14 Upcoming Trends That May Impact Workplaces In 2021

With so much still in flux, how can leaders accommodate what will be important to employees?

Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights.
Newsweek Expert Forum members share industry insights. Photos courtesy of the individual members

The success of an organization depends heavily on the relationship between its leaders and employees. Employee expectations of the workplace are shifting as the pandemic continues to unfold, impacting both employee morale and leaders' abilities to address and accommodate changing needs.

With so much still in flux, how then can leaders gain a better understanding of what needs will be important to employees this year? To help, 14 experts from Newsweek Expert Forum weigh in on what trends leaders should expect to have a lasting impact on workplaces this year.

1. Acceptance of Flexible Workplaces

Flexible, remote workplace will become more accepted and employers will increase empathy for their people. Organizations need to prioritize the employee experience to maintain and engage loyal and productive teams. A focus on people will benefit the bottom line. - Michelle Tillis Lederman, Executive Essentials LLC

2. Better Training Offerings

Leaders can prepare by offering and requiring better training for frontline and less experienced supervisors. Studies show that the relationship between immediate supervisor and employee has the greatest bearing on employee satisfaction, and these same supervisors likewise report feeling chronically underprepared to do their jobs well. I think we're going to see an accelerated decline in the traditional employee evaluations part of the performance management process as more and more employers will have to reckon with the subjective nature of the rating process, the inconsistencies among leaders who evaluate employees and the liabilities that introduces. Working in an increasingly remote environment will highlight how many leaders need coaching on how to evaluate and give feedback, and organizations will need to invent ways to facilitate communication and feedback. - Mylena Sutton, Voltage Vista

3. Workplace Transformation

The transformation of workspaces has already begun. We now know that the workforce can adjust to working remotely using technology such as Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams. The focus will continue to be data security, shifts in urban real estate markets to suburban and rural communities and greater appreciation for flexibility, especially for employees with children. - Zaneilia Harris, Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group, LLC

4. More Employee Accommodation

I don't imagine folks are going back into traditional spaces anytime soon. I think leaders can accommodate a more remote workplace by being eager to provide resources to help team members thrive while managing everything that can cause disruption in a home office. In particular, I think tools to help prevent, manage and frankly accommodate some degree of burnout are going to be critical to ensuring healthy and productive teams. - Ryan Haupt, Science... sort of

5. Embracing Breaks

Tiny trips will become an important way to take a break from work to relax and recharge. With more work being done remotely and with flexible hours, it will become easier to take a mid-week or long weekend local getaway. More people will realize that tiny trips benefit the economy, environment and your health—and they're fun! - Ethan Hawkes, PlacePass

6. Rising Entrepreneurial Spirit

As we settle into working from home on a global level, entrepreneurship will continue to rise. More employees are making more entrepreneurial choices from within the corporate world and leaving it to grow ventures of their own. We're all learning we can survive, and in some ways thrive in this new environment, so why wouldn't that encourage us to lean into it more? As leaders, we can see ourselves as mentors that can be more transparent about our own journeys and open more doors. We are seeing that whether someone takes on more responsibility within the organization or beyond it, they will remain an expansive connection for our own growth too. - Lauree Ostrofsky, Simply Leap, LLC

7. More Hybrid Collaboration

Workplaces need to adopt a new cultural dimension to become productive. This will be in the form of hybrid (virtual and in-person) collaboration of the teams. The proportion of in-person and virtual collaboration could approach an equal split. - Mahesh Mulumudi, Steth IO

8. More Healthcare Responsibility

Employers will become more and more responsible for their employee's healthcare in order to generate productivity and reduce liability. Covid-19 accelerated the trend of employers focusing on wellness programs, and Covid-19 testing and protection functions have been key to employee demands at the workplace. This will continue into other non-pandemic preventative and acute care resources as the "new norm" to be provided at work from the industrial sector through luxury goods. - Eva Sadej, Floss Bar

9. The Restructuring of Industry Operations

As Covid-19 is managed, we'll find ourselves in a new world where old, slow and expensive solutions will no longer be acceptable to patients; there are simply too many eyes on the healthcare sector now for us to go back to the way things were. If these solutions are no longer effective, they won't survive, regardless of the size of the institution. We will continue our efforts to partner with digital health startups to drive novel solutions to healthcare problems, and should expect to see a massive effort across every single organization in our space (including our own) in restructuring internal operations to meet those demands. Permanently integrating best practices forced by the pandemic, such as remote work, team collaboration across distance and recruitment for remote roles will ensure we're positioned to thrive in the good times and survive intact through ones like this. - Evan Ehrenberg, Clara Health

10. Data-Centric Promotions

I'd say one of the biggest changes is of course work from home, but with that will be more data-centric promotions. Instead of tenure or likability being the reason for a promotion (which many promotions are based on), people will be evaluated based on performance accumulated from anonymous feedback apps. Employers should start picking software to track employee performance now. - Ashley Stahl, Ashley International

11. Increasing Need for More Versatile Tools

Given that work from home is here to stay, there's a clear hunger for appropriate tools that allow for closer and easier collaboration between teams, especially collaborative tools that can go cross-function within the organization. It's also clear that there's a need for more versatile tools for data analysis and simulation that will better facilitate remote work. The second big trend I foresee is accelerated movement towards cloud native computing. This requires appropriate tooling because the current user experience for cloud is fairly convoluted and arcane, making it inefficient for anyone who is not a computer scientist. - Ivan Ravlich, Hypernet Labs

12. More Investment In Connections

The Covid-19 pandemic upended the business landscape for many industries in ways that would have been unimaginable a year ago. Significant numbers of employees are enjoying working from home and will continue to work remotely, saving commuting time, decreasing need for office space and providing more flexible schedules for exercise and work life balance. However, the need for engagement, belonging and connection will never be greater. Empathy and relational skills will have huge impacts on workforce engagement, stability and growth. Companies will need to invest in meaningful ways to come together, ensuring their employees have a strong sense of belonging whether they work onsite or from home. - Helen Riess, Empathetics, Inc

13. Flexibility

First off, I do not believe anyone can predict what exactly will be different in 2021—only that it will be different. One thing that we had to change in 2020 is how we maintained our communications and relationships with our university and foundation clients. We also had to grow new university and foundation clients without any in-person meetings. In 2021, it is not going to be on Zoom or in person; it will be a hybrid of both, and flexibility will be key. It is critical for business leaders to understand the full scope of what this year has shown us while also looking to the norms of the future. - Bruce Wilson, The Conversation

14. Shifts in Focus

Everyone needs to shift their focus to working from home, learn how to maximize that, as well as leverage it to get the best personnel. Companies that have moved virtually already have an advantage by being able to capture the best employees. The trend over the last 15 years has been that employees are searching for work-from-home positions, so this is the time for business leaders to capitalize on an already established trend if they haven't already. - Lisa Phillips, Affordable Real Estate Investments

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