforts. Saying ‘thanks’ and ‘well done’ never goes amiss. If someone is working away from the team, it can be dispiriting to complete a piece of work and have no response to it.

And it’s good to celebrate success, both for individual effort and the achievements of the team. This doesn’t need an awards ceremony, but just positive feedback when you get together or through established team communications. And perhaps a special get-together if people have really pulled the stops out.

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These 2020 Trends Will Shape the 2021 Workplace

The year 2020 has been game changing for the modern workplace. It has brought about disruptive changes in the way we live, work and interact — and many of these changes are here to stay. With the constraints occasioned by COVID-19, working from home, cashless transactions and other technology solutions became imperative. Even as the prospects of a vaccine become imminent, some of these changes have become part of the way we do business and will shape the workplace of the future. The four key trends below will shape our workplace in 2021 and beyond, and will influence the way our organizations respond and prepare for the upcoming year. 

Trend #1: Embracing the Digital Workplace While Retaining the Physical

While embracing technology seems like the obvious choice right now, each organization will customize the technology to suit their needs. We will see a growing demand for remote technology and products as organizations settle into remote working a norm. Businesses and governments alike will need to build long-term relationships and tangible products that address future demands. 

Recent surveys have shown that while the office might be here to stay, designing a workplace solely around a physical space is no longer a viable option. Expect an upsurge in digital technologies like video conferencing with facial recognition, virtual workspaces, online avatars and increasing cyber security software even as a subset of the workforce returns back to physical workspaces.

Trend #2: Greater Emphasis on Employee Safety

An increasing demand for employee safety, health and well-being will prevail in the workplace in 2021. Over the last decade, mental health issues, burnout and workplace stress have become widespread. The pandemic further exacerbated these as the line between work and home dissipated, employees reduced their vacation time, all while working longer and longer hours. 

Stress, loneliness and mental health issues are now front and center in the employee well-being conversations. Many organizations have already put in place access to virtual health programs along with online team building events. Additionally, we've seen a notable uptick in the number of businesses offering training around areas like mental health and resilience. 

Employment lawyers Michael Massiatte and Marc Katz predict that “the first two quarters of 2021 will look a lot like the last several months of 2020, regardless of the emergence of a vaccine." Having survived COVID-19 partly through social distancing, regular handwashing and sanitation, employees will demand that proper safety protocols are in place to limit their exposure. A survey by ADPfound that safety will remain a major concern among employees and that a significant number of workers feel it may never be safe to return to work.

Trend #3: Collapsing Geographies to Build a Globally Dispersed and Diverse Workforce

While we have already been moving towards a globally diverse workforce and a gig economy for more than a decade, the pandemic has accelerated this trend by leaps and bounds. As remote work becomes the norm, more and more companies are likely to use the entire globe as their playing field. 

More than 83% percent of employees would prefer to relocate to less expensive areas and 20% have already done so either temporarily or permanently. Companies like Nationwide and REI have already decentralized their offices while large consulting giants are reconsidering their travel policies in favor of remote working. Despite salary freezes and pay cuts, there is an upsurge in job satisfaction as flexible workspace arrangements and work from home policies become the norm. 

In addition, advancements in technology have given rise to multiple online talent markets for freelance workers. As a result, we will see an expansion in the gig economy as workers now have unparalleled flexibility to decide their hours and location. Expect to see coworkers from across the globe hired for a specific task rather than as regular employees. In 2021, the workforce will continue to disperse, and this spontaneous side effect will become the norm.

Trend #4: Reskilling of Employees

COVID-19 disrupted the global economy in 2020 like no other event in the last century and further widened the skills gap in the process. All over the world, organizations are now exploring new technologies and innovative ways of doing business as they seek to remain competitive and profitable. Moreover, the dramatic increase in remote working has necessitated job automation. With remote working forecasted to continue well into 2021, organizations must now ensure that employees obtain the requisite training to not only remain relevant but to also grow and thrive. Gartner reports that only 16% of new hires possess the skills needed for their current jobs and the jobs of the future. The most in-demand skills as we head into 2021 and beyond, as outlined by Dan Schawbel on LinkedIn include cloud computing, disaster recovery, machine learning and artificial intelligence, among others. In every industry, upskilling and retraining employees will be a priority in 2021 as employees get back to their traditional way of life, in many cases to a much smaller and reduced workforce.

Look for the Silver Lining

Without a doubt, 2020 will go down as the “master of all disruptors.” As the world recovers from the pandemic, there is a silver lining in some of the workplace trends introduced this year. Many of the measures enforced in response to the pandemic will continue to have a huge bearing on workplace practices, policies and behaviors in 2021. Embracing a digital workplace, reskilling and retraining, flexible working arrangements, establishment of health and safety protocols as we move towards a globally dispersed and diverse workforce are some key workplace trends that will shape the workplace of 2021 and beyond.

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The Future of Work From Home: 5 Trends Shaping the 2021 Workplace

As vaccines roll out around the globe, companies are preparing for the workplace of 2021. While some are readying their return-to-office plans to resume business as usual, others are embracing a dispersed workforce and adapting accordingly.

The reality is, the workplace will remain largely virtual in 2021 regardless of business leaders’ long-term plans. The vaccine will take time to roll out, and the need to wear masks and observe physical distance will remain in effect throughout the year. 

While many of us look forward to eating in a restaurant or going to a movie theater again, the promise of a vaccine doesn’t mean we have to return to business as usual. We have the opportunity — and nearly a year’s worth of learnings — to fix inefficient workplace processes and start forging a better workplace now. The following trends will play a major role in the future of work, which is shaping up to be a bright spot for employees and companies alike. 

Evolution of the Home Office

After abrupt transitions to working remotely in 2020, organizations will hit their stride in 2021. Remote employees experienced technological and hardware challenges this year due to the limited technological resources, slow wi-fi connections and inadequate workspaces in their homes. Yet at the same time, most knowledge workers are more productive at home than they were in the office.

Organizations will seek to fuel this productivity by facilitating better remote work experiences. Tech stipends will enable employees to upgrade their home set-ups, while software investments, such as AI/ML, process automation and AR/VR, will help streamline organizational processes.

Prioritization of the Employee Experience

One of the main reasons employees have been more productive from home is their improved work-life balance. They’re spending less time commuting and more time interacting with family or engaging in personal hobbies. As a result, they’re feeling more engaged and productive on the job.

Now that companies have the data to prove remote work positively impacts productivity, they’ll be open to long-term flexibility options that improve the employee experience, including permanent remote work, hybrid work environments and shifted hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities. Tech giants like Microsoft have already unveiled such plans, and many more are sure to follow suit.

Increasing 5G Usage

Increased remote work goes hand-in-hand with a more mobile workforce. If anything, 2020 underscored the importance of agility: Companies need technologies that allow employees to work from anywhere. 

Enterprises will increase their investments in mobile technology next year, and 5G may finally take off. In 2021, many employees will be just as productive on the move as they were at home or in the office.

The Rise of Cloud Working

Although it may seem like we live in a largely paperless world already, the pandemic revealed just how much paper we still rely on in the workplace. But the health risks and infeasibility of sharing paper documents among coworkers across remote settings might finally push companies to do away with physical files and shift to entirely digitized documents. 

Additionally, cloud computing — which was already on the rise thanks to the reduced operational costs and increased efficiencies it provides — will continue to become more popular. Solutions like process automation will help streamline tasks that used to require tedious in-person or manual labor, further enabling the new era of cloud working. Lastly, organizations will rethink physical office spaces, downsizing and maximizing remaining space for in-person collaboration when needed.

Enhanced Cybersecurity Strategies

The shift to remote work introduced countless new home networks — and new opportunities for cyberattacks — into the business landscape. From suspected Russian cyberattacks on US government computer systems to Clearview AI’s massive data breach, cyber threats have been growing in frequency and severity.

One recent study found that remote workers have caused a security breach in 20% of organizations. In 2021, businesses will work to improve employee education and adopt more comprehensive cybersecurity strategies like zero trust.

2020 saw enterprises sprinting toward digital transformation finish lines, and 2021 will certainly have its fair share of bumps in the road. But after nearly a year of remote work, organizations are now positioned to fine-tune organizational processes and digital strategies, creating a future of work that better supports both the employee and the enterprise. 

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Digital transformation teams in 2021: 9 key roles

Defining your organization's digital transformation team for 2021 will be especially important as companies speed up work amid the pandemic. Data, cloud, and security expertise are hot – but don't shortchange UX.   A number of factors are converging to supercharge the enterprise drive toward digital transformation in the year ahead. First, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the speed of work and adoption of cloud-based and remote work solutions. Second, organizations face increased pressure to improve customer and employee experiences. Finally, emerging technologies ranging from AI to AR are moving into production use in more organizations.

As a result, there will be increased focus on digital transformation in 2021, with specific focus on digitizing core processes and systems; building resilient operations, applications, and infrastructure; driving data-driven decision-making and culture; and cybersecurity, says Nisha Krishnan, senior analyst with management consultancy and research firm Everest Group. “There will also be a strong focus on driving personalization to understand fast-changing customer expectations.”

Data analytics, cloud, and platforms will be the major areas of focus for IT groups in 2021, says Steve Hall, partner and president of global technology research and advisory firm ISG. “Data-driven strategies (API-first) will lead the investment areas in 2021, followed closely by projects to accelerate workloads to the cloud,” Hall explains. “Cost optimization and cost reductions will continue to be drivers for many enterprises, but we are already sensing increased optimism as vaccines come to market.”

Those priorities will demand certain skill sets and capabilities going into the new year. Defining the key digital transformation roles for the year ahead will be especially important since the acceleration of digitization comes with complications as well.

“While technology will continue to transform most industries, there will be challenges pertaining to changing customer expectations, change management (people, process, and technology), the regulatory environment, and talent availability and readiness,” Krishnan says.

9 key digital transformation roles for 2021

Experts call out nine roles that will be critical for digital transformation efforts in 2021. (For more on some other important DT talent, check out Digital transformation: 9 emerging roles you need on your team.)

1. The enterprise data architect or chief data officer

“Data analytics is a good place to start with any transformation, to make sound decisions and design the proper solutions,” says Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director at CIO executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates. One foundational IT position is the enterprise data architect or (in some cases) a chief data officer. These highly skilled professionals can look at blueprints, align IT tooling with information assets, and connect to the business strategy, Thistle explains.

“Architecting an API-first strategy that includes defining internal and external APIs and microservices will require better integration between multiple organizations within large enterprises and a strategy to rapidly expose data to internal and external uses,” says Hall of ISG.

“Data scientists who understand how to connect the dots and unlock actionable insights will continue to be in high demand,” Hall adds. Those organizations without a key data leader may “turn to the gig economy to develop complex data algorithms and develop partnerships with niche firms focused on industry-specific solutions.” 

2. The database administrator

“Data migration is happening right now and at a large scale,” says Marc Caruso, chief architect at managed cloud provider Syntax. As organizations embrace increasing platform-as-a-service, the good old database admin will be clutch. “While PaaS solutions provide some great benefits, the database admins will still be needed in 2021 to monitor and manage those systems and work with application teams to drive efficiencies in performance, availability, and security,” Caruso says.

3. The business process expert

“Digital transformation is about automation of business processes using relevant technologies such AI, machine learning, robotics, and distributed ledger,” says Fay Arjomandi, founder and CEO of mimik Technology, a cloud-edge platform provider. “Individuals with business knowledge that can define the business process in excruciating detail. This is an important role, and we see a huge shortage in the market.”

COVID-19 has cemented the need for agile systems available from anywhere. Thus, analysts who can document the current workflow of data and operations in a business and design a new workflow based on remote collaboration tools will be in high demand, says Keith Sims, president of Integrity Resource Management and a member of executive recruiting network Sanford Rose Associates. They can help free the company from the need to share physical space and even the same time zones to deliver for customers and major corporate initiatives, Sim says.

4. The chief digital officer

“[Organizations need] a digitally savvy person at the CXO level who will help other executives buy into the culture change that will be required to truly transform the organization into one that is digital-first,” says Mike Buob, vice president of customer experience and innovation for Sogeti, the technology and engineering services division of Capgemini.

Chief digital officers lead digital initiatives from the front, says Thistle of Heller Search. The preference is to have these leaders report not to the CIO, but the CEO, adds Thistle, noting that some CIOs are taking on concurrent roles as the CDO as a progressive career opportunity.

5. The cloud architect

“As businesses try to accelerate their digital transformations, enterprise IT will continue moving applications to the public cloud,” Nutanix CTO Rajiv Mirani says. “But the costs of refactoring and rewriting applications will be larger than many enterprises anticipated. Enterprises will look to technologies that enable phased approaches, rather than big-bang style projects.”

In addition, IT will continue providing security, business continuity, and disaster recovery for all applications, including cloud-native applications. That will elevate the need for professionals who can “cut across IT silos of networking, compute and storage, build hybrid infrastructures leveraging both public and private clouds, and leverage emerging cloud-native technologies are instrumental to digital transformation,” Mirani says. “Look for generalists who can span multiple skill sets rather than specialists in only one area.”

6. The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) lead

The RPA market was predicted to hit $2.5 billion in 2020, having grown at a compound annual growth rate of between 70 and 80 percent over two years, according to Everest Group. RPA leads, who work with DevOps and business users to create business cases and value statements for enterprise investments in automation, will be an important part of the DT team, says Sims. He describes these pros as “part project manager, part process engineer, and part technical architect.”

7. The solution delivery architect

Solution delivery architects are responsible for creating the framework of the technical solution being designed to meet a user’s or customer’s goals. Their value lies in their ability to connect business needs to technology architecture, strategy, and resources. These professionals who can introduce a technology vision that aligns with transformational solutions will be critical to digital initiatives in 2021, says Thistle of Heller Search.

8. The chief information security officer (CISO)

Work-from-home environments, multiplying SaaS solutions, transitions to the cloud, and ever- advanced cyberattacks are putting pressure on the enterprise security posture in most organizations, Hall of ISG says. The CISO should be an integrated member of the digital transformation team, shaping overall security posture “Embracing partnerships with cutting-edge security firms will help manage the risk,” says Hall. “CISOs will also need broader application experience as security moves to the container, edge, and public cloud environment.”

9. The User Experience (UX) expert

Organizations that have not already invested in UX talent need to do so now. “At the end of the day, a product or a service is an experience,” says Buob of Sogeti. “UX resources will be able to map the touchpoints for customers and employees and identify gaps and opportunities to elevate those touchpoints.”

As organizations integrate more design thinking skills into their digital transformation teams, that will alleviate some of the pressure to hire specific UX or behavioral research specialists, notes Krishnan of Everest Group.



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What to expect from workplace digital transformation in 2021

How will digital transformation look in 2021? What are companies doing now to prepare? We learn more from experts on the matter.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Covid-19 has brought us much closer to a digital working world. We’ve taken our meetings, catch-ups and even our Christmas parties to Zoom and other videoconferencing tools. We’ve had to become more conscious of cybersecurity while bringing work devices into our homes. Some of us have even had to depend on technology while starting a new job remotely.

And it’s all happened in less than a year. If we can pivot so successfully in such a short space of time, how will our momentum continue? As 2020 comes to a close, thought leaders have begun to share their predictions for the future of work and how we’ll evolve in 2021. So, what are they saying about digital transformation?

AI and machine learning 

Some of the biggest workplace changes will be driven by AI and machine learning, says dotData’s Ryohei Fujimaki. He’s anticipating a “second wave” of digital transformation. The first, he says, homed in on digitising products and services for early adopters in financial services, insurance and manufacturing. The second will revolutionise how we work, targeting “organisational efficiencies” and automating “intelligent business decision-making” across all industries.

“AI and machine learning will be embedded into multiple business functions across key business areas to not only drive efficiencies but also to create new products and services,” Fujimaki says. “One of the key reasons that this is happening now is the availability of AI and machine-learning automation platforms that make it possible for organisations to implement AI quickly and easily without investing in a data science team.”

Fujimaki believes this could even lead to more fluid business-intelligence (BI) roles as they could be tasked with developing and managing AI and machine-learning models. He refers to these as “BI-based AI developers”. He sees this as a more sustainable and scalable alternative to recruiting data scientists and believes it will speed up the lifecycle of products and services from requirement to working model.

Cloud and data literacy

Along with AI and machine learning, cloud-based models could help workplaces meet the changes and demands brought by 2021. According to Workday CIO Sheri Rhodes, those businesses that already had a cloud infrastructure in place could react quickly to the impacts of Covid. She’s confident this is changing people’s perceptions of the cloud on a number of levels, including how they manage distributed workforces and leveraging tighter security.

“With a distributed workforce it is essential that people have access to the data they need when they need it, and this has to be the focus of the CIO and the IT team,” she says. Rhodes believes this highlights one of the key areas businesses will need to prioritise next year and beyond: data literacy.

“In the past, data was often seen as the territory of just IT,” she says. “But as you can see, especially with the advent of GDPR, understanding how data is used, accessed and safeguarded needs to be understood by every single employee in any organisation.”

Overcoming the digital skills gap

Although technology is the fuel for digital transformation, it’s humans who must keep their foot on the gas. Joe Tynan, digital leader at PwC Ireland, echoes Rhodes’ sentiments about preparing people for a more digital world. For example, he recognises the “ever-widening skills gap” that needs addressing if technological advances are to continue.

“2020 has impacted the world in unexpected ways and brought to the forefront some underlying challenges that businesses already face,” he says. “Technology is evolving at a breath-taking pace, creating a more digitally savvy customer. Businesses need to transform with the power of digital strategy, automation and data insights.”

Earlier this year, 74pc of more than 1,500 chief executives said they were concerned about the availability of key skills for digital transformation in a PwC survey. And while many said they had upskilling programmes in place, just 20pc said theirs was effective at reducing skills gaps and mismatches.

To overcome this challenge internally at PwC, Tynan explains that $3bn will be invested in upskilling the company’s 276,000 employees around the world over the next four years.

“In Ireland, over 90pc of our people have attended a Digital Academy in the last year,” he says. This involves two days of specialist digital training followed by personalised continued-learning pathways.

“35 ‘digital accelerators’ have been tasked with driving PwC’s ambition to continue to build trust in society and solve important problems for our clients, now using digital to further drive relevance, distinctiveness and growth in a new world.”

Empowering people for workplace digital transformation

Tynan drives home the message that people will be integral to pushing digital transformation forward next year, and empowering them will be central to that.

“2020 has accelerated fundamental digital adoption everywhere,” he says. “Driving adoption for more sophisticated technologies is complex. We’ve gone beyond ‘the carrot and stick’ to create real engagement by giving our people the power to lead the transformation themselves.

“Digital transformation is not about technology, it’s about people. Paired with a deliberately innovative work culture, it breeds confidence for our future. In a year of uncertainty, a people-first, culture-focused digital transformation strategy has proven itself to be the right choice for our business’s future.”

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3 cultural shifts shaping the 'Hybrid Future of Work'

Technology is the backbone of the new work ecosystem. However, it needs to be supported by a culture that makes it real for people to experience and be at their best. Though there is a long list, to begin with, here are three simple, yet effective cultural shifts that would shape the “Hybrid Future of Work”.

As we grapple with the worst pandemic of our generation, it has also opened new avenues and fast tracked innovations that was to take place few years down the line. It is heartening to see the way organizations have come to terms with the new reality & adapting to new ways of conducting business. The initial premise of remote working was driven by pandemic isolation and largely focused on Work from Home (WFH) construct. With time, new flavors have emerged, whereby WFH is replaced by Work from Anywhere (WFA). In some organizations, it is further extended to Work from Anywhere & Anytime (WFAA).

Does this mean, the traditional office spaces have become redundant? Maybe not. The concept of WFAA nicely blends into the thinking of hybrid workplace model, which provides organizations and its people a platform to choose what works best for the given situation.

Technology is the backbone of the new work ecosystem. However, it needs to be supported by a culture that makes it real for people to experience and be at their best. Though there is a long list, to begin with, here are some simple, yet effective cultural shifts that would shape the “Hybrid Future of Work”.

Command & Control to Empowerment

Move from hierarchical leadership to networked leadership. Unlike an office setup, where all the team members were together; in the new work ecosystem, it is important that trust & empowerment becomes integral to the way leaders manage teams. Productivity is often measured by the number of hours spent at the desk and often compared with others from an effort perspective.

In the new normal, leaders should focus on setting the vision & allow team members to shape their work themselves and be accountable for the outcome.

Embracing servant leadership would be a key differentiator in this context.

Frequent & Transparent Communication

The Workplace experience and interactions are increasingly becoming digital. In the virtual ecosystem, transparency and the speed of communication is going to be a key driver in binding teams together towards the common purpose.

In a physical office setup, people had multiple sources like water cooler moments, social connects, tea breaks etc. to get frequent updates, besides formal channels like quarterly town halls. In a distributed team setup, lack of informal communication sources necessitates the need for managers to setup frequent virtual connects to keep the team members engaged & connected. Few organizations have weekly “open houses” with their teams to allow people to ask questions and share company level updates. Quarterly town halls is replaced with monthly or fortnightly connects. Besides that there are plethora of tech tools like MS-Teams, which offers platform for people to share information real-time and generate views in a flash.

The emphasis is on two-way communication via open dialogue and feeds in the culture of open & transparent exchange of thoughts.

Fixed Time to Flexible Work Time ( 9 to 5 is a passé)

In the new work environment, people are expected to operate from home more than ever. This demands a balance between work & personal life. In an office setup, people had two distinct environment – office for work & home for personal life. With no such demarcation in the new work setup, it calls for a culture that trusts people and allows them flexibility to determine work schedules; not feeling pressured to be “ON” always. Few organizations have relaxed the rules of fixed office time and given the choice to the individual and the team to determine the work schedule that best helps address individual needs and that of the team.

In summary, hybrid future of work is evolving at a rapid pace. Companies embracing faster will have a competitive advantage in driving business growth. For employees, it is going to offer the best of both work & the choice of workplace. Technology innovations & cultural shifts are going to be the key cornerstones of success in the new normal. Looking forward to exciting times ahead!

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How Collaborative Technology Can Revive Internal Communication For Remote Workers

For the majority of professionals this year, the traditional bustle of career life has shifted to a slower pace of working remotely, with pivots like conducting business meetings on Microsoft teams, Zoom or other similar platforms, and client video calls rather than in person pitches. It is safe to say that it was a change that came quickly and threw many operations for a loop. Now, eight months down the line, the novelty of this new normal has worn off and many employees may be becoming less engaged, resulting in a negative impact on a company’s internal communication and making it harder when trying to collaborate as a team. In fact, a recent survey carried out by Facebook revealed that due to working remotely, employees feel disconnected, leading to limited exchange of ideas and innovation.

With this in mind, organisations need to find better ways to help engage and support their employees. Some companies took this time to use this pivot in operations to redefine collaboration, internal communication, and project management with a variety of SaaS tools and new processes. One recent development in this space is the integration of simpleshow video maker into Microsoft Teams. This alliance is set up to help easily improve company-wide collaboration, communication and culture through video, keeping employees engaged in a refreshing environment.

Exploring the impact of Explainer Videos
If you haven’t adopted explainer videos into your operations, now is a perfect time to consider a shift. When exploring the benefit of explainer videos, you will see the positive effect they have on learning. A study carried out by Microsoft found that the average human being has the attention span of eight seconds. Therefore explainer videos are a new way of keeping people engaged for short periods of time, explaining complex topics in under 3 minutes. It has been found that marketers who use videos are seeing (on average) 49% faster growth in revenue. This shows the impact explainer videos can have on keeping employees attention with quick and entertaining videos, rather than long presentations or text heavy resources.

Why did simpleshow collaborate with Microsoft teams?
The Microsoft Teams online application has helped to pave the way this year with over 90 million new users, across companies, schools and individuals. simpleshow video maker is a SaaS tool used by many fortune 500 companies across the globe. It simply changes a text into an explainer video from a premade template or your own. 

Video projects are hosted in the cloud, easily accessible and can be shared between employees to share a message across a team or to collaborate on together; add, edit and enhance. Even better, this video maker requires no previous video or tech experience and is quick and simple.

Introducing Microsoft Teams and simpleshow all within one interface
If as an HR professional you are looking for an innovative way to increase collaboration, interaction and communication within your organisation this is the application for you. simpleshow has pivoted its product to exist as a fully functional app, integrated into Microsoft teams, opening the door to the millions of users worldwide that already use this robust environment to function in a virtual environment. Through the integration, all that a Teams user has to do is search and pin the app to their dashboard for easy access, when they want to use it. Users of all levels of video creation ability can then easily use it within the Microsoft Teams ecosystem. This blend of technologies can help  boost employee communication and create a more innovative and positive environment while working remote.

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Futurecasting: 7 World of Work Trends We’ll See in 2021

Futurecasting is sometimes akin to looking into the sky and trying to connect the stars. As we look ahead to the future this time, though, we know the direction we’re going. We know where the prominent work trends are taking us.

The pressures and complexities of 2020 and the pandemic forced an awakening. The innovation developed, creativity demonstrated, and momentum generated since that global reckoning has been so strong, there’s no turning around now; we’ll never go back to the way it was. So the tools and strategies we’ve leaned on throughout the pandemic will continue to redefine how we work in 2021.

With that in mind, here are seven key work trends that will continue to make their mark this coming year…

1. Remote Working 

As an option, a necessity, a perk, and an official policy, remote working is here to stay. It’s a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” And the many employees (and their managers) who have now experienced the ability to function remotely and now know the advantages remote work brings won’t want to go back.

As companies scale back on real estate spends (sorry realtors), remote working is a way to maintain a large workforce on a tighter budget. So we’ll see countless organizations following the path of big tech firms who have pledged to keep their employees remote for the time being — if, of course, they can accomplish the job and responsibilities without the need for a shared physical workspace. Once again, big tech is leading the way and disrupting the status quo. Only this time, it’s not transformative leadership creating the change; it’s the technology itself.

2. New Hires, New Experiences

For new hires (and particularly for Generation Z), that traditional rite of passage of joining a workplace and learning a whole new set of behavioral and social norms isn’t going to be as prevalent. This wholly digital generation has already changed the way we experience technology. Now, they’ll help us usher in a whole new way to enter the workplace. Soon, we’ll come to know this new wave of hires as the “remote generation” (or “hybrid generation”).

The brand-new job experience will not have the same impact as it did past generations. We don’t yet know how younger hires will feel about the value of that experience or workplace culture. But we will — and soon. The difference here: The 2021 work culture will be digital in nature. So the experience will not be as sharp a contrast as going from the classroom to the world of work.

3. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has become the de facto way we meet. It has become so ubiquitous in the workplace that “to Zoom” is now a verb.

Zoom may have been the frontrunner. But there are plenty of existing competitors and new visual collaboration platforms that will help how we work together evolve. After all, this is a very hot aspect of HR technology and will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most dominant work trends.  So I predict increasing capabilities to communicate just as effectively over mobile as we once did face-to-face. I also see better ways to archive and transcribe our video-based conversations and more ways to extend the work done via videoconference to teams and stakeholders.

4. Upskilling

In 2021, we will see a big shift from hiring being the primary driver of increasing an organization’s capabilities to upskilling existing talent. Organizations that had to tighten their hiring budgets after sustained buffeting from 2020 and the pandemic will shift resources into training and development. Those that did just fine despite economic turbulence — in industries that actually grew during 2020 — will be adding a robust reskilling and upskilling program to their HR strategy.

The bottom line for everyone is that institutional knowledge is critical for maintaining continuity and weathering a crisis. Upskilling existing employees will become known as a smart way to hold onto that intelligence while evolving skills to meet new challenges. Upskilling will become a business imperative.

5. Mental Health

Without question, our mental health has become an enormous issue. A recent report by Monster revealed a whopping 69% of employees working from home experience severe burnout. It’s not that working from home is particularly hard on everyone by itself. But the rush to remote without an underlying culture and infrastructure — and without an end-game being defined — has caused some stress.

Because one of the key triggers of burnout is mistreatment by supervisors and managers, we’re learning about the importance of setting boundaries and doing frequent check-ins. Many of us are also making sure our people have access to the mental health benefits they need. To help us continue this critical work trend, we’ll soon see even more apps that help with emotional and mental well-being (such as a meditation app and a mindfulness training tool). And we’ll see more forward-thinking companies providing these practical and widely-available tools as part of their overall well-being programs.

6. Inclusive Cultures

Diversity is critical to every aspect of the workplace — and organizations need to do better. So we’ll see a lot more leaders focusing on how to improve a sense of belonging in their organizations, as well as some authentic soul-searching as we dive into legacies such as systemic racism.

Our timing couldn’t be better. Currently, 70% of job seekers in a survey by the Manifest say they consider a company’s commitment to diversity when evaluating them as a prospective employer. But diversity in terms of hiring and promotions is only one part of the equation. Companies must pay attention to their work cultures, gauge how truly inclusive they are now, and then work to close the gap between what is and what should be. This is perhaps the mother of all work trends and will play a critical role next year. Because in 2021, organizations are not going to be able to get away with a performative statement or symbolic gestures. If you truly believe in equality — if you genuinely believe black lives matter, for example — you’re going to have to show it.

7. Empathetic People Management

Let me add a few words to the phrase above: “empathetic people management… for the right reasons.”

The pre-pandemic talent crunch triggered many reflective moments around how to better conduct HR and talent management. The goal for many companies is to be perceived as a better employer brand and to successfully engage and retain your people. That’s all well and good. But we’re not in a talent crunch right now.

Yet between February and October 2020, some 2.2 million women in the U.S. left their jobs. Overwhelmed, undersupported, and stressed out, many women — particularly working mothers — reached a tipping point and gave up. That’s an incredible talent drain. When they come back to work, they’re going to look for companies that set up the structures that truly support their people through empathetic people management for all the right reasons.

Looking Ahead to 2021

2020’s silver lining is that we’d been stubbornly dancing around what was truly important in the workplace — and to the workforce. We were forced to reckon with real-time discoveries in an authentic way. So we now know exactly what lies between us and where we want to go. We’ll bring that wisdom, and these work trends, to 2021.

This welcome knowledge, together with knowing we have better tools and a clearer vision of what must come next than we’ve ever had before, brings me to my final bit of futurecasting…

2021 will be the year HR once again finds its soul. 

In 2021 and beyond, we will take better care of our people — and each other.

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Why honing your company’s culture should be a top priority in 2021

Your brand purpose should be well-defined, understood, and infused across your organization via all touch points—in everything you make, say, and do.

Now more than ever, leaders are analyzing, debating, and trying to predict what the new year will bring. We have never before experienced such uncertainty and unpredictability affecting all areas of business. 

Despite the great unknowns, there’s one critical action that should guide every leader’s vision in the new year: prioritize your corporate culture. Nurturing your internal culture enables people and business to thrive. After a year of uncertainty, chaos, and social unrest, how companies function internally not only has a profound impact on employees and corporate reputations, but it directly affects organizational growth and influences every aspect of your business.

This became even more apparent to me with the recent tragic passing of one of Silicon Valley’s iconic leaders and proponents of corporate culture, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. In a New York Times interview he discussed the company’s incredible success: “We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.” Here’s why his philosophy is even more relevant and imperative today and how it will inform other business priorities in 2021.

Internal relations are now external

For years, marketers have known that most consumers want to make purchases from companies with values that align with their own. During this pandemic, value-based consumer loyalty is driving market realities more than ever. In a recent report, 90% of people believe brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends. And 66% of consumers consider elements like company culture and employee welfare as factors that determine whether they buy from one brand over another. Building brand belief across the whole of the organization has become critical to commerce.

To keep employees engaged and attract the values-based generation of consumers, all your actions should be led by your brand purpose. Your brand purpose should be well-defined, understood, and infused across your organization via all touch points—in everything you make, say, and do. Your purpose can be a galvanizing force—something bigger than a company’s commercial offering—that people can believe in to drive innovation to all parts of the organization. This is also a great time to evaluate and possibly update your company core values to make sure they are still relevant in the new world order. 

Putting your people first will build back business

As the pandemic lingers and employees continue to work from home, hiring and retaining productive employees will be a challenge. According to a report by SHRM, one in five Americans left a job due to poor company culture within the last year. Replacing an employee costs up to 150% of their annual salary and drives productivity into the ground. Organizations that want to succeed in the post-COVID era must make sure employees feel valued, respected, connected, supported, and productive to prevent them from running to competitors with better culture. 

In the new year, your primary focus should remain the health and well-being of your people. When employees come first, they can then take care of the business more effectively. This is the time to take another critical look at your benefits, workplace safety, and internal communications practices to make sure they are meeting your employee needs. Make sure to include staff feedback via surveys or managers to inform and prioritize your actions.

Culture is a differentiator

In periods of uncertainty such as the COVID-19 pandemic, strong corporate culture is even more important, as organizations need to leverage every competitive advantage they have. In a study of 5,000 respondents by Glassdoor, 77% of people would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and over half consider it more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.  

In our virtual work world, nurturing culture is challenging. Identify the unique elements of your culture that create a sense of community and connectedness and then develop ways to re-create them online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been using all the digital tools at our disposal to connect via virtual meet-ups, happy hours, book clubs, group yoga sessions, and more. Now we’re taking this a step further to recreate the more spontaneous encounters that we had in our open office space to keep our culture alive. We host a weekly virtual coffee shop where everything but business is discussed as well as a virtual meeting roulette where employees are randomly assembled to simulate moments like lunch on our rooftop or a drink at our TapServer.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not just an HR issue

The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in corporate America has gained widespread public attention this year due to heightened recognition of social injustice and inequity. Rightly so, leaders are being called on to join the global effort to affect change, beginning with internal efforts to increase DEI efforts in their own workplaces. According to The Harris Poll, nearly eight in 10 Americans say they expect a company’s leadership to support racial equality.Companies with foresight will seize the opportunity in 2021 to not only make internal efforts a priority but also allow them to inform external actions.

Make sure your DEI viewpoints and goals are included in your brand purpose and infused across all your actions. Being inclusive of all will help attract the next generation of high-performing workers. Creating brand experiences for people of all backgrounds and abilities will attract more people to your brand. Better yet, this is sure to happen if you include people who represent the full spectrum of your consumer base in the co-creation or user-generated design process. 

The path forward into the new year for any organization should be prioritized around nurturing a vibrant and strong internal culture to fuel the health, well-being, and productivity of your team. This investment will pay even more dividends in 2021 and years beyond. 

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Are You Ready for the New Wave of Workplace Culture in 2021?

As we enter a new year, one thing’s for sure — the business world has never changed over the course of twelve months as it did in 2020. But, while the recent past brought uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear for businesses all over the world, 2021 could be a promising year full of wins (if you prepare yourself for the new wave now).

In this article, we’ll look at exactly what you need to know about what businesses can expect in 2021.

Remote Work is Likely to Become the Norm

Many employers expect their workers to remain remote at least part of the time after COVID-19 is contained. Twenty major companies also plan to make the transition to remote working permanent even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

This is why it’s important that you start putting in place protocols, systems, and procedures now to ensure your team can thrive in their new environment.

An easy way to get a head start is to invest in the multiple free tools and resources that are available to help remote teams during and after COVID. These include collaboration, communication, and project management tools that help your team members stay on track when they’re working in separate physical locations.

… But, Returning to the Office Isn’t Out of the Question

Only a portion of the US workforce has a job that is compatible with working from home. However, a return to the office will be different from anything we’ve seen in the past.

In order for your employees to feel safe, it’s important that you meet both their needs and expectations. This includes keeping your workplace clean, implementing social distancing protocols, reiterating the importance of regular hand washing and asking all visitors to wear masks.

You’ll Need to Adapt Your Digital Marketing Campaigns

Now that more people are staying at home and shopping online, it might be a good idea to adapt your digital marketing strategies. You should be able to reach your target audience with a message that resonates with them – one that makes your products appealing to their current circumstances.

Consumer behavior online has changed so much that it may be advantageous to ditch certain marketing strategies and double down on others. For example, PPC ads have more of a chance to thrive now that consumers are shopping more online and searching for products.

It all comes down to knowing your audience and niche, and analyzing performance data so that you understand what campaigns/products to focus on, and which ones to eliminate.

You’ll Also Need to Manage Employee Burnout

Customer service agents were among the most burnt out of all employees in 2020. However, they’re not alone. And if your employees are burnt out but their burnout doesn’t get addressed, you’ll have a major productivity (and morale) issue on your hands.

Essentially, it’s now more important than ever that you put employee care at the heart of what you do. Recognizing and helping them deal with their emotions will be essential as you try to steer your small business towards success in these challenging times.

For instance, small businesses that are planning to return to the office could offer remote working opportunities to individuals who are struggling to cope right now. You could also establish regular, routine check-ins with your team members and talk with them about what you can do to help beyond the usual benefits, such as bonuses and salary.

And if your team is working entirely remotely, remember that isolation can creep in and affect your team mentally. This is why it might be a good idea to organize regular virtual activities, such as games and casual video chats.


2021 is around the corner, and it’s likely there’ll be just as much upheaval to businesses as there was in 2020.

Now is the time to act. Use the tips in this article to prepare your business for the new wave in 2021 so that you and your team are able to get off to the best possible start.


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