Workplace trends for 2021

Unless you have a fortune-teller on your payroll, planning for the future is a matter of best guesses, extrapolations, and strategic thinking. Think back to early 2020 and how little idea any of us had of the year ahead. 2021 is likely to be just as disruptive, if not more so, but at least we know and understand the bedrock situation: an ongoing global pandemic in which face to face business of any kind is best avoided.

Here at Maximum, we’ve already laid out the coming learning and development priorities for organisations, based on our recent surveys of business leaders and HR professionals. Now, let’s take a look at a few predictions being made on a wider basis, the implications for the workplace as a whole – more of a view from Board level…


Hybrid working arrangements

The office (or other shared workspace) is far from dead. Months of furlough, remote working, and Zoom meetings have taught us that the office provided (often psychologically) necessary face to face contact, opportunities for team-enhancing socialisation, and a more defined border between ‘work’ and ‘life’. The coming year will see businesses finding their way towards a hybrid approach that treads the line between contact/collaboration and safety. Despite the 2020 murmurings about the ‘death of the office’, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon – but neither can it stay the same.


Office design

Anybody still working in an office or customer-facing space (such as retail) will testify to the physical changes of 2020, including social distancing rules and plastic screens. All good as emergency measures but what will the office of the future look like? After all, plastic screens affect the acoustics of the environment, require cleaning… We reacted appropriately and quickly, but 2021 will see businesses working out and adopting longer-term solutions.


Redefining the employer-employee relationship

Most businesses were plunged into chaos by the pandemic – in a the deep end, and the only way to swim was to support the workforce through the transition. This brought many employers into closer contact with issues that would have previously been more private, such as mental health, financial wellbeing, and so on.

Organisations that are prepared to offer support in such areas will see their people adapt better and quicker to the much talked-about ‘new normal’.


Employee privacy

An inevitable consequence of bringing work into the home, and the use of technology to support people’s new ‘working location’ is that privacy can become blurred. Ask yourself what information and data you are (deliberately or otherwise) gathering about your people. Where are you, as the employer organisation, intruding where you didn’t in the past? How do they feel about that? And what are the practical implications? 2021 will see many businesses grappling with privacy issues.


Digitally transforming

Like it or not, video conferencing technology saved jobs and businesses last year. For many, apps like Zoom or Teams became an essential alternative to working and collaborating face to face. Likewise, online ordering and access to services became equally essential to customers ‘trapped’ at home. In other words, successful businesses are those working on maximising the use and benefits of technology, both internally and externally. (There’s more on the blog on how to support your people through digital transformation).


Most countries – the UK included – are in the middle of wide-ranging vaccine programmes and, regardless of rhetoric, those programmes will be ongoing throughout 2021. In other words, whereas 10-12 months ago, we might reasonably have said, “It’ll all be over soon,” now we not quite so naïve. The impact of the coronavirus will be the dominant influence on business throughout this coming year. The businesses that survive, and even do well, are those that actively address the above issues of workplace, hybrid/flexible working, employee privacy and support, and digital transformation.

If you’re facing 2021 and thinking you could do with some help navigating the changes ahead, give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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