Unless you have a crystal ball, no one knows the actual extent to which workplaces will change this year. The chaotic reign of COVID will stay long after the pandemic and the vaccines are over.
Employers worldwide have had to become agile creatures to give workplaces a makeover in the name of safety, where better business outcomes are still possible.
New buzz words have entered the urban dictionary—remote, lock-down, new-normal, pandemic fatigue, flexible work, hybrid, and 715, meaning the introduction of working seven days a week for 15 hours a day. The list is endless.
Remote work has been legitimized and is no longer the domain of digital nomads meandering the globe. Office buildings stand empty in deserted business districts and the hated commute to the office on public transport is a thing of the past.
Ways the Workplace Will Change in 2021
How will this new business landscape impact the workplace and the way we connect and create? Will this be the catalyst to change the face of inequalities in the workforce because of gender, age, race or disadvantages in some way?
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Riots slapped people in the face during the pandemic with the Black Lives Matter movement. Financial hardships of the lower socio-economic classes saw queues at charity doors. At the same time, unchecked tempers and frustrations boiled over at country leaders’ perceived lack of leadership. These events have led society to expect accountability, not just from governments but from businesses and organizations as well.
Diverse is not an adjective to put before ‘people,’ as everyone is an individual.
Diversity is a descriptive word of ecosystems, companies and teams. Equity is meeting everyone’s different needs as individuals, not merely treating people equally. And, inclusion is also a question of how do you make employees feel valued, whether they are a part of a team or a large organization.
Inclusion is not a question of uttering the right words.
Inclusion requires a workplace designed to accommodate individual needs in a workspace. Such as a quiet physical space for prayer or meditation. It’s about feeling valued and included.
People want more from their workplace than the pre-pandemic unsustainable model, where discrimination played an ugly part. By implementing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, new and sustainable opportunities will open up.
More talent will be accessible if human bias plays no part in recruiting procedures. Think along the lines of disabled people and stay-at-home mums that do want to work and do have the talent.
Hybrid “work from home/work from office” setup
The year 2020 has seen significant changes in how employees have navigated their own productivity. For digital nomads, it was a shift to being a digital stay-at-home, due to the closure of international borders.
Working remotely became the new normal for every office worker during the extensive lock-down periods. As restrictions have gradually lifted, there was a half-hearted attempt to get back to the office, combined with getting stuff done at home. Hence, the birth of the hybrid-work model.
Face-to-face meetings went virtual, and kitchen benches became pseudo office desks. Responsible time management became an individual’s problem to solve in between taking the dog for a walk, doing household chores, and pacifying squabbling off-spring.
The world of business in 2020 morphed as it found solutions to the problems caused by the pandemic.
Organizations revised their antiquated nine-to-five Orwellian work practices as IT and technology brought about unforeseen possibilities for employee engagement. Conferencing software became the go-to method for business meetings, water-station gossip sessions and virtual kitchen chats. Zoom, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, and FaceTime, all became avenues for coworkers to connect.
Houseparty was the favorite for collaborative creative souls, later replaced by Clubhouse, and Microsoft Teams and Skype were the haunts for serious communications.
Startups have emerged to solve the issues that have emerged during these “new normal” of COVID times.
One such problem solver, Nooka Space, hit the market running with a mission to make working at home a better experience.
Nooka is a network of smart and Wi-Fi connected backyard office spaces that not only look stunning, but that solve the practicalities of working at home. From an ergonomic chair to a smart heating/cooling system, height-adjustable desk, to a whiteboard to scribble on, the appealing features give you privacy and your very own creative personal space. They combine all of the benefits of working from home with the convenience of having an office environment and the facilities required to get your stuff done.
These ingenious pods are aiming to change the way people live and work—giving the world a global community of “Nooksters.” The bonus is the fact that you can rent it out when you aren’t using it, providing people with an additional income stream in a similar way to Airbnb.
Human Resources in the Future
As much as the landscape of the traditional office is evolving, so are massive changes happening within the labor force to keep economies flourishing. As the workforce is reshaping to adapt to either remote working or a hybrid variation, more and more employees will be looking for guidance on how to navigate this brave new world.
The initials HR may not merely stand for human resources but could be for “Head of Remote.”
Numerous new roles will be created: HR Data Detective (to synthesize data streams), a Director of Wellbeing (to look after the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of employees), and a VR Immersion Counselor (to instigate the use of virtual reality for coaching, upskilling, reskilling, and possibly medical and safety training).
It’s becoming a brave new world of possibilities.
Work will shift to be “results” focused instead of “hours” focused
In this new frontier of automation, artificial intelligence and digital platforms, staid and rigid organizations won’t survive. Quick thinking and agile companies will allow for flexible smart working, a work-life balance and job satisfaction to engage employees.
Embracing this new way of work will undoubtedly include a shift of focus from “hours worked” to a “result-driven” outcome.
There’s no longer any need to be tied to a desk from dawn to dusk when a virtual desk allows for work any time of the day or night. The measurement of a valuable employee will focus on the output, giving individual autonomy to the employee; rather than a command and control management approach. The leadership role for team players will become one of trust and empowerment.
Organizations will shift their focus from the traditional method of having in-house employees to getting work done on a contract basis.
Employers can use the Internet to source workers as they require work to be done. While workers themselves, are shifting to freelancing work, as it gives them control over how much work they do and when they do it. Consider the growth in freelancing websites such as Upwork, Fiverr, Workhoppers, PeoplePerHour and Hubstaff Talent, to name a few.
Today’s world of flexible networks allows a global village approach to outsourcing work, where workers, as much as organizations, are result-driven for payment.
Managing employee workloads need sustainable boundaries to be put in place by effective management. There’s a definitive line between effective remote management and micromanaging that will drive your employees insane — if left unchecked.
Workplaces will need to reflect more compassion and have greater empathy for its employees.
Clear principles to reinvigorate creative passion and to negate feelings of uncertainty need to be instigated. Touted as being “humanocracy,” businesses that succeed will be intensely human. Leadership on every level will focus on being connected to their employee, especially when dealing with remote workers and hybrid working situations.
Managers and team leaders will have to: adapt their skills (or upgrade their skillset) to be active listeners, have a digital mindset, be adept at negotiation and problem solving, and quick off the mark to facilitate change where needed.
One such area where real conversations need to happen is to prevent junior managers from sabotaging new members of a team that may have only just graduated.
The first few years of a graduate’s career is when they need the most help and structure in their work. It shouldn’t be in the hands of junior managers who don’t have the necessary skills mentioned above.
Competition for the most qualified candidates increases
Organizations will no longer have a captive audience to choose the best apple from, as remote work breaks down location barriers. The world is truly within reach from the point of view of both employer and employee.
A prime indicator is the LinkedIn job market space. It has seen a 60% increase, since the onslaught of Covid, of users, punching in the filtering word “remote.” A virtual world reduces barriers for workers to connect and to build their own networks on a global scale.
Businesses won’t be able to rely on wooing a prospective employee with drinks at the local bar.
The determining factor will be how employers treat their employees. The most significant advantage for employers will be that they can find a particular skillset somewhere in the world that may be in short supply in their own location.
The downside will be the global competition for that specific shining star’s talent. The best brains will end up with organizations that are agile, fast-moving and innovative.
Burnout will become a significant attrition risk – unless businesses act fast
Mental health issues are rising from burnout, or what’s referred to as “pandemic fatigue.” “I’m lonely, tired, anxious” are the words being uttered by many around the world. The number of people suffering symptoms is more than three times higher than before the crisis.
Numerous issues can be blamed: lack of personal space, having their workspace (the kitchen bench) in view all of the time, the isolation of working remotely, and working long hours as they attempt to juggle home responsibilities with work issues, let alone financial dramas.
While many people have been putting on a brave face since the pandemic began, the lingering effects will have disastrous consequences in a post-covid world.
Stressed-out employees are pessimistic, inclined to take days off work, have diminished motivation, an air of lethargy and underperform. In some cases, it will lead to employees looking for new employment in the belief that it will renew their enthusiasm.
Businesses will have to put on their creative hats to avoid losing valuable team players. Organizations need to offer mental health advice on issues such as work/life boundaries, using holiday allowances, and education classes on effective stress management (sans alcohol).
Freelance work will increase
Covid has seen the rise of freelancing work right across the globe. More companies are inclined to hire freelancers, and more workers are seeking employment as freelancers.
Freelancing websites such as Fiverr have seen registrations rise about 48% during the pandemic. Some employees are taking advantage of the fact that no one is looking over their shoulder and hustling for side-gigs to increase their earnings (because employers, citing COVID as the reason, decreased their pay).
At the same time, companies are not in a position to take the stance of owning their staff or banning employees from freelancing. Their non-working hours are their own free time. If employers wish to keep their staff focused and to retain their talent, fair compensation and flexible working conditions will become a priority.
From an employer’s point of view, companies will be able to source contract workers with top skills who may not have been interested in doing piecemeal work before the pandemic. The phrase “working from home” may become “working from anywhere.”
No one will care whether you work in your pajamas or trackies, whether you are 30 or 60. It will only be your output—speed, knowledge and expertise to produce the work—that will count.
Networking communities will become more popular and important
Once a hangout for gossiping office workers, the water-cooler in the office will be redundant as the primary source of social interaction. Remote workers or hybrid employees will take to the Internet for meetups, chats, and networking opportunities, or get-togethers with other local inspirational personalities at the cafe around the corner from their home.
Savvy companies will create their own internal chat opportunities with informal Slack channels that can engage people’s interests, whether it’s podcasts, channels for foodies or “how-to” advice channels.
LinkedIn began in 2002 and has grown into the world’s largest professional network, with over 610 million users in around 200 countries.
Other social sites include: Meetup.com that brings like-minded people together on a regional basis. At the same time, Opportunity.com connects professionals based on what you need. Jobcase.com allows you not just to find jobs, but to connect with community groups for chat sessions. Gust.com has a startup community network enabling entrepreneurs to connect with investors and angel investor networks. The growing digital nomad movement over the last years has seen international micro-communities form centered around industry affiliations of entrepreneurs, single women, and SEO professionals on numerous social websites.
Remote work won’t disappear once the pandemic is over. There’s no going back as some workers love not having to commute to an office daily.
Employers have realized that there can still be a company culture outside of the four walls of physical office space. Most likely, it will be a hybrid working world for many — days at home and days in an office — with lots of flexibility within a dedicated framework.
Office spaces will get revamped to suit a fluctuating number of employees at any one time, more in tune with its mobile workforce. Shared workspaces will be more focused on collaboration opportunities and meetings.
Okay, so I’m prejudiced — I see a Nooka space is the most viable solution for working from home — you will have the convenience of a home office with the amenities of a great office space—right at your backdoor. No commuting on public transport, no public foyers or lifts of wafting germs, and no air-conditioning that regurgitates stale air.
It’s your comfy space to work, to connect with coworkers, and to have your own happy-hour with the neighbors at the end of the day; if you want to be sociable. Nooka spaces are the future of remote and hybrid working, and one of the many changes that will happen in 2021.
Image Credit: blue bird; pexels