Who would have predicted that office culture would be such a prominent topic in 2021? There were a lot of tough things about this year, but there were a handful of positives that emerged as well. The attention being paid to the wants and needs of white-collar workers is definitely one of those positives.
Companies are taking a serious look at how they can remain competitive and be more attractive to top talent. Remote work has quickly become one of the most desirable benefits an employer can offer. Currently, it’s estimated that about 16% of companies offer only remote work. Conversely, the global statistic for companies that don’t allow for any remote work is still 44%. 52% are permitted to work from home at least once a week.
If you are an employee who has recently been permitted to start working from home, you already know all of the benefits. It may be a bit harder for C-suite executives to embrace the pros of the hybrid work environment since research has shown employers are much more eager to return to the office than staff. Nevertheless, most companies understand the importance of listening to their team members, and the consequences of ignoring their feedback.
While we can’t say for sure what the knowledge industry will look like in 2022 and beyond, these are some trends that we anticipate to see in the new year.
Hybrid work model
No surprises here. When it comes to where people work, those who are able to operate remotely will likely be given the option to continue doing so, at least part of the time. There will be offices that follow a centralized workplace model, and those that don’t keep any office space at all. However, the majority of organizations are expected to take a hybrid approach.
Organizations are getting used to the idea of hybrid models as a long-term arrangement. This type of model allows companies to scale back on space, or maintain their current lease while continuing to grow the company.
Hybrid structures will range from a hot-desking or desk booking system, to relying on co-working spaces and serviced meeting rooms to support the needs of their workforce.
AI and automation will explode over the next few years. The good news is this change will lead to the creation of millions of new jobs. The less good news is that people will need to learn new skills since their existing jobs may be displaced by AI. But, lifelong learning is a positive thing, and it never hurts to acquire new skills.
Initially, AI will be used to automate repetitive, tedious tasks that workers are currently expected to complete. This will allow employees to focus on projects that require human intelligence (creative and high-level strategy work). Down the road, technology will be able to predict and warn companies of issues before they occur, and may offer suggestions to make employees more productive and efficient.
Genuine concern for employee wellness
Employers are acknowledging the critical importance of having employee healthcare and wellbeing programs and resources available. Companies can’t just say that they care about their staff; that won’t cut it anymore. Real steps must be taken to create a supportive and healthy work environment. Many managers are devoting time and money to improve their team’s physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. Ensuring staff are healthy enough to keep a business running is imperative to the long-term success of any company. But now, employers are also thinking about implementing processes that are more flexible, with built-in redundancies in case someone leaves or an emergency occurs. These processes are expected to be adopted by more companies as 2022 progresses.
One challenge with trying to support employees’ mental and physical health is finding the balance between making a real difference and being overly intrusive or invasive. Managers should promote resources and encourage employees to use whatever tools they need, without forcing anyone to share sensitive information.
Hiring based on skills
Have you ever read a job description and thought, “who could possibly take on this role? This is a job for three people.” It might finally be time for companies to change the way that they hire. Instead of hiring based on roles, which group unrelated skills, some businesses will be focusing on attracting people with the skills needed to fuel the organization’s success.
Skills are critical because they can resolve a company’s core challenges. Conversely, roles describe the way individual members relate to the overarching organizational structure of the company. By focusing on skills, employers are better able to solve problems and answer core business questions. As a result, they are more likely to succeed.
This is a good time for workers to strengthen their best skills. Employees can capitalize on new career opportunities if they can market their talents and make themselves stand out from other candidates who are still focusing on job titles.
Sensors, tracking and analytics
Though controversial, research shows that employers are investing in technology that monitors and tracks the behaviour of employees in order to drive efficiency. These tools allow businesses to monitor remote workers. Of course, staff won’t stick around if they feel as though management is micromanaging (think smart cushions that detect when someone is in their seat). Constantly surveilling staff will create a very unhappy work environment.
However, this type of tech can provide broad oversights into workforce behaviour and help employers and employees identify strengths and weak spots.
Sensors are also being used to help with organization and employee wellness. Sensors are practical and versatile, and can be applied to almost any workspace. The most basic sensors use a technology called a passive infrared (PIR) sensor. This is the same type of sensor used in motion detection equipment. PIR sensors activate when a measurable change has occurred in the office or at a workstation. That could mean lights are switched on when an employee first enters the office, or a desk is marked as occupied on a workplace management software system when someone sits down.
Sensor technology will likely gain popularity in the years to come due to its versatility and increasing affordability.
Finally, analytics will become increasingly important to the success of all companies. Accurate analytics are important because they help companies optimize operations and performance. Data tells employers what has happened, what will happen, and what to do next. If used property, managers can harness the powers of analytics to make better decisions for the company.
That being said, any investments made in data must be done strategically; managers won’t get the results they expect if they track numbers just for the sake of having them. Company leaders are advised to start small and focus on high-priority datasets first. From there, they can develop a process for prioritizing and gathering data, and let the database grow incrementally.
January always brings opportunities for change. Workplaces may use this time to implement new processes, technology or strategies.
The knowledge industry has transformed significantly since 2019, and we expect to see more changes now that attitudes and expectations have shifted. Employees are seeing changes that positively impact their work performance as well as their personal lives. Companies that create healthy, sustainable work environments will continue to thrive and excel as the workforce figures out its new normal.