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2021 Workplace Trends: Our Predictions

  • Publish Date: Posted 8 months ago
  • Author:by Gemma Cardew

​The tumultuous events of 2020, including the pandemic and Brexit, have rocked the foundations of many businesses, resulting in economic turmoil. Business leaders and senior managers found themselves having to abandon their carefully laid strategies for the year and implement new frameworks and plans to cope with the never ending changes, including navigating lockdown restrictions, furlough schemes, working from home and alternative health and safety measures, all while supporting the wellbeing of their employees.

There was an assumption, at first, that 2021 would bring with it a new chapter and a sense of normality as the health crisis stabilised, along with the economy. However, the simple fact is that we must face up to another year of major shifts in order to maintain commercial success as the pandemic continues its hold over everyone.

While there has been plenty of talk around the increase in remote working moving forward, we must also bear in mind factors such as the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination scheme, the legal implications which surround this, the threat of a new strain of the virus and how they will each affect our road to recovery.

Bearing this in mind, our Consultant in Finance, Gemma Cardew, has put together some predictions which she believes will inform how businesses operate in 2021.

A shift in flexible working

Providing employees with the means to work remotely became a necessity in 2020 and we feel that this trend will continue well into this year and beyond. However, we believe that the next phase for this movement will focus on when employees are expected to work rather than where.

In our opinion, the meaning of flexible working will well and truly transition from the number of days that people split between home and office working to instead concentrating on the hours of the day during which they work. This will facilitate people being able to juggle childcare and other familial obligations, all while working at their peak at the times which are best suited to them. This, in turn, will help them to achieve a good work/life balance.

In fact, Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey recently revealed that just 36% of employees were high performers at organisations which operated the standard 40-hour working week model. Organisations which offer employees the flexibility of when, where and how much they work observed that 55% of their workforce could be classed as high performers. In 2021, we anticipate to see an increase in roles which are evaluated by their overall output, rather than agreed set hours.

A look at well-being and mental health

Employers will shift from managing their employees’ career experience to enhancing their overarching life experience as they inevitably continue to be physically absent from offices. This is because the pandemic has afforded business leaders a never before seen glimpse into the personal lives of their employees, who have of course faced unprecedented personal, professional and financial hardship over the course of the past year.

Taking the time to support employees and their personal circumstances will help to enrich their lives while providing them with what they need to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s survey, employers who support employees with their overall life experience see a 23% increase in people reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the reporting of better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, who saw a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organisations which do not provide the same degree of support to their employees.

This is why 2021 will be the year where the standard benefits offered to employees will change, encompassing mental and physical health, financial guidance and even aspects of life that were previously seen as non-work related, such as getting a good night’s sleep.

A stance on political debate

An increasing number of businesses will adopt firm stances on current political and societal discussions as they are now more prevalent than ever before. As a result, employees and candidates will seek to work for organisations whose values align with their own, which is a trend that has been growing for some time. In 2020, this desire accelerated and Gartner’s research showed that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more ‘actively involved’ in the cultural debates of the day. We believe that business leaders have a responsibility to respond to this demand in order to attract and retain top talent.

Simply churning out statements about topical issues of the day is no longer enough. Employees expect more and will become more highly engaged and enthusiastic as a result. The Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organisation carefully considered and acted upon today’s social and political issues.

An understanding of the threat of cyber crime

The shift to home working during the pandemic led to companies and individuals being exposed to a heightened risk of cybercrime and data breaches as criminals take advantage of security weaknesses. This is certainly true for smaller businesses and SMEs, where their IT infrastructure is likely to be less sophisticated than those of larger organisations, and in some cases relies on employees using their own laptops and installing their own firewalls.

When a business falls prey to cybercrime, this is likely to lead to devastating results, such as lost profit margins, decreased productivity and a damaged reputation, at the very least until the issue is brought under control and rectified.

Employers will need to remedy this by investing in sufficient technology, controls and fraud prevention tools to ensure that private and confidential company information is fully protected.

For more information and advice on recent cyber-crime trends and issues, see our recent article: The impact of an increase in Covid-19 related cyber-crime

A limit on employee monitoring

During the pandemic, more than one-quarter of companies purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies have not evaluated how to balance employee privacy with the technology, which has given rise to employees being concerned about this situation.

The Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organisation with their data and 44% do not receive any information regarding the data collected in relation to them. In 2021, we expect to see a variety of new regulations that place limits on which data employers can and cannot track about their employees.

A commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability

With Covid-19 now an everyday aspect of our lives, businesses will find that their commitment to CSR is tested.

For example, as so many workplaces have become accustomed to employees working from home, they have reduced their carbon footprint as daily commutes tail off. In fact, if normal service resumes but people continue to work from home instead of the office, the typical British commuter will save around 400kg of carbon emissions each year, which equates to 5% of their annual carbon footprint. This is because the carbon emissions produced by commuting exceeds those created by simply using energy at home. This is another reason to champion continued remote working; it is better for the environment while at the same time taking away the stress of commuting, which will ultimately boost the mental health and productivity of employees.

Further examples of firms going the extra mile to take responsibility for their employees include enabling the aforementioned flexible working, offering full pay to furloughed workers and other means of supporting their workforce that go above and beyond what is required by law.

As well as general societal and sustainability issues, in 2021 companies will have a significant role to play in tackling the coronavirus as part of their CSR policies. Most obviously in the case of the virus, firms are investing in the development of vaccines, the production of PPE and the protection of their employees.

A focus on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) 

Now, more so than ever in a world of the Black Lives Matter movement, social and political unrest and one in which people have had to unite for survival, businesses are paying increased attention to diversity, equality and inclusion.

This will continue to be the case as organisations realise that, in order to avoid being homogenous and to achieve a vibrant workplace culture, they must offer equal opportunities for all, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

More spotlight will be thrown on businesses to not just create, but noticeably implement and abide by clear D&I policies that ensure an inclusive and non-discriminatory approach to hiring and working, resulting in diverse and successful teams.

If you would like to talk to a member of our team about your recruitment requirements or any challenges which you may face in 2021, feel free to contact us.