The Workspace of 2021

The library books of my childhood saw 2020 as the year of moon colonisation, of a disease-free human family living in harmony and peace…and travelling around in flying cars. They couldn’t be more wrong!


So many adjectives have been used to describe 2020 that I’m sure I couldn’t say anything original. It will suffice to say that it has had a profound and lasting impact – on just about everything.

As a result of the volatile and unpredictable nature of 2020, the first part of 2021 will be driven by a need to return to a rhythm of predictability, stability and a measure of feel-good. A period when fear recedes and society looks to recover. Both as individuals and corporations we will reflect on what has happened with a view to learning and adjusting. My objective in this piece is to offer some informed suggestions on what I feel the trends are that may affect the workplace this coming year.

Wellbeing: Top of the Agenda

It has taking a hammering. From being robbed of friends and family by the virus, through the trauma of redundancy and coping with the isolation of lockdown and remote working. Most have a story to tell and many need support. 2021 will see the beginnings of societal recovery, and the longer-term mental impact of Covid is yet to be witnessed. Research already shows that our scale of values has altered in many areas. Money is not necessarily the key motivator; there is more expression of individuality with a rise in creative and crafting activity and a broader respect of all people. I feel this shift is likely to stay. So, as we move towards a post-Covid era, managing wellbeing will be front-of-mind – both for organisations and for each of us as individuals.

An Appetite for Change

The disruption we have all experienced has demonstrated our ability to adapt, and even thrive in less-than-ideal circumstances. The same disruption has also massively accelerated our adoption of digital and cloud-based tools and media, shining a spotlight on old habits and assumptions in the process. For example, the need to attend the office as a form of management by Command & Control finally feels hopelessly Victorian.

The speed at which we adapted to change has come somewhat as a surprise, creating first a tolerance of change, and then a desire for it. The winners of 2021 will be the organisations which see the potential in change (rather than as a threat) and take the time and effort to understand what needs to change. Upon having identified it, they have the courage to implement and benefit from the energy this unlocks.

Which leads us on to the next trend….

A Wave of Innovation

The advantages of using change as a tool for development will also trigger something else. One area that most businesses have suffered in through the past 12 months is innovation. One of the key functions of the workplace is knowledge-sharing, which is the primary component in problem solving and innovation. While the data shows that productivity has remained steady during Covid, (surprisingly) innovation has suffered. The mysterious chemistry released by bringing a collection of people together to solve a problem or think creatively about opportunities is yet to be replicated digitally.
Bringing people back together, coupled with the appetite for change is likely to result in some big wins for innovation.


Tech/Human Integration Defining the Successful Workplace

The hybrid way of working will demand tech more than ever. Big data tracking how buildings are used, apps to connect co-workers, AI to track mental wellbeing, and so on. Most of the tech already exists; the rest is coming up fast. The delay has been the slow pace at which real estate evolves, and the lack of a defining trigger. But Covid has been that trigger, and real estate has never been so disrupted. With every lease expiry, organisations will be looking at what they really need, and whether the existing office stock meets the requirements. With far more supply than demand, the buyer will be much more hard-nosed and discerning. Landlords and property owners will need to do more than just renting square feet; they will need to provide a tech enabled smart workspace – a ‘go-to’ destination which the user enjoys, feels safe, and is happy to return to.


Stewards of the Future

For most, 2020 has been a wake-up as to what really matters in life – salary vs quality of life, commuting vs. personal well-being and awareness of individual stewardship of earth’s resources. And the pause on society this year has delivered one clear benefit; a significant drop in air pollution in urban areas as a direct consequence of reduced travel.
Environmental concerns have been aired for longer than most of us can remember, but as Governments and global corporations are finally walking the talk, our part as individuals and organisations no longer feels like an insignificant drop in the ocean. 2021 will see the groundswell of change which will have a lasting change on consumer habits and commercial behaviour towards the environment.


In summary...

The few trends and predictions cited above are built on research, anecdotal evidence and recent experience. As we have seen from 2020, there’s no telling what could happen next. The geo-political landscape is turbulent, and our awareness of the threats and potential impacts my circumstances has expanded exponentially. Despite this rather gloomy outlook there is one trend which is little reported but perhaps the most important: resilience. The shocks, disruption, anxiety and uncertainty – in most instances the negative aspects of 2020 have strengthened our acceptance, resolve, adaptability and consequently our resilience. That’s why whatever 2021 has in store for us, our resilience will ensure that it will be for the better, albeit a long-term achievement.



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