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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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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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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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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.