5 key insights into the workplace of 2021

The Mindspa Institute’s Elmarie Pretorius forecasts what lies ahead at work.

The year 2020 was branded as one of the worst in history, but we are not out of the woods yet! The workplace is still changing.

The current health crisis hugely affected people’s needs and their focus, both as consumers and as employees. It has been surprising to see how swiftly companies adapted and changed . Despite all the turbulent challenges the pandemic brought with it, it also opened doors to creative thinking and problem-solving, more flexible workplaces, a focus shift to human wellbeing, and an emphasis on the importance of skills development. This confirms what Peter Drucker said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday's logic.”

The Mindspa Institute’s Elmarie Pretorius says these are the five key insights business leaders and their teams need to consider, to propel business impact, to develop their skills, create awareness of employees' mental and emotional wellness, as well as to instil adaptability and flexibility.

  1. Employees expect more from their employers

Employees are demanding support, understanding and involvement from their employers. In 2021 they will want their business leaders to shift their focus from mainly increasing revenue to caring for and investing in their staff. Companies will have to move away from a collective to a more personalised approach. Employees will expect their companies to create meaningful future employee experiences.

Employees will also expect technical backing. Because a vast number of employees work remotely now, they require their employers to assist them with resources. This means setting up their “remote office” with the hardware, software, data, and tools they need to fulfil their job responsibilities remotely.

The Covid-19 crisis, the environment screaming for help, the focus on femicide and gender-based violence, and movements like Black Lives Matter sparked some new interests and feelings among people during 2020. This revealed a massive need for companies to become more diverse and invest in their overall social responsibility.

During 2021 employees will hold their employers more accountable for things like creating an ethical workplace, establishing a diverse and inclusive work environment, as well as caring for the environment and communities.

  1. High demand for continuous skills development

Professional growth stagnated in 2020. Companies focused so much on their Covid-19 recovery plan that they left learning and skills development in limbo. This left their employees frustrated, unengaged and created a huge lack of motivation, ultimately resulting in unproductive and underperforming workers.

Employees across all levels of the organisational hierarchy will look to their employers to invest in both their hard and soft skills development. For managers and team leaders, the tricky part will be the upskilling in managing remote teams, monitoring and evaluating performance levels of teams, conducting disciplinary hearings and procedures remotely, and keeping teams engaged, motivated, and inspired. Employers will be required to continually upskill their emotional intelligence and create virtual wellness programmes for the workplace.

Training needs for employees who work remotely are different. They rely heavily on guidance, motivation and skills training to deal with all the challenges they face while working remotely. Things like virtual meeting etiquette, business writing, effective communication, workplace wellness, time, and stress management all form part of continuous skills training employees require to function optimally and productively. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness and emotional health skills training will also contribute greatly towards being more positive and focused.

With The Mindspa Institute’s course variety, both management, teams and the individual employees can regularly upskill. Courses can be customised to cater to specific needs of any company in any industry. They follow a blended approach which enables anyone who needs to attend the training to be presented via Zoom. A trained “live” facilitator entertains and interacts while developing the skills of employees and management teams. Practical exercises and electronic manuals all give the delegates something to refer to once the training is completed.

  1. Flexibility and adaptability will be a skills requirement

Although the job market is volatile and jobs are scarce, there are still job surges in industries that are booming because of the pandemic, or who reinvented themselves to thrive despite the situation. Job candidates who had skills traits such as resilience, agility, flexibility, self-discipline, were self-aware, eager to learn and were able to adapt to the rapid changes within workplaces, will be among the most sought-after candidates this year.

To put it bluntly, any employee who is not open to continuous learning or is not flexible in terms of office space, work hours or collaborating as a team, or who is not able to adapt to change, will not make it in the future workplace while this pandemic looms.

  1. Remote working or hybrid working is here to stay.

By now, most companies have experienced both the positives and negatives surrounding working remotely. Apart from the obvious advantages like cutting costs, for example on paying rent for office space, and increasing work hours since people don’t have to travel anymore, most companies were incredibly surprised by just how productive their employees could be if they were trained, guided, trusted, and given more flexibility.

Workplace technologies and digital communication tools also evolved very quickly and enabled employees and managers to communicate effectively and successfully while working remotely. It is safe to say that the concept of working remotely or adopting a hybrid model (where employees work remotely but come in once or twice a week) is here to stay and during 2021 businesses will build on this.

  1. Mental and emotional wellbeing of employees

The isolation during lockdown highlighted the desperate need for ‘in-person’ and ‘social’ interactions. Apart from the anxiety surrounding the physical illness of Covid-19, suddenly there was a range of extra worries, stressors and anxiety that came with working remotely. The plummeting economy and huge job losses, as well as overnight changes to how we do business, have all contributed to our emotional and mental state.

Our healthcare and frontline workers were and still are suffering new levels of burnout. People who are alone and rely on socialising at work as their ‘people-interaction-fix’, only have screens or phones through which they can communicate. Those with families suddenly have irregular work hours and have to multitask at home. They have had to have more self-discipline to make sure the work was still done but have also had to take care of their families. Some parents even had to homeschool on top of it all. People were also expected to quickly learn more skills, especially technical skills.

This was a whole new ball game for a lot of people, which negatively influenced their general emotional and mental wellbeing. This became evident in the increased rate of suicides, and helplines had more queries and calls to attend to. Reports on essential workers, like health care workers and frontline staff, showed more symptoms of workplace burnout.

So, in a nutshell, the year 2021 is the year employers will be expected to rebuild not only the economy but also their people and communities. Whether it be upskilling or creating virtual wellness programmes, they will have to concentrate on fixing the workplace during 2021 to bring back a sense of normalcy. Employees will look towards their companies for help and training. They will want empathy and understanding from their team leaders.

Staff, the biggest asset of any business, will stay loyal to companies who show a vested interest in them as human beings and their environment.