4 Predictions on Where Workplaces Are Heading in 2021 (Blog Post)
Last year, I wrote about 10 trends to watch for in the future of work. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the future arrived much faster than I anticipated.
Increased flexible and remote work; greater emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion; reskilling for communication and empathy; and recognizing intersectional identities in the workplace were among the trends that researchers at Catalyst and elsewhere had predicted would accelerate over the next decade. Instead of gradually becoming the way we work over 10 years, it shifted almost overnight because of Covid-19.
Nine months later, the ground is still shifting even as we stand on it. But there are still some clear takeaways that could give us a sense of what lies ahead.
Here is how we can expect the workplace to be different in 2021:
- Flexible and remote work could become permanent.
- More leaders will be held accountable for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
- Empathy and inclusive communication will be must-have job skills.
- Intersectionality will shape DEI initiatives.
When the pandemic forced many companies to close their physical offices, those that had already set up their employees for remote work were better prepared to weather the disruption. That was certainly the case for Catalyst. Flexibility also became essential, particularly for working parents and others managing caregiving responsibilities.
Some leaders previously were hesitant to embrace these policies. But now they realize how critical they could be to navigating future disruptions, and they’ve seen what we already know from Catalyst research: flexibility in when, where, and how work gets done can increase both productivity and job satisfaction. What’s more, it allows companies to attract a more diverse global talent pool—particularly women.
Expect remote and flex work to stay for the long haul.
We expected that DEI initiatives would become higher priorities in the coming decade, but the pandemic laid bare and exacerbated inequities, particularly for women of color. Global protests against police brutality and racism also renewed calls for racial equity in the workplace. Employees, investors, and consumers demanded real change—and many leaders felt the sense of urgency to respond.
In September, more than 60 global corporations, including Accenture, Bank of America, Chevron, Deloitte, EY, Google, KPMG LLP, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, PwC, Uber, and Visa, joined the groundbreaking Gender and Diversity KPI Alliance (GDKA) to support the adoption and use of a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure gender and diversity in their companies. I am the co-chair of the new organization.
In 2021, expect measurement and accountability to become even more important. Nasdaq announced last month that it was seeking US SEC approval to enact diversity requirements for the boards of its listed companies. Companies that do not meet the requirements would need to explain why.
While building more equitable workplaces has always required empathy and inclusive communication, the pandemic drove the need for these skills to the forefront. Employees’ lives are upended, with many experiencing fear, uncertainty, and stress. Leaders who truly listened and supported employees were able to maintain stronger team cohesion, satisfaction, and productivity.
Expect leaders to continue harnessing the lessons that they learned about empathy and prioritize these skills in job training and recruiting. The people who have these skills will be essential to leading teams through future disruptions.
Intersectionality is a framework for understanding how social identities—such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and gender identity—overlap with one another and with systems of power that oppress and advantage people in the workplace and broader community.
As the pandemic showed disparate impacts on women of color—who experienced higher rates of Covid-related job losses compared to White women—there was a visceral understanding of the need to address different barriers faced by different people in the workplace. Leaders who do not address unique barriers to inclusion and advancement in their organization will increasingly lose out on key talent. And as an understanding of intersectionality becomes more widespread, DEI leaders will need to integrate this framework into their initiatives to ensure they remain competitive employers.
With the pandemic still raging and upending industries and people’s lives, I am not naïve about the challenges ahead. But I remain hopeful that changes in 2021 will help us build more equitable workplaces where everyone can thrive.
President & CEO
Lorraine Hariton is President and CEO of Catalyst, a global nonprofit working with the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Catalyst’s vision and mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion has been a lifelong passion for Lorraine. She is…