How We Work in 2021 and Beyond

As 2019 wrapped up and we looked ahead to 2020, the new year held such promise: major holidays falling on the weekends, the start of a new decade, the Tokyo summer Olympics, a record-breaking number of new shows opening on Broadway, and so much more.

What no one predicted? The COVID-19 pandemic.

When it first hit, companies worldwide scrambled, pivoting to remote work environments — where possible — to keep operations running and employees safe. Many businesses implemented and deployed new technologies to facilitate work in a virtual environment.

We’ve bid farewell to 2020 and are nearing the halfway point of 2021. Vaccines have enabled more people to resume pre-pandemic activities, but companies continue to evaluate the approaches they should take to protect workforces and customers while also growing and generating profits.

Philosophies and approaches to work are evolving and innovative tech continues to merge with them. The following predictions examine possibilities of how the future of work will change — positively.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Beyond 2021

During the pandemic, frontline and essential workers — retail staff, manufacturing and factory personnel, healthcare workers, daycare teachers — while inarguably often the most exposed to the virus were also least connected to their companies’ decision-making processes. Many lacked access to company-wide technology, company emails, or space in an office.

Yet these frontline people can offer unique, invaluable insights as the first touchpoint with customers. Businesses have incorporated more technology to facilitate better communication and information sharing.

“To thrive in 2021 and beyond, companies need to put employees at the center of their workspace philosophies. By honing in on the employee experience, employers can improve productivity, increase engagement, and create a more connected and efficient workforce. Central to making this happen will be digital solutions that integrate with a company’s existing tech stack and are personalized to individual employees,” says Vicki Huff, Vice Chair, PwC United States and Ventures and Innovation, Global Leader.

Introducing a New Corporate KPI: Health and Wellbeing

A study conducted by Mercer identified three factors employees and job candidates look for in a company: permanent workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and wellbeing, and working with a sense of purpose. Flexibility — like flexible schedules and unlimited PTO — also:

  • Encourages and supports productivity
  • Boosts mental wellbeing
  • Reduces workplace stress

Companies utilizing workplace wellness initiatives show employees they care about health and wellbeing. Organizations can customize these wellness programs to include a range of options and offerings like health screenings, lunch and learn sessions or think tanks, and wellness challenges. In addition to a calendar of activities, however, employers should lead by example by creating a culture of wellness. How that culture looks will depend on the company but might include:

  • Standing desks
  • Weekly coffee chats
  • Weekly meditation or yoga sessions
  • Onsite gyms
  • Mental health days
  • Other opportunities for stress relief and physical activity

Today’s profit-focused world often forgets that what motivates many people to strive for excellence is working with a purpose.  According to Mercer, thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose. Yet a mere 13% of companies surveyed have a purpose-driven mission driving its employee value proposition (EVP). To cultivate a culture of purpose, organizations can:

  • Collaborate with employees to create a company vision
  • Share customer and employee success stories
  • Express gratitude and show recognition
  • Communicate to employees how their jobs and contributions impact the company and its clients

C-level executives aren’t immune to stress, either. In fact, a recent Oracle-Workplace survey that included responses from 3,100 corporate leaders found 71% executives named 2020 as their most stressful year ever. More than half (53%) said they struggled at work with mental health issues.

Prioritizing employee well-being leads to increased business performance. AI — which companies can use to automate more monotonous tasks — and other tools can help reduce stress.

Adopt Augmented and Virtual Reality

Want to improve customer service, elevate training, and support collaboration among employees? Take advantage of innovative automation technologies reshaping the world. While businesses may need to offer their employees up- and re-skilling training to take advantage of this newer technology, the ROI is strong. CSS Insights predicts over half of medium and large businesses will adopt AR/VR tech by 2025.

Already companies like Nestle Purina and Johnson & Johnson use VR to improve retail planning and train surgeons. Clients of AIDT, a government workforce agency, use VR to learn new skillsets and prepare for new careers.

PwC discovered that workers using VR for training learn four times more quickly than workers trained via traditional methods and were also:

  • 275% more confident in applying new skills
  • 3.75 times more emotionally connected
  • 4 times more focused

Location Becomes Less Critical

Based on a 2020 survey of company leaders within the HR, legal/compliance, finance, and real estate sectors, Gartner found 82% of respondents plan to keep some form of remote work beyond the pandemic’s end. Almost half will enable full-time remote work and 43% will offer flex time.

With strategic planning, remote work saves companies and employees money and time. The proliferation of technology and tools will help facilitate communication — and ensure its transparency — and collaboration. Eventually, more immersive and inclusive tools like VR or smart video calling may replace standard video conferencing platforms on which so many have depended for the past 18 months.

To take full advantage of remote work opportunities, however, people need access to reliable internet. A recent study by BroadbandNow Research indicated that 42 million Americans lack access to broadband internet, including wired or fixed wireless connections. To support an evolving workplace environment and to address the digital divide, the country needs more investments in connectivity infrastructure.

Automation Enhances Not Replaces Jobs 

Many people worry about automation’s potential to replace workers with robots — and that the expanding automation technology will cost jobs. But the World Economic Forum has estimated a large-scale adoption of automation technology will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs. Those jobs will require new skills as roles emerge and grow in demand including:

  • AI and machine learning specialists
  • Big data specialists
  • Business development professionals
  • Data analysts and scientists
  • Digital marketing and strategy specialists
  • Digital transformation specialists
  • Information security analysts
  • Internet of Things (IoT) specialists
  • Process automation specialists
  • Software and applications developers

Automation’s role isn’t to replace people but to make their lives easier by completing mundane tasks.

Organizations and employees recognize that the world has changed since 2020 and work likely can’t resume a “business as usual” approach with the 2019 philosophy. But the evolution of new technologies and philosophies about work methods doesn’t spell doom! They may, in fact, generate more efficiencies, better work environments, and higher profits.

How does this connect to a commercial real estate group like CREA United? Its members include professionals well-versed in all disciplines within the commercial real estate industry — including technology and workplace solutions. Learn more by connecting with our corporate, medical and healthcare, office, retail, industrial, dentistry, construction, multifamily, and physical therapy groups.

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