2021 has been a challenging year for organizations across the globe. The record-breaking creation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the nation and the globe is indeed commendable in terms of curbing the spread of novel Coronavirus. However, rapid development of new variants and localized outbreaks led to the creation of a new landscape where COVID-19 has not been completely defeated, but significantly subdued. For global business, this has generated a compounding effect.
Organizations have been forced to adapt and operate nimbly throughout the year 2020, with a fresh and innovative strategic approach. Hybrid working solutions, which had previously only been embraced by a small minority of organizations, now became the mainstream.
As we stepped into 2021, instability caused by the lingering global pandemic remained a challenge for countless businesses. The hybrid solutions that were meant to be a stopgap during the pandemic became permanently cemented into the culture of many organizations.
As we near the close of 2021, we find ourselves in a new era of work. The lessons that we learned during the pandemic now force us to question our assumptions about availability, productivity, and their correlation. Several new trends have emerged in 2021 that will almost certainly carry on into the coming years.
During the pandemic, hybrid working models became normalized. Employees who are able to handle their responsibilities and deliver as expected are being encouraged to do so, and organizations are also realizing that the majority of the workforce turned out to be more productive when allowed additional flexibility about where, and when they worked.
As vaccination activity permitted the workforce to get back to office, many organizations have chosen to opt for a hybrid working model. There is no set definition for what a hybrid working model looks like and organizations have been experimenting with what seems to be the ‘balanced’ fit. Some organizations are putting a stop to work from home and calling the workforce back to office for a fixed number of days per week, while others are leaving the choice open – by not mandating employees’ physical presence, as long as business deliverables remain unaffected. This model turns out to be the best, a win-win situation to both the employer and the employees resulting in higher productivity levels and improved work-life balance.
The benefits of the new hybrid model have been well documented in recent surveys and many employees have been cited to opt for greater flexibility when it comes to the number of days per week that they are required to be at office premises. This trend is expected to continue, and those organizations that hope to retain top talent should consider the hybrid model amongst other perks that make up total employee compensation.
Employee engagement has long been a concern for business leaders. It has been an established fact that engaged employees are happier and more productive. In 2021, as an increasing amount of work became digital, employee engagement has gained increased importance. Without the physical co-location and facetime that the office provides, managers need to be more proactive than ever to understand and guide their team members.
Leaders have identified that the key to keeping employees engaged in a world of conference calls and Zoom meetings is effective and tailored interpersonal communication. Team members are more likely to feel engaged in their work when they feel that they are a part of a common mission. This was true before the pandemic, where the larger venue of the office continually re-enforced company values and culture, but now the responsibility to create unity and sense of purpose sits with the direct supervisors.
Studies revealed that during the pandemic, organizations slightly shifted emphasis from collaboration, client priorities, and high performance to support, empathy and mutual understanding. Higher priority was placed on flexibility, transparency, and communication to support the employees working remotely. Organizations which adopted regular leadership communication with transparency reported a positive impact on employees’ mindset.
Analysis of company culture also indicates a positive spike in culture ratings in the prolonged Covid pandemic. Organisation transparency and quality of leadership communication were the aspects highly discussed among employees, apart from integrity.
Just as the pandemic has opened our minds to the possibilities of different styles of work, learning has also changed. Since schools were shut down, teachers were forced to conduct classes online. This trend began in 2020 and continued into 2021 even as some students started to re-enter the classroom.
Many schools and universities are now experimenting with the hybrid model. In-person instruction is not totally eliminated, but the digital tools that were adopted during the pandemic are now being utilized to allow greater flexibility in learning. Teachers are forced to learn new modes of imparting knowledge and assessing their students.
In 2021, students are experiencing a blend of traditional classroom instruction for part of the week and some form of digital learning for the rest. And in a similar fashion, if we replace students with the ‘learning workforce’, this trend remains pretty much the same.
Virtual learning ruled the corporate world in the pandemic. Learning & Development functions across the globe leveraged technology for business learning. Learning teams emphasized the creation and communication of skill-upgradation programs in alignment business outcomes. A significant percentage of the organizations identified learning design as the top priority and are realizing the benefits of customized learning design strategy.
Despite experiencing budgetary constraints for learning, companies are prioritizing and investing on integrated technologies. Organizations are actively strengthening their existing learning platforms and adopting usage of content libraries, shared drives and customizing offerings to provide Anywhere-Anytime learning. There is a rapid shift of the learning teams to offer personalized, curated and contextualized content to achieve the best learning experience.
Looking back at 2021 and forward into 2022
2021 was very much a year of transition. The Covid-19 pandemic that led to lockdowns across the globe loosened its grip and allowed us to feel some sense of normalcy again. However, as employees return to the office and the new styles of learning are gaining traction, it is quite evident that the world has embraced the new normal.
The adaptive techniques we utilized to tide over the pandemic have now altered our lives. We are forced to reconsider the nature of productivity, and consequently seek out technological tools that allow us to communicate, learn, and engage more efficiently.
Vaccination rates are continuing to rise globally, and we can finally begin considering a post-Covid world. Organizations will check for vaccinated employees only to come to office or to travel for work but will overwhelmingly choose to embrace some of the hybrid models that kept them afloat during the darkest days of the pandemic.
As the weather turns colder and as we move closer to flipping the calendar to 2022, expect these trends that were compounded during 2021 to continue well into the future.
It is beyond doubt that hybrid workplace is here to stay, and businesses will look forward to taking digitalization to the next level in 2022. Learnings from the pandemic have only strengthened the existing systems and processes, paving way to the adoption of more efficient, personalized, and digitalized solutions.