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2021 Trends Shaping the World of Work

As published on

As a leader heading into 2021, you’ve already accepted that the world of work will never be the same. And you’re also most likely aware of the emerging trends that will impact your people, your company culture, and how your business operates.

But how can you prioritize what needs to get done when things are continuing to change, and the ripple effect of the pandemic is still being processed?

Last year, we saw comms and HR leaders solidify their places as the CEO’s partner in connecting people strategy and business strategy, but they were spread incredibly thin. Now, when looking forward to 2021, your to-do list is probably just as long, with a million initiatives that need to get done. So, we’re here to help.

At Daggerwing Group, we’ve assessed the emerging trends for 2021 and selected the six that we believe leaders will need to focus on:

1. The hybrid model will accelerate, changing how we work forever 

We believe the hybrid model (office and remote) is here to stay, as more and more organizations are declaring it as their “new normal” for the foreseeable future. This model requires rethinking organizational structures and roles, culture, ways of working, digital technologies, and leadership. Companies who are now focusing on these implications, including employees as part of the solution, and experimenting and learning with different approaches, will be more competitive in attracting and retaining talent and will be more agile in the marketplace.

2. “Work from anywhere” will heat up the war for talent in favor of employees 

The data is still a bit fuzzy around the extent to which people are leaving major cities (e.g., NYC, San Francisco and London) for more suburban and rural areas because of Covid and remote working, but preliminary statistics and anecdotes indicate that there may be a demographic shift afoot. Regardless of the numbers, however, one thing is sure: the shift towards a “work from anywhere” model means that people will have more choices about where they work when not constricted by geography. This means that competition for talent will increase, and organizations will need to refocus their employer brand and rethink what makes them great places to work beyond on-site perks.

3. Employee mental health will continue to be top of mind 

The fear, isolation, and heightened anxiety that we all experienced throughout most of 2020 raised awareness around employee well-being to a new high. And research shows that this continues to be a high priority going forward for employees and companies alike. Many organizations are focusing on ensuring that all employees have greater access to mental and physical wellness tools and resources. In addition, they are putting energy into creating and maintaining community and connection with people no matter where they are. Most importantly, all of this is resulting in unprecedented openness to conversations about mental health, wellness, empathy, and self-care – subjects that have often been taboo in workplaces in the recent past.

4. The employee voice will gain momentum inside and out, as worker activism reaches new peaks 

The employee voice has never been stronger. People are more and more willing to speak up not only about their work experience and issues around DE&I, but also about actions that their employers are taking in the world. Employees are increasingly expecting to have the power to force corporations to change, and are more likely to speak out or protest with employers than they were a year ago.

The extraordinary action of Google employees unionizing under the Alphabet Workers Union is the latest example of this, with a stated mission to “promote solidarity, democracy, and social and economic justice” for Alphabet workers and the world. It will remain to be seen whether this is a bellwether to similar movements across technology and other industries, but we leaders should pay attention. More than ever, organizations must listen to employees and act on their concerns. Not doing so creates huge risk not only in terms of attracting talent, but in the negative response of shareholders and consumers.

5. Companies are expected to make a difference beyond profits 

In the midst of a global pandemic, social unrest and unprecedented divisiveness (in the US) led many organizations to re-examine the long-held practice of maintaining a neutral stance with regard to political and social issues. Last year, we saw many companies take a strong stance on Social Justice, internal DE&I commitments, and Covid safety beyond the workplace. We also saw those who remained silent around these issues face backlash. Now, the data is in. In 2020, consumer perceptions of a company were more heavily influenced by how organizations treated their employees and their communities than ever before. In 2021, all companies will be expected to step up and demonstrate that they are doing good for their people and for the world.

6. The definition of good leadership is evolving, and leaders need new capabilities to lead

To navigate this new world of work, leaders are being challenged more than ever to lead differently, and it is highly uncomfortable. Recent research from HBR showed that almost half of leaders have expressed low confidence in their ability to manage people remotely. To lead effectively now requires new ways of getting work done, but also requires new levels of empathy and creating trust and connection. In addition, during a time of accelerating and exponential change, leaders are being asked to act in the face of massive uncertainty and be agile in the face of ever-changing circumstances. To address this, organizations must prioritize equipping leaders to meet these weighty challenges and foster a culture of continuous learning and experimentation to create forward momentum. Organizations that are slow to move and react will fall behind.

While these trends create enormous challenges that will not be solved overnight, they also present an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent work as we know it for the betterment of people, organizations, and the world. And those companies who rise to meet these challenges, experiment, and learn will be the ones to thrive in the future.

Michelle is the Managing Partner & President of Daggerwing Group, as well as a member of Daggerwing’s Executive Leadership Team. In her role, Michelle leads all global client relationships and delivery of Daggerwing’s consulting services to ensure change is done right the first time, and sticks. She also ensures that Daggerwing’s consulting leaders are effectively driving career growth for our consultants, continuously building capability and experience. Michelle’s breadth of expertise in the people side of change includes facilitating Executive Alignment on every type of organizational transformation, orchestrating enterprise-level culture shifts to deliver on a CEO’s strategy, and helping clients custom-create and bring to life their Future of Work strategies. Michelle is passionate about creating leaders and employees who are energized, rather than exhausted, by the opportunities change creates – ultimately helping clients succeed by fostering a culture that delivers the desired experience for customers and enables employees to thrive. In her private time, Michelle enjoys singing 70s pop songs badly while playing her ukulele, buying musty old records, and spending tons of time in the woods and on snowy mountains.