Vicky Skipp is the Head of Asia Pacific and Japan at Workplace by Facebook. In this piece, she shares her thoughts on what the workplace might look like in 2021.
No one could have predicted the events that completely transformed Australian workplaces in 2020. No other year has seen such accelerated change to how we work, where we work and how we keep connected.
While we have celebrated the increased flexibility in our working life, many employees also rejoiced at returning to the office to connect in real life with colleagues. 2021 will see hybrid work structures become the norm and communication strategies will need to evolve in order to effectively communicate with employees working remotely, in headquarters or on the front-line. Here are my 5 predictions for the future of work in Australian organisations in 2021.
Prediction 1: Frontline workers will be at the centre of decision-making with “career frontliners” being the norm.
This is no exception for frontline workers who, today, are the most exposed yet the least connected despite having the closest touchpoints to a company’s customers. Additionally, as already-seasoned remote workers, they will have a larger and more dominant role in a company’s overall decision making and strategy. In fact, frontline worker upskilling or, in other words, developing a clear path for “career frontliners” will also be of utmost importance.
Companies will want to reduce turnover and foster their employees so they can grow in their role and stay in the company, turning what was previously a “temporary” job into a career. They will want to achieve this by showing frontline workers potential career paths in the company and recognising their performance and value. Equally we’ll see more tools & features created for frontline workers, whether helping them learn the skills they need to grow, or helping them with everyday tasks like shift swapping.
Prediction 2: Health and wellbeing will be the new corporate KPI.
Competitive benefits will look completely different in 2021. With in-office perks a thing of the past, companies will have to work a lot harder to keep employees and ensure that they feel a sense of purpose. Meaningfulness is an important contributor to job satisfaction, influenced by the extent to which people feel their work has an impact beyond the organisation. Companies will focus on what motivates people and how to align the individual need for purpose and self-fulfillment with the company’s goals. In addition, a perfect storm of factors will cause executive leadership to take a hard look at their employee benefits in 2021: employees remaining remote for the majority of the year, mental health in the workplace stepping into the limelight, and increased competition as the economy picks back up. Where companies used to lean on their CBD office locations or in-office perks start to see employee attention turning to benefits like subsidised therapy sessions, flexibility for working parents and freedom to work from wherever they please – many companies will need to go back to the drawing board to ensure their policies match what their people want. And, a new important work relationship will emerge: the tribe.
Today’s workforce is incredibly engaged and craves coming together around common purposes or work. The prevailing notion of community at work will give way to tribes, or groups that are united around a common goal, which will drive even more defined culture within organisations. Employers will need to be prepared to facilitate this shift, and provide a social safety net for employees, especially as many struggle with mental health challenges that surfaced during 2020.
And, this doesn’t just stop at the employee level. A new study put out by Oracle in partnership with research firm Workplace Intelligence surveyed over 12,000 workers in eleven countries, with over 3,100 being C-suite executives. The findings further confirm the inevitable: executives are suffering from mental health issues along with the rest of us. With 71 per cent of executives saying that this was the most stressful work year and 53 per cent stating that they’ve struggled with mental health issues at work. There is a strong link between employee well-being and organisational profitability. Companies of the future will actively work to promote this link, with more focus on job satisfaction, worker health, sustainability, work-life balance and flexible work arrangements.
Prediction 3: AR/VR becomes more widely accepted and adopted.
CCS Insights says that by 2025, over half of medium and large businesses in advanced economies will adopt extended reality solutions. In fact, PwC says VR and AR have the potential to add $1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030. We think this may actually come sooner than we expect. AR/VR was on the backburner but adoption has been accelerated since the pandemic. Freed from the limitations of physical space, VR will offer a better way to surf the web, get more done, and collaborate across distance. We will undoubtedly start to see increased comfort across every industry with AR, VR and more as in-person contact remains limited. Humans crave the in-person experience, yet networking events and on-the-job training are still a long way away from returning to in-person. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, 54 per cent of employees of large organisations would need significant re- and up-skilling to harness fully the growth opportunities of their organisation. Organisations will focus on providing tools and systems that help with knowledge transfer turning into a form of education institution. VR will make costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations not only possible but immediately within reach and shareable across distance. Companies are more connected, teams more productive, and training and onboarding more effective – even when employees are distributed. Employees starting jobs without ever having been to the office will become normal. Beyond the limits of today’s technology like phones and laptops, we’ll deliver infinite displays and a real sense of presence, so people will be able to work from anywhere. As a result, startups and corporations alike will continue chipping away at creating ephemeral experiences from afar – leaning heavily on AR/VR to do so. As the desire for intimate connection persists, AR and VR will cut down on the emotional and cognitive tax that comes from today’s standard video meeting, by reintroducing contextual tone and nuance.
Prediction 4: Location will not matter anymore and we will see a significant narrowing of the digital divide.
We’re moving towards a large portion of jobs becoming location-agnostic, meaning a large portion of the global workforce will wean off of major cities, stretching out where their money can go further. Facebook predicted that over half of our workforce will be fully remote within the next ten years, and we think the majority of office jobs will mirror about the same – flexibility from employers permitting. Today geographically distributed teams are the exception. Within the next few years, they’ll become the norm. Expect companies with 1 or 2 main offices to split into 4 or 5 smaller ones, and expect a greater share of employees to work remotely several days a week or even permanently. Remote work at scale can help spread economic opportunity by creating equal opportunities everywhere and ease local pressures – as well as increasing diversity and helping attract and retain the best talent. Over the past few decades, economic growth was concentrated in a handful of metropolitan centres with major companies hiring in the most expensive and competitive locations in the world. Having more people more spread out means we can keep investing in communities while reducing our impact on housing, transportation and the environment. In the next 3-5 years, we will also see more investments made in connectivity infrastructure to make the future of work a reality for everyone.
Prediction 5: Over the next year, more companies than ever will rely on automation technology to perform their work so they can focus on what matters most: its people.
Automation is not about replacing jobs, it’s about enhancing them. In the working world, it means things like – use of bot technology to swap shifts, file tickets, send and sign important documents, safely and seamlessly without having to rely on employees performing often mundane tasks. As such, automation will shift an organisation’s focus to what matters most – fostering culture and ensuring its people are happy. CCS Insights anticipates a wave of products that will improve the so-called “home-working last mile”. This becomes more and more important as a large majority of the world shifts to long-term remote work. The companies that invest in the right technology and have gotten this right will see their culture improve and employee loyalty increase as they work harder than ever to look after their people.
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