How 2020 has impacted the world of work - The 6 biggest workforce changes that are here to stay

2020 has been a highly unusual year. In amongst the many day-to-day changes to routines, there have been notable developments in the world of work which open up new pathways for the workplaces of the future. These six significant changes are amongst the most exciting to have emerged across the business landscape and which look set to shape the workforce for some time to come.

  • Remote working

Remote working emerged as an operational necessity during 2020 due to a combination of localised restrictions in travel and a need for workers to be socially distant. However, while the pandemic is temporary, the shift to remote working is not. In fact, remote working is one of the biggest changes to occur in the workplace; it’s also a trend that is most definitely here to stay. Leaders looking to prepare their teams for the future of work must take remote working into account.

A survey by Gartner suggests that nearly three quarters of all businesses are planning to implement permanent remote working policies for at least 5% of the workforce, having experienced multiple benefits from this way of working in 2020. These benefits include happier employees who feel they have a greater work/life balance, and increased productivity. Leaders who adapt to this new format will find it brings with it a wealth of new opportunities and the potential to streamline outdated processes for performance enhancement and cost savings. 

Remote teams also open up a much wider pool of potential talent for recruiters, with the ability to work from anywhere meaning candidates from much further afield can be in contention for vacancies. For those charged with leading the workforce of the future, this is a key benefit that is loaded with promise.

  • Hybrid working

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for some leaders is the knowledge that they may not be able to rely on simply shifting to a remote leadership approach in the long term. That’s because an anticipated change further down the road suggests a sideways shift towards a hybrid way of working, something line manager strategies will need to reflect. According to research by the Adecco Group, 77% of executives believe that adopting a hybrid in-office/remote approach will generate a level of flexibility that will significantly benefit the business. 

The shift to a hybrid way of working means that leaders will need to combine their approaches to create a system that meets people where they are. This necessitates a humanistic management style that enables workers to connect with the leader, the team, and the organisation from any location, at any time. 

Failing to react to the hybrid shift could result in lower employee engagement, and reduced performance. On the contrary, embracing this new way of working could unlock greater efficiencies, more productive teams, a more agile way of working and elevated performance.

  • Declining workplace wellbeing

Reports show that, for the majority of workers, the COVID-19 outbreak has been the most stressful period of their careers. The health crisis has not only directly increased stress, but has also indirectly contributed towards a mental health crisis due to the associated financial and job uncertainties. And while these uncertainties are likely to only be temporary, the stress is expected to be present long term in the field of workplace wellbeing, making this one of the most pressing leadership and management challenges for this generation. 

Mental health provider Ginger notes that cases of depression have increased by 13% since the start of the pandemic; a fact that may contribute to workplace concerns such as higher levels of absenteeism, a higher rate of staff turnover, feelings of burnout, and lower productivity. For leaders, a more humanistic approach, reading between the lines, and leading by example through prioritising self care and resilience, promises a fruitful path through these challenges and back to a place of wellbeing.

  • Digitalisation

The pandemic has left no room for doubt; digital is here to stay. Amazingly, McKinsey estimates that in the space of just eight weeks, adoption of digital accelerated by five years. However, 2020 has had an even greater impact on digital transformation, not only by driving increased adoption rates, but also in diversifying the type of technologies that are deployed in the workplace.

Previously, digitalisation was heading in the direction of exploration with businesses embracing technology to explore the potential of what they could achieve. Now, it’s heading more in the direction of survival, with greater focus on first-response activities such as business continuity, operational stabilisation, and other proactive measures. A major change that occurred is the shift from increasing to maintaining productivity. 

  • Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are emerging as the unintentional winners of 2020. A major and long lasting change that’s taking place is a renewed focus on these areas. Reports show that 4 in 10 businesses believe that their previous investments in D&I have directly helped them navigate the pandemic. 43% of them state that D&I has helped them respond to employee needs, and 41% say it’s helped them respond to customer needs. 

2020 has highlighted how teams consisting of different people, different skill sets, and different experiences can boost resilience. Gartner notes that focusing on diversity and inclusion is ‘not only the right thing to do; it also promises a ‘strategic and financial advantage’. Despite this, just 2% of HR leaders consider D&I to be a priority following the pandemic, showing just how important it is to facilitate better communications between teams. 

  • Continuous change

One of the biggest changes that’s taken place in 2020 is simply change itself. While change is a natural part of business, 2020 has created a landscape that is continually evolving, and it’s generating an ever increasing need for leaders to be proactive, not reactive. This degree of change has been a wakeup call. It has highlighted how ill-prepared businesses and their leaders were for major disruption, and has facilitated a need for anticipation, which ultimately strengthens workforces and workplaces for the future. 

Today, businesses know better. They’re always on their toes, and this is something that is unlikely to return to a pre-2020 approach. More than ever before, organisations recognise the value of leaders that have the confidence and skills needed to look ahead, to be pioneers, and to stay at the forefront of the industry to identify solutions for challenges that haven’t yet arisen. Tomorrow’s leaders won’t focus on looking backward, but will rather be focused on the future.

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