It is widely understood that every business cycle has an ebb and a flow. The general mechanical notion to it has often left employees in the lurch. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, shook things up in the workplace environment. For better or for worse, the days of grabbing a hurried breakfast and heading out to work in a humdrum of office hour gridlock are behind us.
While the average Joe has gone out less, being in one’s comfort zone has led to creativity and the reimagination of business processes. Multitaskers and thinkers have shone through; redundancy has been let go of. It is estimated that in the future of work, more than a quarter of the global workforce will continue to work multiple days a week from their homes.
This has shed light on an aspect of the work environment that is often disregarded in an organization—the mental well-being of an employee. Businesses have understood that they must take concrete steps to ensure that the burden of work, coupled with problems at home, does not lead to distress or burnout in the workplace environment.
Let’s explore the 5 trends that will dominate the work environment in 2021:
The future of work will take place in a hybrid workplace
The panic that engulfed our lives last year has let up, and 2021 has marched in. There is still a marked risk to public safety, especially when it comes to mobility. Governments and healthcare organizations insist, and businesses agree, that hybrid workplaces are the future of work. The lockdowns and subsequent months of quarantine have left employees starved for visiting the office; however, are they really prepared to get back to a full-blown five-day-a-week work routine? Experts feel otherwise. The ideal work environment today is one that allows an employee the flexibility between office hours and “mobile working,” something that many organizations are now allowing for two to three days a week as a new global standard. The balance that this creates between work and family life was sorely needed.
Widespread adoption of smart workspaces
To enable this hybrid work environment, the creation of a digital ecosystem that supports the needs of both the employer as well as employees becomes a prime concern. To this end, organizations need to modify their processes such that they support an online flow of data. At the same time, employers must be positively inclined toward the hardware and logistical requirements of the employees in order to make their goals attainable. The official hierarchy has taken a backseat in these times as flexible and cross-functional teams have proven to work better. At the same time, the measure of output and performance also need modifications, ones that take into account the lack of proximity, as well as global economic conditions. Appropriate usage and impenetrable cybersecurity are concerns that any intelligent organization strives to achieve, keeping itself in the center of today’s interconnected digital economy.
AI and automation integrated into the workforce
Information Technology became the bread and butter of any organization hoping to survive through the previous year. Budget cuts and a downturn of the global economy meant that cash-strapped organizations could not afford to keep employees on for repetitive work that cuts down on productivity. And so organizations have turned to AI.
Businesses have long been experimenting with artificial intelligence and machine learning, and they have increasingly become an integral part of business operations. While once an expensive endeavor, the development of AI-ML tools can now be outsourced to reliable third-party service providers or through open-source communities, making it a cost-effective, precise, and fast tool for a lot of processes. AI-driven features are integral to the future of work. These features can integrate with existing systems to organize, automate, and strengthen work to empower employees to make high-value decisions. Free of lengthy, mundane, or redundant tasks, employees can focus their newfound time on more important tasks at hand.
Creating a compelling employee experience is more important than ever
The classical approach of scientific management has long been discredited by various psychologists and organizational behavior studies, yet it plays a major part in a lot of organizations. Privately-owned organizations have been known to falter on information sharing with their employees more than their public-owned counterparts. It is essential that an employee knows not only where the company is headed, but also get periodic feedback and training. Lack of these two factors may lead to reduced motivation and outputs, even if the monetary benefits remain.
To counter this problem, transparency becomes key. It is essential that management communicates with employees regularly based on an action plan that is detailed and comprehensive. At the same time, employees must feel that management is approachable for any issue. Ensuring an ever-evolving employee experience will always lead to a happier workforce that is as dedicated to the organization as they are to themselves, creating a win-win situation.
Businesses must focus on reskilling their workforce
The pandemic forced businesses and their employees to change their ways of working, overnight. Employees needed to figure out how to adapt to the abrupt change, while companies needed to formulate policies and match their workers to new roles and activities. Companies now realize that the new working model could serve as a blueprint for the long-term. And to emerge stronger from the pandemic, they must double-down on their learning and development budgets and commit to reskilling their workforce. As companies go through this learning curve and create a new talent strategy, leaders must figure out how they can leverage technology and upskill/reskill their workforce to deliver new business models in the post-pandemic era.
The pandemic simply accelerated the trends that were inevitable with the advent of AI and automation, along with changing workplace roles and shifting marketplaces. It presented every organization with its own set of challenges and opportunities, and forced them to either adapt or perish. It gave businesses an opportunity to become more human-centered and to transcend organizational boundaries. The disruption caused by the pandemic also brought with it several insights and capabilities that will allow businesses the opportunity to thrive in the future. They must think of work as a continuously evolving process and should focus on building resilience by leveraging human potential, re-architecting work, and adapting the workplace environment.