This strange year is almost over and it’s time to start looking forward to 2021 work trends. Usually this exercise turns up a familiar list of evolving workplace technologies, but the coming year will be as defined by the Covid-19 crisis as 2020, albeit in different ways.
Vaccine distribution, rolling lockdowns, and economic recovery will be the defining trends of 2021. The opportunity gap will widen between those businesses who can adapt, and those that can’t. Businesses that enjoy local political and economic stability will have an advantage over those that don’t.
Because of this context, employers will look to remote and global employment solutions to carry them through the year, and workers will seek fundamental benefits like medical, life insurance, and retirement savings.
6 Work Trends that will Define 2021
Who gets vaccinated and when will be a defining trend in 2021. While vaccination has already begun, there are huge gaps in global vaccination capacity, with rich countries far ahead of poorer countries in ordering or producing vaccines. Even in the wealthiest countries, the complicated logistics of vaccine delivery means that it could be the end of the year before 70% of their population is vaccinated. Prioritization will leave many waiting months for their dose.
Depending on the jurisdiction, vaccines may be mandated by government or required by employers. In Canada, it’s unlikely that either government or employers will mandate vaccination. In the United States, there is a path for employers to require vaccination except in cases where it would put the employee at risk. However, it’s more likely that government and business alike will attempt persuasion and incentives to get at least 70% of the population, or their workforce, vaccinated.
In the case of employers, incentives may include returns to work for vaccinated employees or a relaxing of some health guidelines.
The disparities in global healthcare and vaccine capacity mean that we will continue to see outbreaks throughout 2021, and masks, social distancing and even lockdown measures will continue. What regions will be most affected is hard to predict now, because decision makers can make a huge impact on outcomes through smart policy. What is clear, though, is that Covid-19 will still be a major factor in 2021.
Businesses should plan for their operations and that of their partners to be severely and irregularly disrupted by lockdowns. That means creating procedures for opening and closing your office, adapting your business to remote working, and creating flex in your business operations by diversifying your partners and if possible, customers.
If you can run your business fully remote, you’re in luck. If, however, there’s an in-person element of your business that can’t be eliminated, then you should work out procedures now for fully closing, partially closing, and reopening your business. Even if your current status quo doesn’t include a lockdown, that may change in the future.
Diversifying product lines is a proven pandemic business strategy. With so much still in flux, it’s worth pursuing it in 2021. How can your product or service be adapted to new customers? What needs do your clients or customers have now, that they didn’t have before the pandemic. Successfully diversifying is hard work but benefits your bottom line.
Remote work has been steadily increasing for years but 2020 was its tipping point. With so much of the working world having gone remote in response to the pandemic, it will be harder for business leaders to argue against accommodating remote work requests. It will also be harder for leaders to deny that remote work needs to play some role in their workforce strategy – its benefits have been proven, as well as the cost savings it offers.
Moving all or some of your operations remote has provided some of that much needed flexibility to better respond to changing business conditions.
While some leaders doubt the long-term value of remote work, others have taken the plunge into going fully and permanently remote. The solution for your business, whether it’s one or the other or a combination of both remote and in office, will be unique to your organization. If you’re considering taking part or all of your operations remote, check out our complete guide to become a remote first organization.
With more and more companies going part or fully remote, they’re seeing the benefits of globalizing their workforce. I don’t mean outsourcing, which has decreased in some sectors and increased in others, but rather, hiring individual or small teams of remote contractors or employers, from anywhere in the world. Less about savings or efficiency, and more about expanding your talent pool, this trend puts highly qualified workers in competition with people of equal skill, located anywhere.
Expanding your talent pool has clear benefits: you can diversify your workforce quickly by hiring people with very different experiences and backgrounds; you can connect with candidates you were previously forced to overlook because of geographical limitations; and you can build a team that is more resilient to change.
Distributed teams aren’t likely to be impacted by the same local events, meaning they’re less likely to be in quarantine at the same time. They’ll bring different backgrounds and approaches to problem solving, allowing you to respond to customer and client needs with fresh eyes.
So far, I’ve talked a lot about business needs. The next two trends are firmly focused on worker needs. With all the upheaval we experienced in 2020, and will continue to experience in 2021, even the most highly paid, highly qualified workers will put renewed focus on basic benefits. Forget spa packages, cool offices, or boutique work perks – instead put your efforts into creating an offering that provides them with security, safety and assistance.
The rolling lockdowns of 2020 impacted all of us, even those of us who escaped furlough. Money is consistently the most important factor for jobseekers. With so much insecurity, employers can differentiate themselves by offering retirement benefits, stock options and financial wellness perks.
Retirement benefits, either in the form of pensions or registered contribution matches, encourage your employees to consistently save for retirement and help them achieve their goals faster. Stock options are a great way to offer alternative compensation. And financial wellness programs, including resources and advice, help your employees make sound financial decisions.
The combination of these options that makes the most sense for your organization is up to you to explore and discover. Ignore this opportunity to your own disadvantage – just like businesses, few things are more important to candidates than their own bottom line.
Health and Wellness Benefits
Benefits are the only form of compensation or perk that candidates’ rate as highly, or almost as highly, as salary, and the Covid-19 crisis has made health and wellness benefits more important than ever. Many people feel newly vulnerable and are less likely to eschew fundamental health benefits in favour of paramedicals and flex spending.
On the other hand, employees who enjoy good health benefits, either through a universal health program or through their employers, are looking for more coverage, and importantly, more flexible coverage. For these workers, adding a flexible health spending account could be a difference maker.
Closing gaps in health, insurance or wellness benefits is one way that employers can retain staff and attract top candidates.
Our working lives in 2021 will continue to be defined by Covid-19. The challenge for business leaders is to build resilient, responsive organizations that can weather the disruptions, good and bad, that lie ahead.