2021 is a welcome new beginning for many after a rocky 2020. The foundations of modern office culture were seriously impacted by government-induced lockdowns, shifts in consumer behavior, and other measures taken voluntarily to reduce public health risks. At the same time, technological infrastructure for everything from teleconferencing to mobile ordering grew, leaving us with a major leap forward in tech and a world that must decide what to do with that new capacity. Here are just a few of the ways that experts are seeing the future of work in 2021 and beyond in response to the many changes that 2020 brought.
Continued Growth of Tech-Centric, Knowledge Work Sectors
There's no getting around it: jobs that involve coding, software development, and maintaining tech infrastructure over time are going to continue to grow. Given how much of life went "online" during the pandemic, sectors that previously relied on less tech, like restaurants, became centers of tech work as well, with people needed to work for improved point of sale systems, delivery apps, and more. If you want to predict how work is going to change, expect that more and more of the jobs that we traditionally think of as not desk jobs will have some form of technological component; even the electrician or HVAC repair person who might have focused on working with his hands in the past may now take payment via a tablet and need a working knowledge of wifi-enabled smart home technology.
Core Hours Gain Traction
The trend toward having core hours, a small subset within what is usually termed "business hours" when most if not all of a given company is available and working, is likely to keep growing. With the caregiving burdens that emerged in 2020, being able to count on contact with a team member was no longer a given, and companies have now transitioned to accept that more flexibility in work schedules is a valuable perk and not that detrimental to their teams. Instead, hours like Monday through Thursday, 10am to 3pm as core hours offer the benefits of knowing you can immediately contact someone at work during a particular time, while allowing team members to fit the rest of their hours in around their unique life schedules.
Mobile Reachability Blurs The Lines of "Hours-Based" Coverage
While this "core hours" model may be coming along, hours-based coverage has also come into question and is likely to further blur in the coming years. When most individuals were spending time at home instead of having out-of-home commitments in 2020, some management teams saw a rise in interaction outside of traditional work hours. The ability to contact team members via email or instant-messaging apps at all times of day or night meant that many people grew to have an 'on-call' aspect to their jobs, even if informally.
This isn't necessarily a positive aspect of the future of work, since many people are looking for more work-life balance rather than less. However, being aware of this growing tendency can help employers to get ahead of it with how they work with their teams, and employees can look to their own best interests. When working on defining a new position in the company, make sure you understand the degree of "on call" you may be in your off hours, and see if there's a way to compensate: two hours less work on Friday afternoons, for instance, goes a long way to mitigate those quick-return emails and texts that might be a necessary part of your off-hours.
Boosting Employee Wellness In the Broadest Sense
The pandemic showed us all that the functionality of a company grinds to a halt when wellness and health aren't prioritized. From long-term effects of the virus to deteriorating mental health in isolation, the possibility of productivity this year was dependent on employee wellness. Companies who had to suddenly reckon with employee wellness concerns will likely retain many of the measures they put into place to help keep their employees happy and healthy. They will also provide better access to mental health services, recognizing that treating mental health concerns can have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Better Productivity Tracking and Management
With more and more people managing remote teams, productivity tracking and remote management strategies had to come forward. After all, it's key to be able to see if your employees are still getting things done from home when the opportunity to return to the office presents itself. Teams who found that their teams flourished under the work-from-home or flexible work hours models they had to create in 2020 will likely implement greater flexibility in the future, and it's possible to still manage effectively using workflow management and other tools that reveal if anyone is holding up the process.
Less and Less Reliance on Offices, and Growth of Flex Spaces
With so many companies reducing their reliance on an office, the continued rise of coworking spaces and other flexible-use areas outside the home is likely to grow. Rather than paying utilities on a building big enough for the whole company, it's likely that many companies will permanently downsize, providing an office for those who need the space but allowing others to work remotely from home or from another place of their choosing. As long as it is possible to touch base with the team members you have to collaborate with on a daily basis, offices become more and more "as needed" rather than absolutely necessary on a daily basis.
Successful Companies Will Be Those Who Focus on Retaining The Best Aspects of their Culture
Companies whose year has been rocked by the pandemic in 2020 are likely to go into 2021 and beyond with an attitude of "keep what's working, ditch what isn't." Some aspects of the work-from-home experience have been hard on employees, and successful companies will continue to mitigate those effects. However, figuring out how to balance the benefits of flexible schedules and locations with the need for company cohesion will be the key development of the coming years. Many companies have realized that offering flexibility is good for morale and retention: now it's time to see them create a strong corporate culture while keeping these values in the mix.