Workplace Trends to Watch

Published On: December 8, 2020By Categories: Business Management, People at Work, Workforce Development

How employees work and interact will continue to evolve in 2021.

By Alexandra Walsh

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will be recorded in history as an unprecedented event that significantly, and in some ways permanently, changed the future of the workplace.

Human resources has also never been more in the limelight. Across industries, human resource professionals helped lead the way on business continuity plans and the response to COVID-19.

The successful accelerated adoption of digital HR tools has led to appreciating and recognizing what HR can achieve if and when pushed to act urgently.

Consider the following HR trends to watch in 2021.

Decentralized Workplaces

With some level of remote work now common in countless industries, employers are rethinking how their work spaces are laid out. Whether downsizing square footage, relocating to more affordable locations, or restructuring the workspace, HR should prepare for a workforce that is managed both digitally and physically.

Even small companies planning to bring their workforce together again in the office are calculating how to provide an environment that will keep their workers safe, healthy, and productive.

The successful accelerated adoption of digital HR tools has led to appreciating and recognizing what HR can achieve.

Among some of the changes being considered: wider corridors with one-way foot traffic, better air filtration systems, touchless controls on elevators and faucets, antimicrobial materials that destroy a wide range of microorganisms, and video conferencing—even within the office—to avoid the conference room.

Optimizing the Workforce

Employee costs will continue to be a huge area of concern for companies as they battle a national and global slowdown and logistical challenges. However, analytics tools in the workplace will offer the best solutions for controlling workforce costs.

Employers will take advantage of the growing gig economy, with its temporary positions and independent workers, and higher unemployment rates to give themselves more flexibility controlling workforce costs by employing part-time workers as needed.

Digital Productivity

Digital tools will help balance employee productivity. Having so little contact with a physical office can create insecurity among employees because of their limited visibility and pressure to perform their best. Employers, in turn, are worried about measuring how productive their workforce is.

New emerging technologies are allowing employers to track business outcomes in real-time and turnaround times for workflow. These give them the ability to reexamine their employees’ productivity metrics and to define new norms of performance.

Virtual Collaboration

Next-gen digital and virtual collaboration, communication, and engagement tools will redefine human interaction. Most companies have managed the shift to Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or some other collaboration platform for holding employee and customer meetings.

The next challenge will be to keep on innovating with the collaboration experience, by leveraging cloud-based collaboration and engagement platforms, and implementing technologies that best mirror human-to-human physical interactions and collaboration.

App-Based Human Resources

App-based human resources systems will enhance a seamless employee experience. Many businesses have understood the importance of creating valuable customer experiences. However, it seems few companies pay the same level of attention to employee experiences.

As HR professionals or those tasked with HR responsibilities continue to operate remotely or under limited capacity, companies may focus on enhancing the employee experience using an app-based, self-service HR system that provides an on-demand experience to employees without worrying about physically being at the workplace.

For example, a human resource information system’s software enables users to efficiently manage, automate, and streamline any number of HR-related tasks such as payroll, recruiting, compliance, and benefits.

Healthy Work-Life Balance

The collective stress experienced by workers that began in 2020 will play a role in shaping benefits packages. For example, employers who place greater emphasis on providing a healthy work-life balance for their employees will benefit the most in 2021. This could include more flexible PTO policies or mental health services.

Remote Work Benefits

As working from home, at least for administrative staff, becomes more normalized, look for remote work stipends being paid to help offset costs to become more popular in 2021. These would include allocations for internet expenditures, office equipment and materials, and even coffee supplies.

Emphasis on One-on-One

With shifts toward more decentralized workforces, managers and supervisors will look for new ways to improve their means of communication and ensure high-quality feedback and improvement with direct reports. By instituting weekly virtual one-on-one meetings, managers or HR can offer constructive coaching or cover compliance concerns in the event an employee is laid off.

Looking at 2021 and beyond, human resource professionals at smaller companies can and should adopt digital platforms that make daily processes easier to manage, like applicant tracking and form compliance for example.

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Much remains unclear about the workplace here early in 2021 and what offices will look like after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic winds down.

But those who are tasked with human resources can expect that, at least in 2021, trends like the shift to virtual communications with coworkers, teams, and customers, and the shift away from groups of employees coming together in central workplaces, will continue.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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