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2021 – The Office Year in Review

After an interesting 2021 given the global pandemic and changing nature of the workspace, we can now look back on all the trends we saw throughout the year. Wellbeing has warranted a lot of attention given the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year we have seen many organisations, individuals and teams have all introduced their forms of wellbeing practices to improve employee engagement. 

Innovative solutions were created to ensure teams worked together to connect and collaborate throughout lockdowns, so everyone felt supported and productive. These times were crucial for individuals to come together and create a support network while working remotely. 

One major shift this past year was organisations considered wellbeing more seriously by implementing measures to prevent burnout (team zoom or game nights etc.) Bringing all these wellbeing tactics together ensured that staff survived the lockdowns and came back to the office with minimal disruption. There are four distinct areas we saw trends in 2021; remote work, workplace wellness, workplace flexibility and learning trends. 

Remote Work 

The pandemic forced many people to work remotely last year, and this past year was no different. Globalisation and the rise in technology allowed for employees to still connect. Remote and Hyrbid work had been on the rise before the global pandemic, however, the resulting lockdowns meant many more businesses were pushed to make it the norm. Remote work offers employees benefits like flexibility and reduced commuting to the offices. We saw higher productivity rates from employees and fewer sick days taken worldwide. 

Remote working allowed organisations who were hesitant about working from home or hybrid models to have evidence of the productivity of these models. A study by McKinsey predicts that in the next few years three times as many professionals will be working remotely at least part of the working week. Hybrid models are being favoured by many companies as experts predict that staff will work remotely with one or two days of on-site work. 

With remote work, comes virtual team-building exercises. With many companies implementing remote work conditions or moving to hybrid models, there is a growing need for more online team building services. This was one of the fastest-growing trends – companies turned to activities like online murder mysteries, Zoom happy hours or virtual trivia to keep employees engaged and connected. 

With many professional workplaces, people have busy schedules and don’t always link with everyone, meaning many gatherings may have been missed throughout their time at the company. Virtual events also don’t have the hassle of travelling or parking, required dress codes (at least not on their bottom half) and you have the luxury of seeing a pet or two. For introverts, this means that they can click off when they get overwhelmed and already be home, or parents or pet owners who are wary of leaving their pets and kids alone for too long. 

Workplace Wellness

It’s been a difficult year for many as is evident in the rise of anxiety and depression rates, unhelped by the stress of a pandemic. The implementation of boundaries and schedules with remote work was a solution many companies encouraged in their staff to avoid burnout and other adverse reactions to lowered mental health from outside stressors. 

This past year we’ve seen employees prioritise self-care and wellness as they continue to work from home, and employers invest in programs like meditation classes and stress management for their returning employees. 

As the shift to virtual workplaces continues, company culture is a consideration that companies are looking to maintain in a different capacity than it ever has been done before. Businesses now need to create the priority to dedicate time for the development of the culture and employee engagement. Hosting online meetings, networking opportunities and team-building exercises were some of the ways that companies kept up their communication and engagement with employees. 

By late March of 2020, 68 per cent of organisations globally had introduced at least one new mental health based benefit to aid employees working from home during the lockdowns. The de-stigmatisation of mental health has been expanded by the various mental health benefit offerings now available. This is expected to continue in 2022 to more extensive benefits – e.g. full company shutdowns for mental health days and access to counselling. 

Workplace Flexibility

With so many shifting to remote work through 2020 and 2021, employees suddenly had the freedom to choose their working schedules. They could create routines better suited to their working styles – regardless of whether they’re a night owl or a morning bird they could work in the hours they focus the best. 

With virtual work, there is little reason for the entire staff to have identical work hours, except for virtual meetings. This shift allowed people to work whenever it suited them and without sacrificing productivity. The 9 to 5 is becoming a thing of the past for some companies. Many are implementing a blocking system, this is where companies block out mandatory times for on-site or online training or meeting sessions. 

Learning Trends

One of the emerging trends we’ve seen is the shift for education and training to be provided by employers to keep staff at the top of their game. A LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report from 2019 found that 94 per cent of employees would stay at their jobs longer if they were provided training and development opportunities. Upskilling and professional development have been moved to the top priorities for workplace development. As remote work increases, as does virtual learning. This is more convenient for employees as they can do online modules and watch training videos in their own time, while still maintaining their normal amount of work. 

The demand for retraining and upskilling has been growing for years, and now has been boosted by the virtual learning programs that have appeared. According to Deloitte, the most in-demand skills for the next decade will be AI, machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity, blockchain etc. All things that employees will need to be trained to gain these skills. Retraining and upskilling workers became essential for employers to keep their staff and give continuous learning and professional development.

These trends we’ve seen in the past year will only increase and emerge into new work conditions for employees and employers alike in 2022. If you’re interested in hearing more about workplace trends and what the future of work is going to be, sign up for our newsletter here. 

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