What does 2021 Look like

After a turbulent year, now is the time to plan for the twelve months ahead. While 2020 introduced some rushed changes to the way we worked, 2021 will be the year to review those changes and decide which ones are here to stay.

While the sudden move to working from home was borne out of necessity, it has in large part been successful, and there will be some aspects of the recent changes we may want to keep.

Pre-COVID, employee experience was something we heard a lot about. However, for many businesses, it was also something which often took a back seat to more urgent priorities. In 2020, companies who kept their eye on their employees have, thus far, probably faired better in protecting themselves from the impact of the pandemic. Running a business that is in tune with its employees is usually better equipped to deal with sudden and unplanned change. According to a survey conducted last year by employee engagement company Achievers, fewer than one-third of businesses conduct a quarterly employee experience survey, and only marginally more have a platform where employees have a voice. Therefore, when COVID hit at the beginning of the year, many businesses were blind to the needs and requirements of their workforce.

So, what will the next twelve months look like? Here we look at a few things that will impact businesses and the employee experience in 2021.

Flexible Working

While mass migration to home working brought about some concerns for the future of the office, it has aided business continuity and primarily been very successful. This approach will continue into 2021, allowing employers to offer more flexible working opportunities and a balance between home and office.

A report published by Forresters in October of this year referred to this as the anywhere-plus-office hybrid model in which more people will work outside the office more of the time. While there is no exact endpoint to the pandemic yet, Forresters predict a 300% increase in homeworking compared to pre-pandemic levels.

HR Policy Review

Human Resources teams will undoubtedly have to review and update their policies to cater to a working from home workforce. Employees also need to understand how any new policies will affect them. For example, suppose we see further lockdown restrictions. What considerations are in place for employees with children and for homeschooling? Whatever changes are made, it is vital that information is clearly communicated to employees ahead of schedule.

Company Culture

The office is likely to become less critical than company culture. The digital workspace will evolve, and social tools will become more intuitive, providing opportunities for employees to enjoy team gatherings. Emphasis should be placed on creating a work culture for a dispersed workforce, with employees tasked with setting up initiatives, campaigns and conversations to keep employees feel motivated and included.

Mental Health

There was already a big focus on mental health throughout 2020, and this will continue as businesses learn to understand better and check in on the emotional and mental wellbeing of their staff. This will include employee behaviour patterns and responses and the “tells” of anyone who may be experiencing a period of negative feelings.

Trust

In 2020, we saw a lot of “firsts”, and one of these was that businesses were left with no option other than to trust that their workforce would manage some form of business continuity from their home working environments. This has seen the employer and employee relationship develop into one of trust and self-governance. 2020 has proven that, with the right communication channels in place and the proper levels of support and motivation from their peers and managers, employees can demonstrate the same diligence and productivity at home, as they did in the office.

Communication

From occasional glimpses of higher management to corridor chats and team lunch breaks, each touchpoint gives us a feeling of “togetherness”. With more people working from home, staff need to feel led in addition to heard and business leaders need to ensure that their business, from top to bottom, benefits from the same synergy. This can come in the way of company surveys, CEO-led zoom meetings and managers taking time out to have one on one calls with their staff.

The events of 2020 have largely been unprecedented and forced many to implement sweeping changes at breakneck speed. However, employee experience is an evolving process, driven by senior management in response to feedback from their workforce. A continuous loop of feedback and change will allow for a more conscious and robust strategy as we move into 2021. Only by taking the needs of your employees sincerely, will businesses be able to adapt to change outside of their control, while enabling innovation and new opportunities for what lies ahead.