5 Ways 2020 Has Impacted Workplaces And How It Will Change In 2021

Article originally appeared in Forbes by Heidi Lynne Kurter

2020 has unequivocally brought change across businesses around the globe. Not only has this pandemic upended the growth plans for businesses, but it’s prevented them from meeting their annual goals. Furthermore, it’s changed the world of work forever.

In an interview with the U.S. CEO of Essensys, the leading global technology platform for commercial space operators to optimize flexible workspaces, Jeremy Bernard shared his perspective of how companies had to shift their mindset in terms of the office experience. He said, the most profound change in 2020 has been “the shift from corporations dictating how office space is designed and managed to a model that now recognizes that the individual needs of each worker must be at the center of the office experience.”

A redesigned office experience is one of many ways in which 2020 has impacted the workplace. Here are five ways the workplace has been affected and what it will look like in 2021.

Relearning The Needs Of The Workplace

One of the greatest workplace challenges of 2020, has been trying to replicate in-office cultural efforts in the remote environment. Companies, and more specifically, human resources, have quickly learned that what worked in-office has proven to be ineffective while working remotely. In the beginning, companies forced Zoom happy hours along with daily video meetings in hopes of keeping employees engaged. However, as the pandemic persisted, employee burnout increased and led to them disengaging from the culture.

Whether a company is choosing to stay remote indefinitely or re-enter the office in 2021, companies will need to relearn the needs of their workplace and concentrate on rebuilding their culture. For those returning to the office, boundaries will need to be put in place to be respectful of COVID safety guidelines. Therefore, returning to the previous culture will be nearly impossible.

Optimizing Employee Happiness

Employee happiness is more than fun perks and gifts. It’s valuing their wellbeing, offering support, providing resources and bringing awareness to taboo topics such as mental health. It goes without saying that this pandemic coupled with the social and political unrest of this year has exacerbated the stress, anxiety, depression and mental health issues of workers.

Prioritizing the mental health of employees is crucial for employers going into 2021. Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst, said, “back then, HR was more focused on the technical aspects, such as the taxes, compensation and the like, but this year, the HR department put more effort in building a comprehensive plan to retain productivity.” Now, employers are understanding the importance of bringing more awareness and education to employee mental health through programs, services and conversations. Furthermore, they’re seeing the direct connection between performance, happiness and mental health.

Aside from employee assistance programs (EAPs), employers are promoting flexible working arrangements, mental wellness breaks throughout the workday and making mental health check-ins more frequent. In addition, they’re modifying their benefits to include mental health services such as counseling, yoga and other solutions.

Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, provides another perspective of how employers will optimize employee happiness in 2021. She predicts, employers will give employees their time back by canceling recurring meetings or having “no meeting days” where employees can use the day to recharge and work without disruption.

Establishing A Stronger Partnership With Technology

Employers can no longer neglect their outdated systems. Those who resist upgrading and automating their systems and equipment risk succumbing to the Coronavirus recession. COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation across businesses around the world. Rather than fear the plunge into technology, companies need to embrace it if they want to maintain a competitive advantage.

Establishing a partnership with technology requires a delicate balance of understanding what needs to be automated and what still requires a personal touch. For example, when transitioning the candidate into an employee, the employee deserves to have face time with individuals within the organization. Whereas, the initial orientation paperwork should be automated for the employee to complete prior to their start date. This allows the employee’s first day to focus on building relationships with their manager and team members as well as assimilate into the culture.

Slack, Hangout chat and Workplace Facebook are a few communication tools that allow continuous and simple conversation throughout the day. These tools help bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers. Managers, who have now gotten a taste of working remotely, will better understand the need for using technology to strengthen connections and create a culture of inclusiveness. Some ways this can be done is through virtual games, team building events and sharing more of their personal lives through pictures and videos.

Accessing A Wider And More Global Talent Pool

This pandemic has proven that working remotely full-time is entirely possible despite long-held beliefs. Even though some companies are already starting to return to the office, remote work is here to stay. Since shifting to remote work, companies have removed their limitation for location specific candidates to access a wider and more global talent pool. Nirit Peled-Muntz, chief people offier at Hibob, shared, “in 2021, the key to attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent will be letting go of preconceived notions we had about what makes a successful employee.”

Engaging nationwide or global talent will be a key differentiator of what sets a business apart from its competitors. Companies who were previously restricted to a location are seeing they can build stronger and more diverse teams as they accept the opportunity for talent to work remotely. Additionally, companies who are going remote permanently no longer need to worry about paying relocation expenses. Therefore, the location on resumes is no longer a thing that will set candidates back or dissuade HR.

Building More Thoughtful Approaches To Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

Prior to the social unrest that happened in 2020, many companies were blind to their own diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) problems. Carin Van Vuuren, CMO at Greenhouse Software, explained, “diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace will become a real driver of employment decisions. Increasingly, the best talent will look for visible evidence of a company’s commitment to diversity within the interview process, within the hiring team, and within the executive leadership of the company.”

KC Jorgensen, chief people officer at Textio, added, “the continued focus on representation and belonging will cause business leaders to make more meaningful and consistent investments in DEI work. There will continue to be internal and external pressure for companies to create and sustain equitable workplaces, and that will impact how leaders think about this work.”

An impactful first step starts with not only revisiting and redefining the core values of the company, but also entrenching them into all areas of the business from recruiting to disciplinary action to cultural initiatives as well as terminations, to name a few. Additionally, the language on the company website and in job descriptions should be thoughtfully redefined. Training should be prioritized to help identify and eliminate biases across the workplace and emphasis should be placed on making employees voices heard. Moreover, companies should reevaluate their relationships and partnerships with clients and brands. Those who don’t live up to their DEI values should be terminated.