6 trends that will shape the workplace in 2021

Trends help organisations prepare for the future by collecting, assessing and implementing practices that will boost employee productivity.

By U2B Staff 

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The global COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we work and how we feel about re-entering the workplace, as numbers go down and lockdowns are eased. Remote working may have been an adjustment for most at first, it slowly became a preference to employees worldwide.

According to Cisco’s Workforce of the Future survey, conducted with 10,000 respondents across 12 markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Russia, employees want to keep a hold of the many positives that have emerged from this new normal. 

Many of the changes that have come from the pandemic will become a permanent part of employee experiences in 2021. This is due to the fact that in 2020, several factors upended the traditional approach to life at the workplace. As the economy prepares to re-open, the new normal of work, business travel, and office space will be refined and rediscovered across almost every industry worldwide. 

Here are some of the trends that will shape life in the workplace next year:

Resilience and safety in the workplace

In 2021, employers will be expected to prioritise the need of their employees, taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe return. A good example is that protocols will be put in place to limit potential exposure, a practice already implemented in countries with low numbers. 

ADP surveyed employers with 1,000+ employees at the onset of the pandemic and found 39% of employers reported that employees’ health fear was a top concern. As employers prioritise the health and safety of their workers, the nature of the workplace itself will evolve.

In light of this, employers will increase the need for wellness within the workplace as well, to ensure employees are more resilient. $0% of employees surveyed reported increasing levels of personal stress, in the midst of juggling work needs, lack of childcare, and fears toward the pandemic outbreak. 


Companies have bought corporate licenses for their employees to use apps like Calm, Headspace, Classpass, Fitbit, Woebot, Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Virgin Pulse. These apps help workers meditate, stay fit, and maintain a healthy diet, all while giving them 24/7 access to therapy and resources. Adobe offers employees virtual well-being seminars, 24/7 counseling services, and access to both the Calm and Headspace apps.


Large companies today have designated leaders that drive diversity within the organisation. Chief diversity and inclusion officers have been under a lot of pressure this year, especially with protests around racial inequality. 

“We have focused on diversity, but we are not as diverse as we want to be and aspire to be,” says Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart.

This year, 70% of job seekers said that they want to work for a company that demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and California now requires companies to include minorities on their boards.

Bank of America is pledging US$1 billion over the next four years to combat racial and economic inequality, Intel commits to doubling minorities in leadership roles in the next decade and Starbucks is aiming to have a 30% representation of minorities in the next five years. Over thirty companies such as Amazon, GM, BlackRock, Chevron, and Target have already shared their diversity reports or plan to in the next year.

The demand for flexible working conditions

According to research conducted by Slack, 72% of employees said they wanted a hybrid remote-office model. Instead of fully implementing a work-from-home environment, many companies are utilising a hybrid approach where employees will only come into the office for a couple of days in the week and spend the remaining days working remotely. 

Microsoft’s hybrid workplace environment will allow most roles to remain remote less than half of the time with manager approval, while 62% of Google employees want to return to their offices but not every day.


Digital advancement

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadell, described the impact of Covid-19 on the adoption and advancement of technology at work, saying “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. 

The findings from two separate studies by McKinsey and KPMG indicate that at least 80% of leaders accelerated the implementation of technology in the workplace due to COVID-19. White larger skill gaps, more training is required for employees to support the digital transformation needs that come with rapid change. 

Many of these technologies are contact-tracing, collaborative tools, AI-driven software, and more, all of which have been widely adopted to support the mental health of employees, increase productivity and allow for flexibility and safety. 

Levi Strauss’ digital transformation was facilitated by the use of AI and data, launching a virtual concierge service, appointment scheduling, and a brand new loyalty programme. 

Automation to support employees and not replace

Forrester claims that the fears over automation eliminating jobs is misplaced and that automation in 2021 will focus more on supporting current employees. 

For example, grocery store robots will promote social distancing by doing inventory checks for employees to prevent too many people on the floor, and Forrester expects a tripling of robots of that sort in 2021.

“By the end of 2021, one in four information workers will be supported in their daily work by software bots, robotic process automation, or AI, taking rote, repetitive tasks off their plates and yielding higher EX,” the market research company predicts. 

“Rather than focusing on substitution, focus more of your automation efforts on helping your staff be more effective.”


As the workplace environment becomes increasingly complex with new legislative changes being introduced, businesses will look for more ways to streamline compliance-related tasks. This will be done to alleviate the burden on HR and payroll departments while leveraging aid. 

ADP’s findings have stated that among 1,000 employers surveyed, 68% said they needed guidance on government relief programmes including direct monetary assistance, low interest business loans, enhanced unemployment assistance and tax relief and deferral. The study further noted a 1,500% jump in employers seeking guidance on compliance.