Well, it’s been a very challenging and strange old year, hasn’t it? In some ways, it feels like it has really dragged on, yet it only seems like two minutes since last Christmas! You may have been fortunate and realised new career opportunities during the pandemic, or perhaps the worst has happened, and you have found yourself facing redundancy.

The future of work in 2021

As we reflect and wrap up 2020, I thought it would be interesting to look at how a new decade and a post-COVID workplace may differ to the ‘old normal’.

1. Wellbeing

2020 has put a significant strain on our mental health and stalled many career progression plans. As we move into 2021, HR teams and line managers will have a huge role to play in helping employees cope with the impact of the pandemic, as well as supporting those who begin to return to work after furlough.

Many companies have relaxed their rules surrounding working hours to allow employees to juggle work, home, schooling, isolation periods and exercise. Numerous surveys have been carried out, which suggest that many people are reluctant to go back to the standard ‘9 to 5’ and see the long-term benefits of variable working arrangements.

Wellbeing is a hot topic with businesses, and it looks set to stay that way as we continue to strive for that all-important work-life balance.

2. Flexibility

There’s been widespread adoption of virtual meeting tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams due to the pandemic. This has enabled people to ‘see’ their colleagues and customers on a regular basis, thereby strengthening connections and helping to combat feelings of isolation. Although many people will be looking forward to seeing their co-workers face-to-face at last, moving forward, a blended approach to meetings is likely to be adopted by many companies.

Coupled with variable working arrangements, this blended approach to meetings will increase flexibility and could have enormous benefits, especially for women who are more likely to compromise their careers to accommodate the needs of their families. More often than not, women don’t want to take a career break, but it’s sometimes been the only option due to the historical inflexibility of many roles.

3. The physical workplace

A rise in hub and ‘conference’ offices is expected as businesses review their physical workspaces. Office buildings may become a place to gather for meetings, whilst focussed work is done remotely. This will be appealing to organisations seeking to reduce their facility overheads.

Elements of managing the pandemic may become commonplace, with desks left socially distanced, and sanitisers and wipes the norm.

4. Training

Organisations have had to adapt to challenging circumstances and training has undoubtedly taken a back seat during the last nine months. Losing middle management roles during necessary reorganisations has also led to a wealth of experience and skills being removed from the workplace. In uncertain times, strong leadership and management skills aren’t just important; they are critical. Businesses that recognise this and begin to invest in relevant training will emerge from COVID-19 stronger than those who don’t.

With homeworking staying for the foreseeable future, organisations need to look at upskilling their line managers. Managing homeworking teams requires an atmosphere of trust and understanding, and a unique set of managerial skills will be needed to achieve this.

5. The role of freelancers

As businesses slowly recover from the global pandemic, they are likely to be hesitant when it comes to recruiting permanent positions. More organisations will see the benefit of hiring freelancers to fill the skills gaps they may have in their teams. This will enable businesses to obtain the on-demand workforce they require in order to achieve their goals, without putting too much strain on the precious bottom line.

So, as you can see, whilst we all get ready for a much-needed break following a year of unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, we can also look forward to a year of new approaches and opportunities to do things differently.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for your support in 2020 and wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy new year.