In 2020, the pandemic forced organizations to rethink the way they do business. In 2021, we’re starting to see the impact of some of these swift, yet strategic, decisions.
While the key focus for many organizations has not changed — keep the business surviving (and even thriving) — there’s a new set of priorities keeping executives up at night. Like how to prepare for whatever comes next, how to make sure employees are happy and healthy, and how to use technology to do things better and faster than ever.
Inevitably, the workplace will be different this year, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here are four encouraging ways we can see it evolving in 2021.
1. Flexibility in the workplace
Last March, employees across the world were sent home. They were asked to create an at-home set-up where they could perform their work, with an expectation that there would be some hiccups along the way.
Not surprisingly, the transition was less than smooth for some — especially for those who had to balance childcare and other personal responsibilities. But for many, it was a long-awaited step toward truly achieving work-life balance.
They saw it as an opportunity. To ditch the commute, revise the dress code, and work productively from the comfort of their own home. A sudden, yet welcome, feeling of flexibility set in.
As long as they got their work done, employees were free to work on their own terms. Whether that meant logging on earlier (or later), joining meetings via video (or audio), or taking walks (or rests) throughout the day, their day-to-day routine was fully in their grasp.
Employees might be hesitant to give up the flexibility that remote work offers, if or when they’re asked to return to work. So, will that drive them to seek jobs at companies that offer telecommuting? Will they feel disgruntled or disengaged when they’re back in the office?
Job security and competitive pay won’t be the only criteria on their list. They’ll come to expect a flexible work environment, too — from their current (or prospective) employer. And that’s something for organizations to consider when devising their back-to-work strategies.
2. Health and wellness at work
The pandemic quickly brought health and wellness to the forefront. Not only were people concerned about their physical health and protecting themselves from the virus, they had to pay close attention to their emotional and mental wellbeing, too. According to a recent report, 78 percent of the workforce said the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health.
Many organizations introduced policies and programs to support their employees through this period of worry and uncertainty. Getting accurate and real-time information about COVID-19 into their hands was their top priority — and it worked best when they had an online digital platform to share timely news and updates.
What was inspiring to see, however, was that some organizations used the opportunity to add or augment programs that demonstrated compassion for their employees. Like offering subscriptions to wellness apps, sending care packages, or creating dedicated health and wellness areas on their intranet where employees could access articles or share stories and advice.
We predict that organizations will continue to pour resources into employee health and wellness — not just for visibility’s sake, but out of genuine concern for people and their livelihood. And employees will be expecting it from their employers.
3. The continuation of remote work
Until 2020, it was normal for employees to feel tethered to an office. Only a small portion of the workforce was working remotely on a regular basis. Working from home was more of an exception than a widely accepted practice, so employees were obligated to live in or around city centers like New York, London, or Sydney, to name just a few.
When the pandemic hit and employees no longer had to physically show up at work, their location became less relevant. This got employees AND employers thinking about all the possibilities that could bring.
Employees could work from wherever — in their home, at the cottage, or even in a different country (once travel restrictions are lifted). Organizations could expand their recruiting parameters and dive into a much deeper talent pool.
Thanks to modern workplace technologies like video calls, chat, and cloud collaboration platforms, organizations were able to maintain their momentum and achieve levels of productivity that were even higher than before.
While a distributed workplace may seem temporary until we all head back to the office, it’s more likely that employees and employers alike will realize the advantages of this model and adopt it as part of their long-term strategy.
4. A digital-first workplace
2020 accelerated digital transformation for many organizations. Early on in the pandemic, CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella said, “we’ve seen two year’s worth of digital transformation in two months.”
Any IT initiatives that were underway were quickly put under a magnifying glass. Is it important? Is it urgent? Can it help us navigate this sudden shift to remote work?
At the same time, organizations had to quickly take inventory of their existing tech stack to see if they had everything they needed to support remote work in a secure and cost-effective way. Digital workplace solutions were no longer a nice-to-have. They were a necessity, and the base that organizations would need to build on as they took their next critical steps.
Some companies, like Shopify and Facebook, announced they were going “digital by default” and sending their staff to work from home on a permanent basis. To do this successfully, however, organizations must be ready to rely on technology to run their business and keep their employees engaged and productive.
Throughout 2020, the company intranet emerged as a mission-critical tool for crisis communication and remote collaboration. It became the single source of truth for trusted and accurate information about the pandemic, and it finally got a chance to show off its range of features and capabilities for enabling a productive and engaged workplace.
What will your workplace look like in 2021?
Out of 2020, a new workplace was born. One that prioritized people and their wellbeing. Where employees see each other as real people, friends, and teammates who are all navigating the ‘new’ and ‘not-so-normal.’ Where organizations are putting employee engagement right next to things like product innovation and customer satisfaction on their list of key corporate objectives.
Do you have the tools you’ll need to create a flexible, healthy, dispersed, and digital-first workplace? Learn more about Igloo digital workplace solutions or book a demo to see how Igloo could fit into your organization in 2021.