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04 Jan 2021
by David Watts

Five key workplace culture trends for 2021

With the global pandemic, businesses and their employees have had to change how they work in some unprecedented ways. But how have these changes affected employees and how are they impacting workplace culture?




In an effort to better understand how employees are feeling and what they want from work, we have conducted extensive research and uncovered some fascinating insights on how workplace culture is changing. Here are some of the key findings from the latest Global Culture Report, which highlights how culture is shaping up in 2021.

Culture trend #1: emerging from crisis, companies focus on culture

As companies return from months of remote work and adjust to the new way of doing things, workplace culture is in flux. Some cultures need healing after layoffs, furloughs or closures, and others are adapting their work processes and/or physical environments to account for social distancing. More than ever, organisations will recognise the need to prioritise workplace culture.

But as culture is often built on shared experiences and informal interactions at work, how do you nurture culture when no one is physically together?

Start by improving the six most important elements of workplace culture: purpose, leadership, appreciation, wellbeing, opportunity and success. Deliberately design the new employee experiences you’ll have to create around these areas and find ways to maintain connection with your people. A culture consultant can help to create a plan that gets you to where you want to be.

Culture trend #2: the future of work looks very different

Work will not be the same as we enter 2021. Remote work will still be commonplace, with many companies extending remote work until at least mid-2021. But as organisations have adapted to virtual working, many normal work processes have changed with companies having already adopted new recruiting and hiring processes, including virtual interviews.

They’ve also had to change how they manage and assess performance, give and receive feedback, and connect and show appreciation. Even the benefits that appeal to employees right now are shifting, such as paid parental leave taking precedence over standard annual leave. There’s a renewed focus on mental and emotional wellbeing, as remote work and social distancing often brings increased disconnection, loneliness and uncertainty.

Companies need to be proactive and thoughtful about how they adjust and create new employee experiences, particularly in areas of connection like employee recognition. Although it will be virtual, you can still create a memorable, meaningful recognition moment with peers that includes a connection to your organisation’s purpose, and stories of how employees are succeeding at your organisation. In the middle of uncertainty, the best recognition moments connect and nurture people, and express gratitude.

Culture trend #3: renewed emphasis on inclusive workplaces

Away from Covid-19, 2020 brought a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in all elements of life, including work. Organisations can no longer sit silently on social issues. Employees expect their companies to speak out on issues of injustice and inequity. This includes committing to making workplace cultures more inclusive.

In terms of a fresh approach for 2021, we should be reimagining inclusion and moving beyond just the recruiting process and single category D&I initiatives. Build inclusion into all elements of the everyday employee experience and take into consideration employee intersectionality. Identify areas of exclusion, bias and micro aggressions and address them. Enable and train managers to create inclusive cultures, since they directly affect employee interactions and everyday experiences.

Culture trend #4: generation Z enters an uncertain workplace

Workplace culture is important to Generation Z employees as they care less about the brand or reputation of an organisation, and more about a sense of community and wellbeing (things like paid time off and a focus on healthier lifestyles and mental health). They feel highly connected to social issues and want to make a difference in their jobs, as opposed to climbing the corporate ladder. In fact, 30% of Gen Z employees would take a pay cut to work for a cause they care about, craving in-person connection and wanting to feel they belong.

With all that in mind, Gen Z employees are entering a very uncertain time in the workplace, and so in order to attract and engage them, companies must connect their work to purpose, practice modern leadership, and focus on wellbeing. They must also train leaders on modern leadership skills like mentorship, coaching and teaching, as well as having a robust recognition programme.

But it’s also important to recognise that the different generations are more similar than they are different, and if you regularly connect their work to purpose, show you care about them, and frequently show appreciation, you’ll equally inspire all the generations in your workforce.

Culture trend #5: real digital transformation — but with a human element

Covid-19 has forced true digital transformation that companies may have had on their ‘to do’ lists for years. Technology has been used to keep us connected and productive while working remotely, and technological innovation continues as companies anticipate more remote working as we head into 2021.

New technologies that facilitate remote work, social distancing at work, or changing business needs and client experiences are needed for connection and personal interaction. Ensure new technology works both remotely as well as in the office, is mobile-enabled, and makes your employees’ work processes easier. How well the technology integrates with other technology and into the flow of work must be a key consideration.

2021 presents untold opportunities

2020 has been a year like no other. Presented with Global challenges, businesses and their employees have been forced to innovate and adapt, and 2021 is the time for cultures to heal and build back better.

We have been presented with an opportunity to reshape organisational cultures like never before. Yes, it’s important to reflect on the challenges of 2020, but we must also look to positively transform workplaces so that they’re places of connection, compassion and opportunity.

For more of the latest research on workplace culture and trends, read O.C. Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report.

The author is David Watts, culture and engagement strategist at O.C. Tanner Europe.

This article is provided by O.C. Tanner Europe.

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