It goes without saying that 2020 will go down in history as an incredibly challenging year. However, it was also the year that businesses and employees made working from home work; it was the year workplace culture changed forever.
With a new year now upon us, what will the workplace look like in 2021? What changes are coming our way? And what trends should we be keeping an eye out for?
Here are five ways we think the workplace will build on the (digital) transformation of 2020 over the next 12 months…
Homes will become more work-friendly
When the pandemic took hold, millions of people were suddenly asked to work from home (or perhaps more accurately, to work from their spare bedrooms and kitchen tables).
One of the biggest challenges many workers faced at this time was a weak or unreliable connection to the internet. This hindered everything from Zoom calls with colleagues to downloading essential files.
In 2021, as much of the workforce continues to work from home, experts predict there will be big improvements in the quality and performance of most home networks.
There is also expected to be a surge in the amount of people who remodel their homes to include a home office, so that employees have a dedicated space to work.
Perhaps most excitingly, though, are the projects and tech that are predicted to address the lack of human contact that goes hand-in-hand with working from home.
For instance, design firm Argodesign has unveiled something called the Square. It’s an artificial window that’s installed on a wall next to your desk so that you can ‘see’ your colleagues working alongside you.
WFH will become WFA
The benefits of working from home are clearer than ever. It affords employees with the flexibility they crave and it’s now proven that it doesn’t impede productivity (in fact, it often boosts it).
It’s expected that many businesses will continue to offer their people the opportunity to work from home on a long term basis. This is something that many employees will celebrate.
However, others spent their time working from home in 2020 craving the camaraderie and company of sharing an office. It’s for this reason that 2021 is predicted to be the year when working from anywhere - or WFA - takes off.
It’s expected that lots of firms will implement ‘hybrid’ WFA arrangements where employees can choose between working in a ‘drop-in’ style office or working from elsewhere (home - or a cafe/library/park once that becomes an option again).
Virtual meetings were a great tool for employees working from home in 2020, but it’s widely accepted that they aren’t effective as a means for learning and training - or at least, not as effective as the in-person alternative.
Professional development is still hugely important, of course, so in 2021 it is expected that e-learning platforms will be upgraded as companies seek ways to provide virtual teaching in an engaging format.
Incorporating AI - or artificial intelligence - to personalise the training experience is one key development that’s expected to become more commonplace.
Over the next year, it is also predicted that companies will do more to achieve gender equality in the workplace. This will involve empowering women to upskill in technology as part of a wider goal of creating a diverse work culture that enables women to flourish.
The end of the 9 to 5?
During the pandemic, many employees savoured the flexibility that working from home afforded them. They could choose to work flexible hours that fitted around their other commitments - and it proved an essential element of maintaining some kind of work-life balance.
In 2021, the trend for flexibility is predicted to grow. For some businesses, it will spell the end of the 9 to 5. More firms will empower their people with the autonomy to decide how they work most productively and what hours best suit their lifestyle and family arrangements.
From videoconferencing to digital shared file storage, the tech for successfully and flexibly working from home is already sophisticated and widely available. Now it’s time for the attitude that ‘face-to-face is better’ to get left behind and for businesses everywhere to catch up.
Improved focus on mental health
The worry and changes experienced in 2020 took a toll on the mental health of pretty much everyone.
At the same time, it shone a light on the toll that traditional work culture took on the wellbeing of employees - from getting side-eyed for leaving the office on time to feeling the pressure to show up for work even when unwell.
In 2021, there is predicted to be an increase in the efforts from employers to do more to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees.
Tech that helps connect people will play an important part in this, and there will need to be policy changes at many firms.
However, the increased need for empathetic and understanding leadership can’t be underplayed.
What’s the bottom line?
Following the unpredictability of 2020, there are two things that now seem certain: the future of the workplace is bright, and the future of the workplace is virtual.
From faster internet that makes it easier to work from home and an end to prescriptive working hours, to tech that helps employees feel more connected and training delivered using artificial intelligence, the workplace in 2021 looks like a pretty exciting place to be.
Want help staying one step ahead of the tech changes coming your way? Get in touch with your local ITEC experts today.