Five Workplace Trends for 2021

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Exploring what work will look like in 2021 and beyond.


This year has already proved challenging for much of the world. Still, hopes are high for things to go “back to normal” at some point in 2021. Though normalcy will certainly be welcomed, there are some workplace changes from 2020 that will likely be with us for a long time to come. As a result, there are several trends converging this year to create tomorrow’s world of work.

Let’s look at five prominent trends that will be driving the way forward and creating opportunity for modern workers:

Human Resources Accountability

In looking at trends for 2021, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) calls out the responsibilities of its own members. Human resources professionals at all levels of accountability must play a role in helping their employees thrive in changing times.

Last year brought new concerns to HR. Political upheaval came face to face with calls for greater social justice. Remote working put life-work balance squarely in the spotlight. Mental health left the realm of the taboo to become something that we all need to talk about.

Going into 2021, HR professionals are tasked to provide resources for employee well-being and family support. They are laser focused on reigniting plans for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives which may have fallen by the wayside. HR will also partner with their colleagues in compliance to develop new programs in line with employee expectations, regulatory demands and best practices.

Workplace Flexibility

Remote working and scheduling flexibility are two carry-overs from 2020 that will have lasting impact on the workplace. Professional social networking platform LinkedIn looked at the workforce flexibility trends that are taking shape in 2021.

Work-from-home will remain mandatory for many companies and employee classifications. Others, like Microsoft and Google, will be offering hybrid arrangements, where employees come into the office on rotating schedules.

Some companies are closing offices and decentralizing their workforces. Employees are taking advantage of remote work by relocating to less expensive and less populated cities and towns. The ability to work from anywhere in the world is a trend that is here to stay.

Of course, those in essential positions will be required to maintain a physical presence. It will be key for employers to continue providing the measures that allow them to feel safe – whether health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, or any of the other millions of people who make life possible.

Psychologically Safe Spaces

Beyond physical safety and security is the importance of providing a psychological safe space for employees, regardless of role or work location. The 2021 Trends Report from the American Psychological Association (APA) shows how COVID-19 forced companies to address mental health within the workforce.

The report references a study by Lyra Health and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchasers Coalition, which shows that two-thirds of employees have recently struggled with their mental health. Family concerns, economic worries, overwork, burnout, and other factors all play a role in eroding individual well-being.

Many companies have improved their mental health offerings in response, while also training their leaders to spot signs of distress among team members. One strategy is to schedule one-on-one meetings where video is mandatory. This way managers can see visible signs of stress and, subsequently, express their concern and share access to available resources.

Reskilling, Upskilling and Retraining

Many companies entered 2020 with goals for reskilling, upskilling and retraining their workforces for the jobs of the future. Then, COVID-19 put the brakes on, as businesses had to pivot in new directions.

It may have been a blessing in disguise as it pointed out skills gaps for employees who had to learn how to use new technology to get the job done. However, formal initiatives for skills development have mostly fallen behind. Meanwhile, automation, robots and machine learning are accelerating.

Global provider of workplace solutions Manpower Group points to ongoing learning as key to success. This is true whether employees need to be reskilled for new jobs as their job disappears or need to be upskilled to keep pace with technological changes in their current role. There is also a call for improvement in “soft skills” that only humans can possess, as automation and robots take over manual tasks.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity has been on the radar for years. However, the political and social injustice events of 2020 have shined a brighter light. Companies must invest in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to become (or remain) desirable places to work in 2021 and beyond.

ADP, provider of human capital management solutions, advises on the importance of “rehumanizing work.” This means having real dialogue about racial injustice, gender gaps, diverse teams, pay inequity and inclusion of all people – regardless of background, sexual preference, physical ability, cultural beliefs and more. It’s all about feeling connected to one another and respecting our differences as strengths.

SHRM echoes ADP in speaking to HR professionals charged with DEI. The group reminds employers that unconscious bias remains a challenge throughout the hiring process and employment lifecycle. Today’s employees expect to work alongside peers and leaders that represent the communities in which they operate.

Businesses that foster equity and inclusion – beyond mandated diversity training – will be those that thrive in the years ahead.

The trends that take hold in 2021 will define the world of work for years to come. Together, we can learn to accept one another. Take care of each other during trying times. Strive to learn new things and understand that it’s okay to ask for help.

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