Nest Egg: Workplace changes in 2021: Are you ready? - Michelle Gibbings

2020 was a certainly a year like never before and in this article for Nest Egg, Michelle writes about the changes that are coming to the workplace. Are you ready for these changes?

2020 was a year like no other, with businesses adapting and workplaces changing in a manner and speed never seen before. So, what will 2021 bring?

COVID-19 will have a long tail, and so while restrictions are easing, there is still uncertainty and adjustment. Sustainable success requires the simultaneous focus on the present and the future.

Embrace the best of both worlds
Before COVID, close to 50 per cent of the workforce had never worked from home before. While for those that had, they typically only did so one day a week. Bosses, who were sceptical of the workability of working from home (WFH) , saw its benefits. Atlassian’s global research found that the experience for Australian workers was predominantly positive, but they were missing the energy of the office.

Workplace 2021 will be a hybrid with businesses and employees seeking to retain the best of both worlds.

Employees with a positive WFH experience will be leading the charge for it to remain. Businesses will want to take stock by examining their operations and workforce to determine the best options by role and for key processes. Not everything can be done remotely or executed as effectively remotely. It is helpful to identify where face-to-face is more productive, and where remote will work just as effectively.

In the workplace, strict requirements around a COVID-safe environment will continue for the foreseeable future, and all businesses will need to regularly review and update their COVID-safe workplans. Consequently, hot desking and overcrowded workspaces are out. Instead, there will be staggered start and finish times, more regular cleaning, and restrictions on communal facilities and gatherings.

Continue to upskill technology
Online collaboration and virtual meetings are here to stay, too. While there are times when meetings and events achieve better outcomes when people are in the same room, the attraction of less travel, less time sitting in airport lounges and reduced expenses will encourage businesses to be selective and deliberate about how they run and attend meetings and events.

To support this move, there will continue to be investment in appropriate technology and platforms. Businesses will want to continue to identify and address any technology gaps or process inefficiencies that inhibit remote working and remote collaboration.

Global market opens up
Many organisations are now using the term ‘work from anywhere’, signifying that the traditional model of sourcing employees who are willing to be locally based or travel frequently has shifted. This opens organisations to a broader talent pool and opens employees to a broader employment market.

Employees will no longer be geographically hamstrung from applying for roles that are based overseas. Employers will more easily cast a global net when hiring as the cost to hire internationally reduces when relocation costs are no longer a factor.

Diversity rises
The debate about the benefits of diversity is over, as the evidence of its advantages are overwhelming. There is increasing recognition and acceptance that diverse teams make better decisions and lead to more creative outcomes. This is diversity in all its shapes and forms.

Organisations – big and small – will need to continue to analyse and address the systemic and implicit bias that exists, which makes it harder for people from diverse backgrounds to progress and succeed.

Healthy workplaces essential
Creating a healthy workplace is no longer purely about physical safety, but psychological safety. A psychologically safe workplace is one where employees are comfortable to share what is working or not working for them and how they are feeling.

As professor Amy Edmondson noted: “Psychological safety isn’t about being nice. It’s about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other”. It is knowing your team won’t embarrass, reject or punish you, and where the team trusts and respects each other. Having these elements in place enables employees to come to work and be their authentic self.

As organisations, workplaces and employees continue to navigate an uncertain and challenging environment, issues will arise, and so too will stress levels. Throughout this period, the crucial role leaders play in supporting and leading their team continues. It helps if leaders are open with their team about their pressure points and how they manage stress, as well as understand the specific needs of their team members.

So long 2020, and here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2021.

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and author.

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