Five key working trends for 2021

Few could have foreseen the rise of Covid-19 in 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on the way we work and will continue to work in the future.

Despite the chaos of the last 12 months, some positives have emerged from this new normal at the workplace.

Below is a look at key working trends for 2021.

1. A new purpose for the office

While reports of the ‘death of the office’ have been greatly exaggerated, it will likely serve a new purpose – as a place to create social experiences – enabling workers to interact, engage, and collaborate face-to-face.

It’s no surprise that many companies are planning to adopt a hybrid approach to where their employees work from in 2021. In a recent Slack survey, over 72 percent of workers said a hybrid remote-office model would be their ideal work situation, while research by Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom backs this up, showing that the optimal situation for productivity is remote working for two days a week.

“The hybrid model is delivering spectacular benefits for employees and employers alike. Team members gain better mental health and reduced costs through not having to travel into city centres and it gives companies the financial flexibility to invest in their staff and in growing the business,” said Joanne Bushell, IWG Managing Director, South Africa.

In 2021, many businesses will be looking to redesign their office space to encourage creativity, collaboration, and inspiration.

2. An increased focus on employee wellbeing

In 2021, many organisations will be thinking about ways to approach workplace wellbeing – from offering tools and services, to encouraging ‘job crafting’ – giving individuals autonomy to make meaningful decisions about what and how they contribute to the organisation.

Evidence suggests that flexible working could help. Studies have found that flexible working arrangements that “increase worker control and choice” had a positive effect on everything as well as ‘secondary’ outcomes, including a sense of community and social support within a workplace. Research has shown that working from home or from co-working spaces can also reduce burnout, stress and psychological distress.

3. Tech-enabled health and safety

In 2021, the aversion to touching things is unlikely to disappear. Enter touchless technology, which will enable everything from entering the building simply by scanning a QR code, to limiting the amount of touching of common surfaces.

4. A more diverse workforce

In 2021, removing the focus from a centralised office HQ and enabling flexible working practices should allow for the hiring of more diverse candidates across the board. 

According to a pre-pandemic survey by IWG, a Belgium-founded serviced office space corporation, 83 percent of workers around the world would turn down a job that didn’t offer flexible working. 

“Flexible working is the norm for any business that is serious about productivity, agility and winning the war for top talent,” said Bushell at the time. It benefits businesses to pursue diverse hires. 

Research shows that organisations with above-average diversity produced a greater proportion of revenue from innovation which translated into stronger overall financial performance.

5. Digital transformation – turbocharged

At least 80 percent of leaders accelerated the implementation of technology due to Covid-19 in 2020, according to separate studies by McKinsey and KPMG. 

“Many of these technologies, including contact tracing, collaborative tools, and AI-driven software, have been widely adopted to support employee mental health, increase productivity, allow for flexibility and safety,” explains Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence.

Things show no sign of slowing in 2021, in part due to necessity, but also due to the entrance of Gen Z into the workforce. 

Accounting for approximately 36 percent of the global workforce this year, this group of digital natives expect the modern workplace to be abundant with technological solutions to every workplace problem, from collaboration tools to mental health support.

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