It may be a new year, but the same workplace challenges (and opportunities) presented in 2020 remain active and more influential than ever. Businesses of all sizes have adapted significantly to the new expectations, ranging from office space transitions to employee engagement to technology adoption. 

To help you better understand what workplace environment trends may affect your business in 2021, we put together a guide below with our observations and insights. If you have any questions about how to implement these changes for your business, please get in touch with us

Office space trends 

Two-thirds of companies expect to continue to support remote work for the long-term, while almost half expect to reduce their physical footprint due to the changes from COVID-19. This brings new office space trends to embrace this year. 

Companies should leverage physical real estate as a business tool, coming together for events like celebrations, critical project collaboration and in-person meetings. This is important especially for those employees who are still getting used to working remotely and missing in-person interactions. 

Gone are the days where every employee has a dedicated space for the duration of their employment. Instead, office spaces will now be used for coworking spaces or temporary brainstorm areas. With this shift in the office space perception, companies must be transparent and upfront to employees about what the office space is now used for. It may be challenging at first to break the traditional perception of personal cubicles or desks, but once your workforce is aligned, it will be an opportunity for engagement and growth. 

Lastly, we have seen an increase in business relocations and downsizing due to the transition into a mostly remote workplace. Relocation management will be crucial for companies this year as they develop plans to reduce physical space, rearrange existing office furniture, and strategize uses for their new space.  

Corporate culture trends

This year, employee engagement has fluctuated more than ever amid the pandemic uncertainty, political tension and social unrest. Gallup reported engagement levels peaked in May and July around 40%, but dropped to 31% in June. It is now back up to pre-COVID levels at around 35%. 

The peaks in engagement can be attributed to the newfound freedom and independence that remote work has brought. One study found employees who work remotely see more positive effects on their work, are more engaged, and feel better compared to those in non-remote jobs with little flexibility. 

Employee flexibility will continue to be a significant corporate culture trend in 2021. Employers should continue offering employees the chance to establish their own work-life balance based on business needs and team dynamics. This will help empower employees to take control of their schedule and expectations. 

Some employees may fear culture erosion, worried that relationships and morale cannot thrive without a physical office space. To combat this, companies should make an effort to foster internal culture, connecting employees with managers through 1:1 conversations, routine check-ins, progress reports and other established meetings. The goal is to reinforce the message that employees do not have to be in the office in order to feel included and recognized, and that the structure once found in a physical space can be translated virtually as well. 

Behavioral trends 

Behavioral changes in the workplace will also influence internal culture and employee experience. The biggest driver for positive behavior is building trust. Companies must build trust with those remote or hybrid employees, acknowledging their contributions to the company even if they are not in the physical space. Employees will require training and guidance to adapt the new mindset required for both space and operational changes, including manager support to minimize gaps in communications on performance and expectations. Transparency is another critical behavioral component in which leadership teams must abide by. Be open with your employees about the new processes in place and the reason for the change, so employees feel that their access to resources and information have not been sacrificed and remain as equal of an opportunity, as when they were in the office. 

Lastly, organizations will be evaluating their diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and now more than ever, from the lens of establishing new and equal opportunities – no matter the place of work. Specifically, how will organizations create and maintain equal opportunities throughout the employee lifecycle – recruitment, onboarding, performance management, development and engagement. Fortunately, with the widespread adoption of virtual work, companies will be able to expand their candidate pool across the country or world when hiring new employees, to achieve diversity goals. 

Technology trends

With the major shifts in the workplace, changes in the technological landscape have also quickly adapted to fit our new needs. With almost 42% of the American workforce continuing to work from home, there is a greater risk for cybersecurity attacks and data breaches due to employees working from unsecured networks. That’s why there will be a huge push for more security initiatives that technology can solve. 

Additionally, technology trends in business point to creating ease of access to information for all employees. As mentioned above, companies must lead with trust and transparency, which also means creating equitable access to information which can be achieved through new technology workflows. 

Technology can also be leveraged to unite employees through digital experiences. Companies can use new digital tools in order to reach employees in a synchronized way and capture attention that goes beyond emails. To sustain team culture, new platforms can be implemented to connect teams together for both work and fun, however, proper training and preparation will be influential in encouraging active participation and speed of adoption. 

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to assess existing workplace technologies and evaluate new requirements as we realize they are no longer a daily commodity, but a necessity. 

Pulling it all together 

The COVID-19 life is no longer the “new normal” as we’ve now adapted and embraced the new lifestyle for almost a year. It’s time for you to evaluate the short-term business plans you put into action last year and consider how these can be advanced for the long-term into 2021. KGO is a strategic partner and we would be happy to share how we have helped organizations develop strategic plans for optimal real estate solutions and ways to engage staff moving forward.