The Point of No Return: Trends That Will Shape Work in 2021

Neil Sharman
The future of work trends for 2021 blog header

There’s no going back. The way we worked in 2020 (and still work in 2021) looks nothing like the way we worked in 2019.

When the Covid crisis is over, we might sail back a little towards the ‘old world’, but not back into port. The prevailing wind isn’t blowing that way.

But that’s not a bad thing. The shape of the ‘new world’ looks more defined. You can see big opportunities if you look closely enough; fresh and fertile land.

Now, what does this mean for us? What are the main change factors that will influence the way we work in 2021 and beyond?

My team and I are currently doing research for a trend report which is expected to see the light of day soon. Before that, let me share a few trends that are likely to shape the way we work for good.

Leaders trust their employees more than ever

Bosses trust us more than they ever thought possible.

Like a parent realizing they don’t need to run alongside their child’s bike anymore, they know we won’t crash.

We aren’t crashing into our duvets and ‘shirking from home’. We are getting things done without the constant distraction of the office. Instead of working less at home, we’re working more.

Older workers, parents, and introverts especially love working from home. Happier and more productive, they’d take a 14% pay cut to keep doing it.

The rest will like it more when technology brings things they loved about the office to the home.

Collaboration software helps us build social capital remotely

Social capital is the name economists give to the benefits (especially the financial benefits) of team spirit and collaboration.

At work, this means teams sitting together, water cooler chats, brainstorms, break-out spaces, new-employee onboarding programs, networking, and the nearest bar to the office.

The growth of collaboration software, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, which accelerated through the Covid crisis, means remote working needn’t turn off the Social Capital tap.

In fact, collaboration software can allow social capital to build both remotely and asynchronously. We needn’t be together, in space or time, to work together.

When we do have meetings, ever-improving video tools like Webex and Zoom, are drawing remote synchronous collaboration closer to ‘in-person’ quality.

Being a better leader goes hand in hand with leading better meetings

Bad meetings didn’t arrive with Covid. ‘Badly-run-meeting fatigue’ has been with us for much longer than ‘Zoom fatigue’.

The cure is, and always was, the preparation it takes to run a meeting well. Combine good preparation with tools like Slido, Miro, and Cameo, and online meetings can be electric, ‘lean forward’ experiences.

In Cisco’s vision, online meetings can actually be 10x better than in-person meetings.

As workers grow used to the efficiencies and inclusiveness of using tools like these in meetings, the use of them will grow. Managers who fail to be good meeting managers will get left behind.

This quote from the book ‘The Motive’ by Patrick Lencioni says it best:

“When leaders accept the less-than-amazing status of meetings, the results are two-fold. First, … it leads to bad decision-making… The second problem of accepting bad meetings at the executive level is that it sets the precedent for the rest of the organization.”

Good people management requires improving soft leadership skills

Leaders who fail to be good people managers will get left behind too.

With a distributed workforce, it is ever so harder for employees to catch their manager at a good time for a quiet word, as much as it is for managers to find the time to hear their team members out.

Now it’s time for softer leadership skills. Listening, coaching, mentoring and counseling will be key to preventing alienation and burnout amongst team members.

From one-to-ones to all-hand meetings, communication needs to be a two-way street. Tools like Slido are a great help for managers to hear every voice – even anonymously.

And when we do go back to the office, if only part-time, a good manager will work to ensure that hybrid meetings, with some attendees in the office and some on-screen, don’t prioritize the former. We don’t need to rebuild toxic presenteeism in a new, post-Covid form.

Read also: 7 Essential Tips for Managing Your (Newly) Remote Team

Reimagining the purpose of the office

The hottest trend of the next decade for private equity will be purchasing companies to make them ‘remote-first’.

The cost savings on real-estate, enabled by the rapid pivot to digitization caused by Covid, will be staggering, and not just for private equity firms.

Offices will be smaller. Instead of open-plan rooms full of desks, they will be hubs for meetings and socializing that you visit occasionally, not daily.

Some companies will have no office but occasionally use purpose-built retreats that allow entire companies to fly into a campus for a synchronous week.

Less tied to a regular office location, people will be able to live further away from the office, enjoying the benefits of towns and rural areas over cities; more space, and lower living costs.

They will be able to look further for work, even across national borders, avoiding the traditional upheaval of relocating.

We’ve come a long way…

We’ve come a long way since we hurriedly left the ‘old world’. There’s no going back. We’ve learned too much.

Companies have learned to trust their teams and workers have learned to make the most out of collaboration software.

It would be foolish to unlearn these, and other lessons of the pandemic.

The opportunities we’re sailing to in the new world are enormous. Good collaborators and managers should welcome the fact that we’ve already turned the point of no return.

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