Back in March 2020, when the World Health Organisation declared Coronavirus a global pandemic, employees had to quickly adapt to fully remote working. This meant not just a departure from the office, but from face-to-face meetings, socialising with coworkers, and structured daily routine.
Now, after almost one year of working remotely, many businesses and workers are growing tired. According to research by Brita at the start of 2021, 83% of people are looking forward to being back in the office for at least some of their working week. On the flip side, some of the world’s largest firms, including Spotify and Salesforce are selling their multi-storey, HQ office buildings and adopting a remote-first policy for the foreseeable future.
So what does this mean for the modern workplace? With the roadmap in place for the end of social distancing, we look at some of the key workplace trends that will shape the future of work – including flexible working, collaborative office spaces, employee wellbeing, and digital transformation.
7 Key Workplace Trends 2021
1. Flexible Working and Flexible Office Space
For some companies, often those already using coworking spaces or managed workspaces, flexible working was standard long before Covid. But for the majority of businesses, it was always very different: the 100% office-based model, with a desk for every employee, and an expectation for employees to be in the office for set hours, every day of the week.
Coronavirus and the shift to WFH has completely altered many business’ approach to work. The pandemic has been a global workplace experiment that has changed many employers’ perceptions of flexible working, and increased demand for future flexible working policies from employees. As a result, many businesses will want to find a long-term, hybrid approach between home and the office. This will be one of the key workplace trends in 2021, and beyond.
Demand for traditional office spaces and rigid, lacklustre office designs will dwindle, as companies and individuals turn to flexible workspaces they can access whenever they need to. Companies will try to introduce more flexible working policies such as 3 days in the office, and 2 days from home, rotating their team, and therefore decreasing the number of desks they need.
2. Collaborative Offices
The purpose of the office has already changed. The pandemic has shown many people that they can do some types of work effectively from home, such as paperwork, responding to emails, and work that requires focus, such as writing or planning. Provided that employees have a good set-up, with a comfortable chair and desk, high-speed internet, and without dependents or distractions, there’s no real reason to travel far into an office for this type of work.
But not every type of work is as effective from home – and so, office spaces will become places employees can go to have human contact, socialise, have face-to-face meetings and in-person brainstorming sessions. Offices will adapt to become places employees want to go – with attractive amenities, engaged communities, and productivity-inspriring designs – and therefore offer a completely new workplace experience for employees. Office design trends will move towards more agile layouts, to accommodate the changing role of the workspace.
In turn, as part of business’ wider flexible working policies, collaborative office space will help to increase team engagement, morale, and productivity.
3. Safe Work Environments
Post-Covid, safety is going to be a key concern for businesses and for individuals. Companies looking to bring their team back to an office will look to experts for help creating a safe workplace; whether this is going to an independent health & safety expert, or moving to a serviced workspace, where the operator will already have health and safety measures in place.
For businesses planning their return to the office, there are lots of moving parts to consider. It’s worth creating a clear plan of when your team should be in the office, and when makes sense to work remotely. You also need to consider the additional safety measures you might need to implement in your office. For more information, download Work.Life and TWO’s Return To Work guide.
4. Employee Wellbeing
Coming out of a global pandemic, there will be a greater focus on staff wellbeing than ever before. The shift to WFH has sparked concerns for mental health, especially with new research showing that employees work much longer hours at home (on average 2 hours longer every day!)
Employers now have a greater responsibility to look after their team, whether they’re working in an office or remotely. Some team members will benefit from more flexibility, while for some, their mental health might be improved by having an office to go to. Offering flexibility to every team member, and creating a flexible working policy that allows for both remote and office working will play a big part in this. Employers will also be looking at ways they can support mental wellbeing remotely, such as offering stress management courses or virtual therapy sessions.
Employers will also be finding ways to engage their teams, both virtually and in-person, by organising wellbeing events and team building activities. Especially if businesses hire without limits of location, they’ll need to find clever ways to bring their team together and sustain their company culture wherever they’re located (if you’re stuck, read some of our favourite virtual team building ideas!)
5. Digital Transformation in the Workplace
Digital transformation isn’t completely new; technology was replacing outdated workplace processes long before the pandemic. However, the sudden shift to remote working has forced us to take meetings, brainstorms, and even our Christmas parties online, using platforms like Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams to communicate, collaborate, and socialise. Experts believe this momentum will continue, as AI and machine learning create improvements to set us up for longer-term remote working.
Many employers are also investing in their staff to upskill or reskill, decreasing the digital skills gap that was a big topic of discussion pre-pandemic. According to a PWC Talent Trends report, “upskilling should still be seen as a strategic priority alongside technology investments.” There’s clearly a rapid move towards technology in many different aspects of work and this is only going to increase as businesses adopt more flexible work policies.
6. Sustainability and Sustainable Workspaces
Coronavirus might have been the most talked-about topic of the last 12 months, but climate change wasn’t far behind!
Over the last few years in particular, there’s been lots of discussion around environmental concerns at work – and research shows that employees are more likely than ever to choose to work at a company that aligns with their values. As a result, businesses and workspace providers will be expected to consider their impact on the environment, and actively work to create a sustainable workspace.
We’ve all heard statistics about the positive environmental impact of remote work; air quality has improved in cities due to movement restriction and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities. Many people will want to continue to find sustainable ways of working. This is where a more flexible approach to work, i.e. not going into an office every day, and not commuting as far or as often, will also be valuable and will be a key workplace trend for the next year.
7. Diversity & Inclusion at Work
Another major global event of the last 12 months was the Black Lives Matter movement, which sparked necessary conversations around diversity and inclusivity in business. As a result, many companies have set ambitious diversity hiring targets, as well as recruiting dedicated diversity officers to implement and promote more inclusive behaviours at work.
This year, the conversation will continue. Many businesses have already made positive steps, but there is still a lot of work to do. Read our interview with Leyla Omar for advice on prioritising Diversity & Inclusion at work.
Especially with flexible working and the increase in employees working remotely more often, it will be down to business leaders, HR teams, and dedicated diversity professionals to find new ways to improve diversity hiring and increase engagement.
It’s clear that in many cases, Covid has accelerated workplace trends that already existed, rather than started brand new ones. This year, with the roadmap to easing lockdown restrictions in place and the end of the pandemic (hopefully) now in sight, modern workplace trends will continue to develop and adapt. One thing is for sure: working practices and the role of the office are changing – and we’re ushering in a new, more flexible, future of work.