Trends That Will Transform Work in 2021

As I write this post in mid-January 2021, we’re looking at an entirely different workplace (and global) landscape than this time a short year ago. OK, I’ll take that back, 2020 was anything but short…and it drove significant changes to what “work” looks like today and how business is conducted. Harvard Business Review covered nine trends they anticipate will have an effect on work in 2021 in a recent article; we’ll cover three that really struck us.

Supporting Employee’s Personal Lives, not just Work Experience

Given the increased use of video meetings as the preferred method of communication these days, we’re getting to know our colleagues well. “Zoom-bombs” by everything from dogs to crying babies to unfolded laundry has allowed us a glimpse of our co-workers we hadn’t previously been privy to (and sometimes things you can’t unsee!). We’ve also bonded at times on a deeper level, given the shared experiences and struggles thrust upon us by a global pandemic, affecting our health, emotions and pocketbooks.

HBR predicted that employers will adapt their focus from optimizing workplace experience to overall employee life experience in 2021. Benefits will aim to increase mental, physical and financial health and may look a lot different than in-vogue perks of yesteryear. Studies by Gartner shows a 21% increase in the number of high-performing employees when this support is provided!

Say goodbye to kegerators, ping-pong tables and happy hours and hello to financial education classes, tele-therapy and Peloton vouchers!

Flexibility Around Time, not Location

Previous calls by employees for remote-working flexibility have been answered by necessity, and even post-COVID, will be the norm for the foreseeable future. Building upon the last trend, the thin lines between work and life have become almost non-existent.

An unintended consequence of being sequestered in our quarters is that working from home can also be translated to working more hours; early-morning, late-night and weekend emails are the norm with the office mere steps away. Employee burnout is commonplace and can be caused by unclear expectations of if/when to sign off for the day, and is further complicated when managing a house full of children acquainting themselves with e-learning.

HBR predicts that more and more companies will begin to offer flexibility surrounding the time employees will work. People have a lot to juggle, especially in the near term, so allowing employees to adjust their hours to a more accommodating schedule and focusing more on merit and output makes great sense. Companies that deploy flexibility re: work arrangements see better performance from their workers.

States will Court Talent, Not Companies

One of the most interesting trends predicted by HBR is a potentially seismic shift in the way states approach attracting jobs to their jurisdictions.

It’s hard to forget the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes of 2017-18, when the Bezos-led giant touted 50,000 jobs and what seemed like every city and state in America pulled out all the stops in their bids to lay claim to housing their new office. Killer tax incentives, flattering campaigns, and even a 20-foot tall cactus (nice touch, Tucson, AZ!) were offered up. While I won’t get into how things played out, the case study speaks volumes about the length states have gone to when jobs are on the line.

Fast forward to today, in the land of virtual and hybrid work, where a company in Miami can hire an employee in Indiana that doesn’t need to “take their talents to South Beach” (excuse the cheesy Lebron reference and, yes, this actually happened with our client this month). Silicon Valley workers are fleeing their high-cost areas to continue working virtually in more affordable areas, and savvy places like Tulsa, OK and Topeka, KS are providing $15K incentives to attract relocating professionals…not companies.

The time has come for states and municipalities to roll out the red carpet for talented professionals rather than large employers, HBR asserts.

HBR’s bold predictions of an increased focus on employees’ “life experience”, flexibility around work schedules and efforts of states to attract remote workers may very well ring true. One thing we can certainly be sure of is that 2021 will bring transformative change to the way work is conducted.

By Nick Lazzara, Practice Director