41.8% of U.S. workers want to continue working remotely in the future. These are professionals who will likely say no to an employer’s proposal to return to the office and even look for a new job that allows a flexible schedule.

While recruitment has largely moved virtually, many organizations don’t yet have a clear view of what the future of their workplace should look like. Resources are limited and managers still feel that their teams are equipped with the right skills to handle long-term distributed work. Some employees have already returned to the office for good while others are still trying out the hybrid model. 

The state of remote work in 2021 has seen an increase in new challenges and trends managers need to prepare for. Among these:

  • A first try at hybrid work
  • Reliance on video conferencing tools and further improvements
  • Employees getting used to the benefits of remote work and learning to say no to anything below their expectations
  • Advancements towards digital reskilling
  • A future global workforce without excuses
  • Continuous work on developing employee-employer trust
  • Remote work as a core diversity and inclusion strategy

The current state of remote work

A first try at hybrid work

2021 is yet another year for experimentation. 

66% of leaders are working towards changing their previous office spaces to suit a hybrid work model. Changing office layouts and pathways, adding new technology to connect remote and in-office employees, and creating safer rooms for virtual communication are three of the most common steps taken towards the new workplace.

This is the safest attempt at making new work demands suit everyone. On one hand, you’ve got employees who are enjoying their flexible time from home but would still like in-person interactions with their colleagues for collaborative work. On the other, you’ve got companies who are still unsure whether letting employees work away from the office can help them maintain the same performance levels in the long run.

A hybrid solution also aims to reduce employee turnover. This is because it allows each team member to choose how they want to work. A Qualtrics study on the future of remote work reveals that preferences towards each work style are fairly distributed:

Improving workspaces will significantly increase an employee’s experience and support high performance levels with minimal effort. This hybrid approach takes into account everyone’s opinions, supporting the well-being of every team member. 

The key to making everyone happy is ultimately communication. A McKinsey report reveals that organizations with clear communication patterns are seeing the benefits to employee well-being and productivity even in a remote setting. 

The same report highlights the uncertainty that’s still floating around what the future of work will look like. 40% of employees claim their organizations haven’t yet communicated a vision for post-pandemic work with only 32% of them aware of how their work will be:

Reliance on video conferencing tools and further improvements

In the meantime, video conferencing tools have replaced the traditional office and are settling in for good. 

The hybrid workplace will continue to rely on them as at-home employees need to be kept up-to-date with everything even when they’re not in the office. This means that any person showing up to the office will still have to maintain the same remote work practices as if they were working from home.

Owl Labs looked into the challenges that video calls will pose over the next few years, including:

  • Uncertainty related to the management of a meeting
  • Booking and finding empty conference rooms [especially as some companies have reduced the size of their offices]
  • Deciding on a single solution for all needs as 89% of organizations still use multiple video conferencing apps

Briefing this up, most executives still haven’t got the hang of video conferencing. In this context, Krisp has become a go-to solution on the market for keeping remote meetings productive and insightful.

Krisp reduces misunderstandings during meetings by removing background noises on both ends of a conversation. This makes for more professional client calls and you can even use the tool to record podcasts and webinars with HD voice quality and no echoes. 

A newly launched feature enables teams to look closer at how they’re spending their time in meetings. The Insights section tells you exactly how much time you spend on a call and what apps you used. This gives you a better idea of what video conferencing apps are worth keeping and can indicate if you’re spending too much of your day in meetings.

Employees getting used to the benefits of remote work and learning to say no to anything below their expectations

Access to a better work-life balance, working from a dream location, spending more time with their families, and working according to a flexible schedule are four core benefits that employees have simply gotten used to.

These are now basic, mandatory perks that employees demand from their future workplace. In an increasingly competitive job market, it’s worth looking into offering unique perks to attract and keep your hires. Some organizations are already ahead of this trend, offering one-of-a-kind benefits like:

  • A four-day workweek
  • Unlimited vacation time that’s paid for
  • Equal pay for all team members and full transparency into the salaries they offer
  • Covering the cost of house cleaning, child care, fitness memberships, and even vacations
  • Paying for sabbaticals as long as one year
  • Delivering free lunches and dinners straight to employees’ homes
  • Contributing stocks to new hires at no cost
  • Regular trainings and mentorship sessions for any new skill [work-related or not] they want to learn

Advancements towards digital reskilling

66% of L&D managers agree that learning and development efforts should be the main focus for companies looking to rebound or grow in 2021. Prior to 2020, this wasn’t at the top of the priorities list as the same LinkedIn report reveals an increase from 24% to 63% in executives’ interest in L&D over the course of a single year. 

Among all training efforts, executives are implementing more upskilling and reskilling opportunities:

Learning new skills and improving their current knowledge helps team members build the resilience and digital fluency they need to handle potential new challenges and threats. Companies like JPMorgan Chase and Amazon have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars into upskilling their employees and helping them future proof their careers. This will help employees stay confident, keep up with demands in their industry, and retain their jobs. 

What the future of remote work looks like

A global workforce without excuses

Working with global talent is becoming a necessity for companies as the future will bring more interest in remote work and reduce the number of available talent on a local level. Demand in certain industries is also exceeding the available talent, making executives look for hires beyond their close proximity. 

77% of leaders believe in the gig economy and freelance workers replacing full-time employees over the course of the next four years. This is expanding talent access even further, tapping into multiple nationalities and even generations as retirees and recent graduates will work on the same front.

Labor laws and policies as we know them are also likely to change in order to handle the demand for global talent. In the absence of new laws, working with international talent will cause compliance problems for organizations that don’t know how to handle this change.

Consequently, the issue of data security will continue to threaten organizations. Offices are being replaced by coworking spaces that aren’t yet prepared to handle the security operations and logistics of big companies. In 2020 alone, 20% of corporate workers used coworking space at least once a week with an increase of 6% from 2019.

Continuous work on developing employee-employer trust

53% of people believe corporations are responsible for sharing the information that the news media fails to deliver. The same Edelman Trust Barometer shows that employee-employer trust is increasing on a global level with 76% of workers trusting their employer above other forms of communication including the Government and NGOs.

But as employees are free to move around, companies will have to maintain employees’ trust no matter where they are in the world. One way they’re already doing this is by implementing workplace mental health programs and building a culture of trust that starts at the top of the organization. Maintaining the mental wellbeing of employees is proving efficient at reducing work-related stress, improving absenteeism, and reducing turnover.

Each year employees are self-reporting more anxiety and depression occurrences caused by their work situation. This is often the result of a poor work culture or management issues. If employers don’t show any interest in fixing problems and helping employees overcome these issues, people will be leaving the organization. This is the exact driver behind companies investing millions of dollars into their mental health programs as well as the increased interest in mental health startups.

Remote work as a core diversity and inclusion strategy

The expanded global talent pool has eased efforts for building a diverse workforce. Two out of five DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) professionals admit that hiring remotely is a DEI initiative they introduced in 2020. More organizations will go down this path to promote diversity as part of their culture, train recruiters to implement inclusive recruitment practices, and diversify their talent pool by opening up to new locations and minorities.

Gartner has revealed that previous D&I initiatives have been largely ineffective so focus on them remains a top priority for 69% of CEOs. New programs are being built starting with a talent acquisition process that focuses on gradually eliminating hiring bias altogether in the future. Organizations are also looking into setting up networking opportunities for underrepresented talent within the organization. The bottomline approach is for employers to improve the relationship they have with every single employee, regardless of their representative group.

Key takeaways on anticipating the future state of remote work in 2021

Organizations that have successfully passed through 2020 have one thing in common: they were able to anticipate future trends and employee needs. The companies have established employee engagement and inclusion programs ahead of time and opted for reskilling their remaining team instead of pausing their activity. 

You can start thinking about the future of work within your own company by looking at your daily activity. Over the next few years, some tasks are more likely to be done remotely than others. McKinsey has studied each type of activity workers in the U.S. do. They determined that it’s tasks and activities [as opposed to occupations] that indicate whether a job can be done remotely or requires a hybrid approach. 

Comparing these types of activities will give you a good idea of whether the hybrid work approach is right for your team or you can stick with a fully distributed workforce. For example, if work is largely based on discussing business strategies and analyzing trends, a remote setting will be enough. Once you need your employees to create physical prototypes or attend client meetings, the hybrid model is a clear choice.

Finally, remember to maintain an open communication loop with your employees. One-on-ones and anonymous feedback surveys can give you a lot of insights into how your team feels and what they’re struggling with. Read more on how to have a productive remote one-on-one through our guide.