The pandemic didn't create any new trends in the world of work. It only accelerated the ones already underway.
When the world first went into the lockdown, it was a severe blow to the five-day, 9-5 routine that had been the norm for over a century. But the cracks in the traditional workday had already been visible for quite some time. Flexibility was trickling down into the corporate culture across industries. But as COVID-19 hit and leaders realized that remote work doesn't affect productivity, the floodgates of flexibility are wide open now.
2020 also shone a new light on the simmering mental health crisis among working people. Burnout reached new levels, especially among frontline staff, health workers, and people working from home. Companies can't afford to keep mental well-being at the backburner anymore. We've also seen a shift from mechanical performance assessment to employee development. Better, AI-driven HR tech is helping human resources put people at the center stage of business.
But the most significant trend of all will be what Thomas Friedman of New York Times calls "dynamic stability." Instead of trying to build a wall against the hurricane of change, Friedman asks leaders to "build an eye that moves with the storm, draws energy from it, but creates a platform of dynamic stability within it."
Companies are ready to get people back to in-person workplaces. But people aren't. An SHRM research said that 70 percent of people would prefer to work remotely full-time or part-time if given the option, and 35 percent would take a salary reduction to have that flexibility. And if companies don't provide them that flexibility, they are ready to quit and join those who do.
Hybrid work is here to stay in 2021 and beyond. The return to the workplace is an opportunity for companies to create new, more influential people policies that work for companies and the people. Many companies have already announced policies allowing people to work from anywhere in the future. You will need to start designing hybrid arrangements that work for your company and people today because there's no returning to the office like it used to.
During the pandemic, the blurring of lines between work and life affected people's mental health significantly. Research has found widespread anxiety, chronic stress, and burnout among employees. These findings have led companies to offer mental well-being support for their people. According to Gartner, 68% of companies introduced at least one new wellness benefit during the pandemic.
And this is not just another trend. It's a moral and ethical duty for companies to take care of their people's well-being. We see companies embed health policies in their values, counter the stigma, and increase communication about mental health.
Development > Assessment
In a pre-pandemic Gallup survey, only 14% of employees said that performance reviews inspire them to improve their performance. Traditional performance management focuses too much on the transactional aspects and very little on the development. Recently, companies have started moving towards the development aspect. Deloitte, Microsoft, even GE have dropped the transactional grading of employees based on performance. We believe this trend will only intensify going forward as companies introduce more automation to the workplace, freeing people of routine tasks for more human-centric roles.
The increased role of HR
Business leaders navigated the challenges during the pandemic with dynamic work models and working hand-in-hand with people and HR leaders. These new work models require companies to see employees as people, not just workers. Managers turned to HR to help turn companies more human by inspiring, coaching, and creating a delightful employee experience despite the hardships.
People and HR leaders will have only more on their plates in the future as companies get more automation inside workplaces, new roles and responsibilities emerge, and cultural debates get more fierce. And during the pandemic, managers will keep depending on them to navigate these new dynamics.
AI-powered HR tech
Before the pandemic, a McKinsey survey found that HR departments spent 60% of their time on operational and transactional activities despite all the technological advances. AI and machine learning are going to change this. In 2020, remote work and the talent crunch paved the way for the rapid roll-out of AI into recruiting, performance management, and learning and development systems. In 2021, we will see more and more of it inside HR tech as these predictive systems become better and more mature.
DEI as a competitive advantage
As the Black Lives Matter movement spread across the US in 2020, more people started conversations on inequality and discrimination. People have been urging companies to create a more diverse and inclusive work culture for years now. But the talent crunch during the pandemic forced leaders to act fast and embrace diversity as a competitive advantage to attract and retain people.
Today, it's not just employees asking for inclusion. Customers, investors, and boards are also demanding action. And there's a business case too: A McKinsey survey found that companies with diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profits. These factors have led leaders to examine unconscious biases and look for ways to include different voices in their decision-making. Moving ahead, they need to turn their intentions into action and deliver results. Only companies with a proven track record in DEI will be able to win top talent.
Today, people want to work for companies where the cultural values align with their own. Gartner's research revealed that 87% of employees want their companies to participate in the cultural discussions of the day. People now look at companies' stances on climate change, inequality, and sustainability before joining them. This trend means leaders have to respond to these issues to attract and retain people with their companies.
2020 upended rigid practices, existing plans, and even entire business models. As more people get the vaccines, companies have started to find their feet again, but they need to stay watchful. The trends we've seen so far are not the only ones coming out of the largest experiment in the way we work. We will see many new ones as we move into 2021 and beyond. The best way to navigate all of that uncertainty and manage upcoming challenges will be to adopt Friedman's "dynamic stability."
Want to stay on top of the changes? You need to have a platform that helps you listen to employees' voices in real-time and solve problems as they arise. With Mesh eNPS and Pulse Checks, you get to-the-minute insights about your people and help them stay engaged, productive, and happy. Book a demo today.