The Workplace Trends that Matter in 2021

2021 has felt a lot like 2020, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same year. I took a look at some of the top workplace culture trends for 2021. I found, we’ll need flexibility to stay agile and survive the trials the year will bring, but we can win out in the end.

January 29, 2021 4 mins read

So far, 2021 feels like more of the same. Despite the rollout of vaccinations, many of us are back in lockdown and there is little to believe that the first part of the year will be any different from the previous year (though our cousins in the US may feel the new start with a new president). Even so, some trends have stood out to me for the year ahead. My research into this article reviewed the top culture trends for 2021. While I identified a range of issues, the following are the ones I think will matter most:

1. The employee experience and mental wellbeing is crucial

If there’s a silver lining about 2020, it’s that the discussion on mental health is here to stay. Since the beginning of the outbreak, employers and employees have had more open conversations about mental health. Now, more than ever, employee wellness is a priority for employers. It’s easy to see why — with so much fatigue in the workplace, the risk of burnout is higher than ever. But, on the flip side, employers that support their employees report a 23% increase in employees with better mental health and a 21% increase in the number of high performers.

2. Work flexibility is more than just location

Last year, I predicted that the increasing demand for flexibility would lead to more remote working. While the pandemic certainly accelerated that option, COVID-19 has shown that we need to be flexible with when our people work, not just where.

3. Your boss may be watching you

An unfortunate side effect of the mass shift to remote working is the startling number of companies implementing new technology to passively track and monitor their employees and their productivity. I don’t agree with this practice. This highly invasive process of tracking ‘productivity’ erodes trust and fuels tensions. Less than 50% of employees trust their companies with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information about the data.

4. Companies look to contractors to fill skill gaps

With the relentless pace that the business world progresses, it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to fill gaps in the organization. 31% of businesses surveyed by Gartner reported that they can’t create skill development solutions fast enough to meet evolving needs. Instead of cultivating these talents in house or hiring long-term solutions, many will seek to ‘rent’ employees for a short time to fill the skill gaps they face.

What these trends mean for your workplace culture

Accelerated by the onset of the pandemic, these major trends result from ongoing pressure for change. Yet the pressures have revealed one truth: we need to be intentional about the core of our business practices and services. People are burning out and having too many goals will only lead to more problems. 

Therefore, succeeding in 2021 is a question of empowering your employees to act for themselves. Here’s how you can succeed.

Flexibility — the winning way

While 2020 forced businesses to work remotely, the new frontier of flexible work is the discussion around when people work, rather than where. The pandemic showed that not everyone’s working situation is the same — with mothers taking a disproportionate share of the burden. Time is a precious commodity, and because of pandemic circumstances not everyone can work the same hours.

Gartner’s 2020 ReImagine HR Employee Survey showed that only 36% of people performed well at organizations with the standard 40-hour week, while 55% succeeded at organizations with more flexible working time. These are telling numbers, and further proof that giving employees the freedom to set their schedule allows them to thrive. 

Developing flexibility is about developing efficient resilience. This could mean identifying new skills, promoting internal development or reaching out to contract works to fill specific gaps. It could also mean adopting a ‘sprint’ approach with regular reflection points to keep projects on track.

Empower your people, don’t spy on them

The nightmare of an authoritarian state — constant surveillance and little privacy — is alluring for a certain type of leader. After all, leaders need to make sure that their teams are working consistently and pushing their projects forward. However, installing monitoring software in a deceptive way won’t build trust. 

I know it may seem strange for someone like me, who has built a business based on monitoring, to take such a stance. After all, Friday Pulse helps monitor how people feel and work with each other. However, the key difference is that Friday Pulse asks people to actively participate with the purpose of helping them become better leaders and happier individuals. It’s a platform for open discussions and the development of leaders, not tracking productivity.  

In this light, I encourage companies to trust their employees. As one of the Five Ways to Happiness at Work, trusting and allowing your employees the freedom to set their own working hours, and have more personal freedom to act enables them to do great work, and not just work.

Develop the employee experience

Companies that will survive – and perhaps thrive – in 2021 will not only have to mitigate threats, but also seize opportunities. However, when we’re overwhelmed or burned out, we don’t identify opportunities well, instead opting for safe choices. This is where a positive employee experience that is sensitive to the needs of individuals works incredibly well. 

One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about companies trying to improve their employee experience is that they have no idea if it’s working (if only there were a way to track that kind of improvement). Though more than 60% of US businesses offer a wellbeing program of some degree, few have clear definitions on wellbeing and ways to track it.

What is the return on investment when you build a fitness centre, install a pool table or provide free snacks? Most organizations simply don’t know. Now that many of us are working from home, these incentives seem even more off track. 

Instead, organizations need to recognize that employee experience is more about “how” we work — how we can work and live well. Relationships are an essential part of this experience. Collaboration, coordination, and communication depend on healthy and strong relationships. Sometimes it is about working less (a scary thought, I know) and spending time with each other more — even remotely during lockdown. It’s about developing ‘pandemic soft-skills’ and learning each other’s workflow and how to better work with one another. 

There’s no one-off solution to improving your company’s culture, but there is help. Friday Pulse is designed to help companies look at the strengths of their company culture and improve on weaknesses in their employee experience. For more information, please reach out today. We’d love to help make your 2021 your best year yet.