A changing workforce during Covid: the top trends of 2021

A changing workforce during Covid the top trends of 2021

Covid-19 was the major theme throughout 2020.

It tested the fortitude of governments, companies, economies, and individuals alike in the face against a radical disruption that heavily touched the way we live our lives on every level.

As with any sudden shift in global lifestyle, there have been those who have painfully adapted, while others rode the wave to reach greater bounds.

Tech companies reigned supreme during this phase of human history, with the worldwide pandemic fueling many emerging technologies that were not expected to come to fruition until mid-decade.

This drive has drastically shaped how 2021 will seem to be, with all things digital at the helm of it all, especially in the eyes of the employees across the world who now have different career options to consider as the pandemic shakes up the rules of the modern labor force.

According to a report by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) talking about Intelligent Workplaces, around 30 percent of employees were working remotely prior to the pandemic, but this number has since risen dramatically to over 50 percent and they will continue to work remotely at least some of the time.

“This has significant knock-on effects for IT and HR with respect to delivering an appropriate employee experience. In turn, employee experience is being driven by the concept of ‘wellbeing’, which has a profound impact on employee productivity,” the report explained.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, companies scrambled to emphasize business continuity by ensuring that employees can successfully operate from home during lockdown.

This focus, however, shifted as time passed by, and leaned more toward maximizing employee productivity when working remotely to maintain customer experience as much as possible.

With all that said, many of these changes and disruptions will surely spill over into the new year, while some will look to cement their place within the global labor force.

Based on that, there are a myriad of employee experience trends that will dictate how workflow will be done during 2021.

Let’s jump right in.

A more distributed workforce

The new norm has forced businesses to have three physical locations: home, the corporate office, and remote/mobile settings. This distributed workforce model forces companies to rethink their IT and HR policies for them to serve greater employee empowerment.

“Remember, people can only be empowered if they can securely access the content and applications, they need to carry out their tasks … which means that the technology they’re provided with must be easy to use, wherever they’re geographically located,” the report by NTT highlighted.

This shift has incentivized companies toward moving their operations to the cloud, which can accommodate all employees no matter where they might be. The drawback, however, is protecting this data from potential cybersecurity threats, with attacks and breaches reaching record highs during the year.

“It’s essential to ensure that the performance of cloud-based software-as-a-service, be they collaboration or enterprise applications, meet employee expectations, and that they’re secured appropriately as cyber-risk has increased while visibility of risk has decreased, given organizations’ expanding digital footprint,” the report noted.

Identity, data, & workplace analytics

Technology has been vital to gathering insights that identify our levels of productivity, how we spend our time during work hours, and what we look at.

According to the NTT report, 88.9 percent of organizations recognize the value of employee experience as a crucial strategic differentiator however, just 38.3 percent are very satisfied with their current capability.

“Data will increasingly become an essential tool to highlight trends in employee experience, be they from a productivity, sentiment, wellbeing, or community perspective. Also, employee recognition platforms designed and deployed with a clear purpose to improve engagement, integrated with nudge engines can motivate individuals and teams to achieve the goals they’ve set,” the report said.

With that in mind, employees will also need to feel comfortable about how data is being used.

NTT considers that a “zero-trust” approach to security is key to supporting and protecting businesses, as they undertake this shift. According to a recent Gartner survey, 16 percent of organizations are passively tracking employees via methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking work computer usage and monitoring employee emails or internal communications/chat.

“Technology is becoming key to delivering insights that identify which people may be experiencing a dip in productivity, or alternatively, those who are now working too hard. But also, be aware that it can be perceived as big brother,” NTT added.

Next-gen meeting spaces

Meeting spaces have forever changed following the pandemic, with companies striving for more agile and digitized spaces that empower engagement, collaboration, and creativity, all with a view to gaining the most out of their teams’ intellectual property.

“If certain tasks can be performed easily at home, people will need a reason to travel to an office – particularly if HR policies prescribe less travel to meet sustainability targets. And when they do return to the office, they’ll expect the same frictionless experience that the digital tools they use for remote working offer,” the report highlighted.

With many technologies coming to the forefront, NTT expects that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will play larger roles of delivering more immersive meetings for businesses and their employees.

Wellness will become king

The common need and want for the world’s workforce are the promise of a safe environment to work in following and during the pandemic. “People need confidence and assurance before they’re comfortable to return to work to perform more collaborative tasks that require face-to-face, human engagement as opposed to virtual interactions,” NTT highlighted.

Many governments around the world are forcing businesses to report on the number of employees physically present in the office on a daily basis, with heavy fines for those who breach the permitted number of on-site employees or who fail to deliver such data.

“Employers are having to think hard about optimizing the wellness and safety of their workspaces, using the relevant technologies including data, analytics, security and automation,” the report said, adding that “we’re already seeing organizations implementing technology that allows them to gather and analyze data to ensure that they’re adhering to air ventilation, heating, lighting and hygiene standards and maintaining adequate social distancing within their buildings.”

The modern labor force is facing colossal changes that will dictate how companies conduct their business within the decade ahead, as companies shift to a more employee oriented philosophy that capitalizes on the agility of workers to deliver more productive results across the board.