In every segment of the economy, from schools and nonprofit organizations to professional services and tech companies, the understanding of where people can and should work has shifted dramatically. Unless Elon Musk invents a time machine, workers will never go back to the office at the same levels as before COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, only 5 percent of the American workforce worked from home full-time; during the pandemic, that number jumped to 26 percent, with many other employees reporting they worked “mostly” from home, according to Gallup. Thanks to lower commuting costs, time savings, and improved family bonds, a good chunk of workers now want to work remotely forever. This will have far-reaching implications for 2021 and beyond, especially for managers, recruiters, conferences, and events.
Here are my predictions for how the world of work will look in 2021:
Prediction No. 1: At Least 20 Percent of Workers Will Work From Home at Least One Day a Week
Even when the pandemic is no longer a factor, I believe the percentage of employees working from home full-time will at least double to 10 percent during the next few years. More importantly, an even higher percentage of employees — at least 20 percent — will work from home at least one day a week.
This massive shift will affect the way managers lead teams, how recruiting and onboarding are conducted, and where people meet to socialize. This, in turn, will spur rapid growth for new technologies designed to facilitate the new normal of the work world.
Prediction No. 2: Managers Across Organizations Will Implement Better Tools and Techniques to Lead Remote Workers Effectively
New remote work arrangements in all companies will make it impossible to “manage by walking around.” Managers dedicated to the old-school methods will fail to manage well before calling for their employees’ return to the office. When their most talented people refuse to waste time and money commuting, managers will have no choice but to adapt to the new realities of managing — or be pushed aside by the managers who have already adapted.
Fully remote companies already existed before the pandemic, and they have plenty of experience managing people and processes without physical offices. Employers looking for examples of successfully making this shift should spend a few minutes with GitLab’s famous employee handbook to get a feel for what successful remote management looks like.
Prediction No. 3: Recruiters Will Urge Companies to Showcase Their Cultures Externally, and HR Will lead the Effort to Build Employee Relationships in a Remote World
Recruiters and HR pros will also need to change the way they work. Considering how important culture and lifestyle are to today’s younger workers, recruiters will need to find ways to show off their company cultures to candidates at all stages of the hiring process. Once employees are hired and working remotely from anywhere in the world, it will become imperative for HR teams to get them connected with their teammates, leaders, and support staff.
Virtual communities and virtual socializing technologies are going to become even more vital to company success in a remote world. In an office setting, employees can easily interact with their bosses and coworkers. With much of the world working remotely, organizations will have to actively create opportunities for remote team members to interact both casually and formally.
Prediction No. 4: Events, Conferences, and the Sales Activities That Go Along With Them Will Permanently Shift to Virtual Venues
Recruiters and HR pros won’t be the only ones who have to worry about remote relationship-building. The enormous time and financial costs of conferences and events have been exposed, and companies will keep those savings. Marketing and sales budgets for travel will be reduced as event and conference sessions switch to virtual, asynchronous consumption at the remote attendee’s convenience.
While virtual events may be more efficient in some ways, drawing attendees to sessions will require a more intentional effort without the spontaneity of in-person events. There will need to be ways for people to meet, connect, and deepen relationships virtually.
There will also be a transition on the sales front. Over the years, sales has been shifting from entirely in person to telephone- and email-based. This shift will be further accelerated in 2021. Today, making a sale is about catching the customer at the right point in their purchase process. More touches more often, powered by virtual meetings and social events, can drive an even higher return on investment.
Prediction No. 5: New Ways of Socializing Virtually Will Emerge, Powered by New Technologies
All of the aforementioned trends combined will create significant changes in the ways we work, and companies — like my own — are already researching how to keep remote workforces engaged. These companies are using their findings to create new technologies designed to build engagement and ensure online interactions are more like real-life ones.
I predict this technology will focus on helping people create online presences and enabling the expression of social signals and cues in virtual environments. As companies create technologies that allow virtual interactions to mirror in-person communication, we will see new standards set for remote communication.
While 2020 was no ordinary year, it’s clear that 2021 is going to bring a whole host of changes to the working world. Those who understand the trends and adjust accordingly will gain a competitive advantage, while those wishing for the world of the past to return will only languish. Which side of history do you want to be on?
Ed Stevens is founder and CEO of Preciate.