The five workplace culture trends of 2020 revisited

In January, I shared what I thought would be the big workplace culture trends for 2020. A lot has happened since then. So, how did the predictions hold up?

June 26, 2020 4 mins read

Six months ago, I wrote an article about what I thought were the five workplace culture trends for 2020.  Since then, the world flipped upside down and then flipped again. So, I wanted to revisit these trends and see how they’ve changed in light of the pandemic and the fallout of protests on social inequality around the world.

Here are the trends:

  • The changing workforce – Gen Z and Millennials enter leadership roles
  • Changing work practices – demand for flexibility increasing, which in turn will change how offices are designed and used
  • Increasing use of AI and automation – jobs with repetitive tasks are redesigned as more intelligent machines reimagine our roles
  • Increased use of data for decision making – need for data analytics likely to impact training and development needs
  • Focus on employee experience – employee wellbeing will become a focus for more companies

So how do these predictions stack up? Let’s take a look.

Changing workforce

The absence of the workforce, not the change, has been the story of 2020. In the last six months, we’ve seen large groups of the workforce simply stop working. US unemployment numbers are at a record high — higher than The Great Depression. Even the UK has a 23% unemployment rate right now. Those that were fortunate to keep working are typically doing the job of more than one person and are overworked. We’re in a strange stasis as hiring and firing are at a standstill while businesses adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.

Changing work practices

No one could have predicted the widespread need for remote working that the pandemic demanded of every business that wanted to survive. For those organizations that believe their work culture is linked to being physically in the office, there is great concern about what working from home will do to their employees.

The split in the workforce — those that can work and those that are furloughed — created a sense of inequity. Furloughed employees often receive nearly the same pay and in some cases can claim unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, those that remained working are picking up the slack. This disparity is increasing the risk of burnout and high stress.

As lockdown restrictions ease, the transition back to work is a negotiation. Employers have to accept their people’s level of comfort with health risk and must provide flexible options to allow them to return. Rotating schedules, hybrid solutions and social distancing practices are here to stay.

Increasing use of AI and automation

In the great shift to remote working, many organizations were not prepared to rapidly adopt new technology. Younger, more tech-savvy generations have been quick to adapt to the change while others have struggled. The use of ‘team’ software like Slack or Microsoft Teams has increased as well. Two things have become obvious: businesses would have struggled without tech, and yet tech has its limitations. It’s not a like-for-like substitute for being in the same room with another person. The novelty of video calls is gone, and suboptimal human interactions have caused people to withdraw. It’s hard to foster camaraderie and morale within these environments.

Increased use of data for decision making

The ability to ‘walk the floor’ of the workplace has also disappeared in 2020. The use of video technology has made group meetings a possibility but creates blind spots where employees will attend in silence and not contribute or participate. In this respect, our Friday Pulse clients have been extraordinarily successful in getting an honest pulse on how their employees are really faring. Employees can truthfully reflect upon their experiences, allowing team leaders to address problem areas by rearranging workloads. The result? Signs of higher resilience.

Focus on employee experience

Employee experience is everything in 2020. Working from home in the pandemic brought about an incredible range of new working conditions and life experiences, making it more urgent for companies to shift from the ‘employee experience’ and into the ‘human experience.’ Bringing the authentic self to work instead of the professional is difficult, but it has led to people having real conversations about wellbeing instead of surface-level talk.

Our clients report that they’re now trying to understand the cues of their bodies. When it comes to dealing with stress, work and anxiety, there is no better barometer to wellbeing than the body. As a result, I’ve seen HR departments carefully monitor employee workloads and encourage time off to help the frazzled and burnt out people recover.

Many managers are currently struggling with teams of negative people too — pockets of toxicity. Even senior employees have acted out — soapboxes and rants that leave everyone uncomfortable.

Combined with the stresses of the pandemic, the discussions of social injustice and the inequity that exists in society and organizations, you’ve got a recipe for an anxious, unsettled and angry workforce. Many employees are left wondering if they and their friends at work will even have a job in two months. It’s apparent that while we’re all weathering the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat.

What’s to come in the second half of 2020

What does this analysis tell us about the next six months? The only thing certain is uncertainty. How will organizations look as the world comes out of lockdown? I’d be surprised if companies managed to survive without emphasizing employee wellbeing and the diversity of work experiences found in a single organization.

Business leaders, you need to help your people stay upbeat and positive while charting a course into the future. While it may feel necessary to withdraw and determine the right course of action, it does create a sense of disconnect for employees.

Employee wellbeing platforms like Friday Pulse help you get a good understanding of what’s going on, while sending a message that you care about the experience of work within your organization. Whenever one of my clients deals with a major setback, I like to remind them of Maya Angelou’s wisdom: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How Friday Pulse can help you and your team

During this pandemic period, my team and I are committed to helping businesses bounce back and improve team morale. That’s why we are continuing to offer companies and teams (50 – 1,000 employees) free access to our Friday Pulse people platform for 12 weeks.

For more information on how we can help and support your organization through the crisis, please contact my colleague Clive Steer at [email protected]