Looking ahead  – trends for 2021

Looking ahead to 2021 and the main trends created in 2020 that we can take with us.

Everything we have learned in 2020 we can take with us going forward because some of the adjustments we had to make will not go away, not just in the short term, perhaps not ever. After 2020 went to hell in a hand cart you would think it would be foolish to take a stab at this.  It probably is,  but I’m going to have a go looking into my glass ball!


Looking ahead to 2021


Looking ahead to 2021 these are some of the main trends I think we will see or hope now 2020 is behind us. 2021 can only be an improvement.

1. Remote Teams

The need for remote working was one of the key changes in 2020. For many it was a long sought after benefit. During the pandemic it shifted from being a special track benefit which carried a stigma because of its association with employees with carer responsibilities, (usually women  – the mummy track) to being a mainstream requirement. Organisations that had a distributed workplace culture already in place found themselves at the top of the curve during the pandemic. Many businesses struggled to play catch up.

Remote working on a large scale will certainly be around for a while especially as many organisations will look to reduce their overheads and cut back on real estate commitments. Hybrid working with a split between home and office I feel sure will be part of 2021. Women have to make sure they put in the necessary live face to maintain their visibility.

The downside will be that many managers are still not fully trained in running distributed teams. Many who don’t want to work from home may find themselves being forced to do so when it becomes compulsory. We will need to see a stronger sense of empathy from our leaders in the way they manage people with a greater need for listening skills. Organisations which don’t get this right will be held accountable and suffer reputation damage longer term.

Women will also have to work hard at maintaining their professional visibility and negotiating with their partners to ensure a fair split of household chores and childcare. Businesses which saw women leave their employment should make specific efforts to bring them back to the workplace to reverse that talent drain.

Take time to listen to our Podcast with Ian Dinwiddy and Dorothy Dalton who share their expertise on ways to create gender balanced home

 2. Virtual… pretty much everything

Online meetings are now so embedded in our cultures that we have a vocabulary to support it and our reactions. Zoom Doom or video conference fatigue is a fully researched thing. Not only has it dominated our professional lives it has crept into our personal lives too. We have seen Zoom cocktails and lunches. People have said goodbye to loved ones in intensive care units via iPad. Circumstances have been the main force behind all the recent changes which has pushed through organisational transformation on an unprecedented scale. I doubt if it would have happened organically at the same speed. To quote Lenin

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”

The use of this technology is here to stay. Some of the other platforms will be pushing to adapt and hopefully, we will see useful improvements. Workshops, coaching and major events will continue digitally well into 2021. Hiring, recruitment events, onboarding and every aspect of the physical workplace will transfer online. Those who can’t keep up with the tech and adapt their leadership skills will fall behind.

Content will be everything as the podcast and online event market becomes saturated. Anyone who can’t engage online and hasn’t changed their style to adjust to digital presentation, will sink like a stone.


 3. Two tier workforce

Re-skilling and upskilling will be key drivers for 2021. Some industries have boomed while others have been heavily hit and may not resurface in exactly the same way for a significant part of 2021.

Who is responsible for that training and skill acquisition will become part of a big debate for 2021 as the gig economy expands and we move towards a two tier workforce. We will see increasing pressure on individuals to assume responsibility for their own professional development to increase their market value. Continuous learning will be a key driver to protect revenue streams and even our long term financial security as we see such profound workplace shifts . “Learning is the new pension. It’s how you create future value every day.”  Heather E. McGowan, Future-of-Work Strategist predicted in 2019 that life long skill acquisition will be our pensions. She is completely right.

Organisations will now need to shift their mindsets and move away from biases around career gaps and short terms of employment. The phrase “job hopper” should be trashed. The latter I fear, maybe a wish on my part.

Recruiters and job seekers alike will have to stay abreast of new development and trends particularly those relating to online interaction.

4. Wellness

Lockdown burnout is another Corona Virus legacy. Employee mental health will be a significant component of HR programmes in 2021. The blur between working from home and living at work has resulted in a boundary-less life, leading to high levels of stress and burnout.

Layered on top of professional commitments are juggling domestic responsibilities, childcare and home schooling or even isolation. Everyone has had something to cope with, leaving over 70% of employees saying they are more stressed and vulnerable than at any other point in their entire professional lives. Leaders will have to take intentional steps to check-in (not check-on) with their reports.

A top priority will be making sure that workplaces are physically safe with correct health precautions and protocols becoming part of everyday professional life. Perspex screens, hand sanitizer points and social distancing markers will be the norm. Organisations are going to have to deal with new challenges such as employee vaccine passports and bringing in protocols to deal with those who refuse to comply with the health regulations.

5. D.I.B: Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging

Organisations will come under the microscope for their employee inclusion initiatives and policies. Company culture is even more important than ever and how they have treated employees during lockdown. The Black Lives Matter movement peaked during the pandemic and there will be significant pressure to take meaningful steps to make workplace cultures inclusive. Gender and white washing will be closely scrutinised as companies paying lip service only, will be held to account.

Any organisation that sticks rigidly with a “command and control” presence culture approach will struggle. Any company with remote teams using employee activity monitoring software deserve a special place in hell.

So when we talk about getting back to “normal” we have to decide if this is something we actually want. A business environment where the needs of women and minorities are marginalised. Definitely not. The workplace report card of pre-COVID would definitely have a room for improvement comment.

6. Humanity in the workplace

We have talked about putting the “human” into HR but now this will broaden in scope to an idea of workplace humanity. It is clear that if there is one thing we need to do is to take better care of each other in 2021. This has to be more than individual acts of kindness, but embedded in systemic change and different leadership styles. We have to run our businesses differently to get better results in these new and challenging circumstances.

As the new decade starts with more intensive restrictions in many geographies, it’s up to each one of us to make sure our voices are heard to bring about the changes that suit us.


Build and hold together inclusive teams with help from our specialist corporate services.


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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