Future Of Work: 3 Key Trends For The ‘Transformational’ Year Ahead

2021 brings fresh hope for positive change, but what does this mean for the future of work?
  • 2021 brings fresh hope for positive change, but what does this mean for the future of work?
  • A report by Josh Bersin focuses on key HR and workplace trends for what will be a “transformational” year.
  • From a heavy focus on re-skilling to the complete employee experience (EX), here are 3 takeaways to look out for in 2021.

The first day of a new year is the ideal time to look ahead and consider what lies in store for the next 12 months, and how the year ahead might influence those that follow.

The shockwave that was 2020 is now behind us, but we are still very much living with its life-changing events. We’re not yet in legacy mode; far from it, in some cases. But after a year of research and experience of living with the virus, and a vaccination programme now springing into action around the world, 2021 brings fresh hope for positive change.

What does this mean for the future of work?

Exactly how the pandemic will impact the future of work remains to be seen. But the future of work is a journey — and regardless of the events unfolding around us, people are still working, learning new skills, and starting new jobs and businesses. Work goes on, and interestingly, many of the trends we’ve been watching over the past few years — such as the war for talent and digital transformation — will continue to impact the workplace of the future.

To illustrate some of the trends we can expect to see over the coming year, here are 3 predictions from global HR analyst and Dean of the Josh Bersin Academy, Josh Bersin.

A Transformational Year

2021 will be a transformational time filled with memories and experiences of the past year.

Bersin notes, “We learned that we, as individuals, are vulnerable to threats and also very resilient when facing change. Most of us spent a lot of time working at home, which has changed the way we live and helped us become very comfortable with the digital world of work.”

To help people transition and gain confidence in this brave new world, Bersin notes that “company leaders have to listen, take care of people, and build a business and teams that helps everyone be successful, regardless of individual situations.”

1. The New War for Talent

The term ‘war for talent’ appears in business predictions every year, and Bersin concedes that it’s a 20-year-old phrase. However, this year it’s expected to emerge with a vengeance; new research from EMSI and LinkedIn shows that the number of open jobs is almost as high as it was 12 months ago, and economic productivity is at record levels.

“What this means is that for key roles and geographies, there is huge demand for people, and you will be competing for talent in every way.”

Bersin notes that the pandemic appears to have changed the workforce, as baby boomers are retiring “at a record rate” while a high proportion of women and non-college educated workers have also left the workforce, making it even harder to find people to fill roles.

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To combat this, wages may rise and companies will need to improve their approach to flexible work, job sharing, and internal mobility. 

2. Employee Experience Is Now a Corporate Strategy

A positive workplace experience can significantly improve motivation, engagement and productivity. But ‘experience’ goes far beyond the physical workplace.

EX, or Employee Experience, encompasses everything from management support to workplace design, and in the future of work, companies will need to take a “cross-functional” approach to EX to ensure all of their employees’ problems and needs are being met.

After the events of 2020, many employees may need additional support to help guide them through the transformational year ahead, with particular focus on wellness and mental health.

Where do you start? “EX touches on work, career, and life journeys. You need to think of EX as a company-wide initiative and leverage as much technology as you can.” For instance, utilise a live chat system to enable employees to provide feedback or gain advice.

Many people spent the past year communicating over Zoom and other online tools, which means that digital tools are now simply a normal part of the working day. Embrace technology and use it to make the experience more open, supportive, and seamless.

3. Heavy Focus on Skills

Last year we saw a great emphasis on learning new skills, particularly as the pandemic created huge demand for certain roles — such as the tech, AI and healthcare sectors — and dampened demand for others, such as hospitality.

That said, no skill goes to waste, and re-skilling is just as important as up-skilling. Bersin notes that the “skilling craze” will continue in 2021, making every job in business one of “continuous learning.”

“If a company does not have a learning culture that encourages and promotes individual learning, business will suffer. When you look at companies like Nokia, Digital Equipment, and others that have lost their markets, a common factor is that leaders ‘just didn’t learn what was going on.’”

But even though certain skills are in hot demand right now — such as AI, technology, and data — Bersin’s research suggests that the jobs of the future are in services: designing, selling, communicating, helping, caring for others. And while sectors such as the aforementioned hospitality are under great pressure right now, many of those skills can be transitioned to jobs in industries that are in-demand, such as sales and care.

“These jobs need other skills, too — the power skills of listening, communicating, managing time well, prioritizing, and of course, learning to lead, collaborate, and coach many others. Such skills are going to be even hotter in 2021, so you need to put a strategy in place to develop and instill them.”

One Final Word

“As we go into 2021 it’s important to reflect on what we learned and make sure we take it forward, while taking advantage of our newly found skills in remote work, wellbeing, empathy, and productivity.”

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