Five workplace trends for 2021, according to Spaces

From employee wellbeing to increased diversity, here’s what we might expect to see over the coming 12 months

If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that predictions can be wrong – very, very wrong. Few could have foreseen the rise of Covid-19 last year and its seismic impact on the way we work – and will continue to work in the future.

However, despite the chaos of the last 12 months, some positives have emerged from this new normal when it comes to the workplace. Will we hold onto these as the year passes? And which will become mainstream? Below, we explore what things might look like this year.

1. A new purpose for the office
While reports of the ‘death of the office’ have been greatly exaggerated, it will likely serve a new purpose – as a place to create social experiences – enabling workers to interact, engage, and collaborate face-to-face.

It’s no surprise that many companies are planning to adopt a hybrid approach to where their employees work from in 2021. In a recent Slack survey, over 72% of workers said a hybrid remote-office model would be their ideal work situation, while research by Stanford University economic professor Nicholas Bloom backs this up, showing that the optimal situation for productivity is remote working for two days a week.

“The hybrid model is delivering spectacular benefits for employees and employers alike,” says IWG CEO Mark Dixon. “Team members gain better mental health and reduced costs through not having to travel into city centres, along with greater career opportunities closer to home And it gives companies the financial flexibility to invest in their staff and in growing the business, instead of the buildings from which they operate.”

In 2021, many businesses will be looking to redesign their office space to encourage creativity, collaboration and inspiration – from adding more meeting rooms and breakout areas, to refreshing work areas with more greenery and light.

2. An increased focus on employee wellbeing
According to a study by Workplace Intelligence, and Oracle, workers described 2020 as “the most stressful year in history”, with another finding that three-quarters of workers have struggled at work due to anxiety caused by Covid-19.

On LinkedIn in August 2020, Jen Fisher, Deloitte US’s Chief Wellbeing Officer, asked leaders to share the strategies and practices they were piloting to influence wellbeing in their organisations. The post received more than 500 reactions and 200 comments in a few days, and revealed a growing trend for organisational focus on employee mental health.

In 2021, many organisations will be thinking about ways to approach workplace wellbeing – from offering tools and services, to encouraging ‘job crafting’ – giving individuals autonomy to make meaningful decisions about what and how they contribute to the organisation.

And evidence suggests that flexible working could help. Studies have found that flexible working arrangements that “increase worker control and choice” had a positive effect on everything from sleep quality, tiredness and alertness, blood pressure and mental health – as well as ‘secondary’ outcomes, including a sense of community and social support within a workplace.

In addition, a change of environment – allowing employees to work away from the office – could also help. Research has shown that working from home, or from coworking space, such as that offered by Spaces, can also reduce burnout, stress and psychological distress.

3. Tech-enabled health and safety
During the pandemic, Spaces centres worldwide were quickly able to implement a raft of measures to protect everyone using the facilities. In addition to strict protocols, Covid-19 kits were sent to every centre with all the signage, cleaning and disinfection supplies, as well as tools that they would need to maintain the centre daily to ensure everyone’s safety

In 2021, our aversion to touching things is unlikely to disappear. Enter touchless technology, which will enable everything from entering the building simply by scanning a QR code, to limiting the amount of touching of common surfaces, such as doorknobs, turnstiles, temperature scanners, soap dispensers and coffee machines.

Nokia has already introduced an automated elevator temperature detection solution to spot Covid-19 infections in buildings and PwC has an automated contact tracing tool that notifies employees who have been in contact with another worker who tested positive for the virus.

4. A more diverse workforce
Of the 1.1m workers who dropped out of the US labour force in September 2020 due to the pandemic, 80% were women – a statistic with clear diversity, equity, and inclusion implications for businesses.

In 2021, removing the focus from a centralised office HQ and enabling flexible working practices should allow for the hiring of more diverse candidates across the board. According to a pre-pandemic survey by IWG, 83% of workers around the world would turn down a job that didn’t offer flexible working. “Flexible working is the norm for any business that is serious about productivity, agility and winning the war for top talent,” said Mark Dixon at the time.

And it benefits businesses to pursue diverse hires. Research shows that organisations with above-average diversity produced a greater proportion of revenue from innovation (45% of total) than those with below-average diversity (26%), which translated into stronger overall financial performance.

5. Digital transformation – turbocharged
At least 80% of leaders accelerated the implementation of technology due to Covid-19 in 2020, according to separate studies by McKinsey and KPMG. “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” said Satya Nadell, CEO of Microsoft last year.

“Many of these technologies, like contact tracing, collaborative tools, and AI-driven software, have been widely adopted to support employee mental health, increase productivity, allow for flexibility and safety,” explains Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner of Workplace Intelligence.

Things show no sign of slowing in 2021, in part due to necessity, but also due to the entrance of Gen Z into the workforce. Born between 1997 and early 2010, the oldest member of this group is 23 years old. Accounting for approximately 36% of the global workforce this year, this group of digital natives expect the modern workplace to be full of technological solutions to every workplace problem, from collaboration tools to mental health support.

Enjoy this? You might also like these Spaces magazine stories:
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