2020 has been a year for the record books. It is likely the COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed the way people will do their jobs moving forward. And with the year ending on a positive note, as vaccinations have begun across the country, the question is now:  what people should expect from 2021 when it comes to returning to the office and figuring out what’s best for employees over the next year?

Read on, as we highlight 10 workplace trends you should be on the lookout for as we enter the new year.


1. Continued push for remote work

computer screen showing video call


All available data are pointing to the fact that workers want to continue having flexibility when it comes to where and when they get their job done. Since many industries were forced into a remote work modality because of the pandemic, employees have shown they are capable of doing their job from someplace other than the office. That means, remote work is likely not going anywhere.

Given that many people are unable to work productively from home, it’s essential to provide a COVID-safe workplace for those who want to return to the office. Check out these free resources to help guide your strategy.

Want the proof?

The research certainly emphasizes this point. A Smartway2 return to work survey found that roughly 90% of respondents said their ideal work pattern involves a combination of remote and in-office work. A mere 2% said that they want to go back to the office full-time and just 6% said they want to work from home all the time.

Similarly, research from Cisco finds that 77% of larger organizations will increase work flexibility moving forward.


2. Hybrid Work is Here to Stay

Pushing one step further than allowing remote work, hybrid work is a style that allows employees to complete a mixture of work from home and the office. The key to this strategy is flexibility and planning.

We know many companies that have already embraced a hybrid type of work style even before the pandemic, and the trend is certain to gain steam moving forward. Among the big names adopting a hybrid work environment: Facebook, Google, Intel and Microsoft, with Microsoft’s plans reported in USA Today.

A recent Boston Consulting Group article touts the many benefits to this style of work, “Hybrid work models, done right, will allow organizations to better recruit talent, achieve innovation, and create value for all stakeholders. By acting boldly now, they can define a future of work that is more flexible, digital, and purposeful.”


3. Emphasis on hot-desking

The pandemic has forced many companies to reexamine the physical space and lay-out of their office. When workers begin venturing back into the office, the space they will need is going to be different, especially for companies that transition away from requiring employees to be in the office everyday from 9-5. For example, when it comes to companies embracing a hybrid work style, it may no longer be necessary for each employee to have an assigned desk.

Hot desking can enable companies to reconfigure their space so it is used more efficiently. Other benefits of hot desking include increased productivity and greater opportunities for collaboration among employees.

The best way to incorporate hot desking into your office is with a workplace scheduling tool. Proper scheduling will allow managers to oversee who is booking a desk on which days and for what times . As a result, managers can ensure space on a given day is not overbooked or unoccupied. .


4. Workspace privacy: pods

With a more open floor plan potentially in your future that could include fewer individual offices or conference rooms, there may be a need to find a place for employees to have some privacy… enter the office pod.

There are numerous companies on the market that sell these types of pods and they come in many different sizes. But, the one thing they all have in common is the office pod is somewhere for employees to go where they can have some privacy. A pod could be for a one individual who needs to make a phone call in a quiet space, or for 10 employees to have lunch together.

Many well-known corporations have already introduced these pods into their offices. The company ROOM boasting big names including, Nike, Apple, Amazon, Google and Buzzfeed.


5. Wellness shifts to a top priority



It’s no secret that COVID-19 has sparked an uptick of mental health problems for workers all across the globe.

Among the chief issues cited by employees; the stress caused by the inability to switch off and create a clear boundary between home and work, pressure from management to be always “on” and available, financial worries, and job insecurity.

A new study from Oracle found that the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of 78% percent of the global workforce.  That same study reported that 85% of people say their mental health issues at work negatively affect their home life.

With the data so clear and the percentage of respondents at such overwhelming levels, it is obvious that improving employee’s mental health will need to be a top priority in 2021. There are many ways to address mental health challenges, including allowing flexible work schedules, investing in your employees well-being and implementing a wellness program.


6. Salary changes

With a change in the way work is done, a change in pay structure and salary  may likely be on the horizon.

A Glassdoor workplace trend report found, “Although every worker is different, and it’s not possible to predict a single base pay adjustment that’s appropriate for every employee, we predict a tidal wave of comp adjustments in 2021 as many tech and professional services workers go remote and move away from company HQs.” The article goes on to explain in further detail, “When workers go fully remote and move to new cities, they remove themselves from the local labor market that initially determined their pay. Once they move, they are subject to the market forces of a very different labor market.”


7. Emphasis on diversity, inclusion and equity

In addition to the pandemic, 2020 has been a historic year when it comes to shedding light on racial disparities and systemic inequalities within the U.S and around the world.

Toolbox.com writes, “From the Black Lives Matter movement to the growing inequity in the gender wage gap caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity in the workplace and employees’ concern about it has been. The number of appointments of chief diversity officers have increased significantly. Several companies have set diversity hiring targets, and while step one is to meet these targets, step two will be to track exactly how much change diversity hiring and chief diversity officers bring to the workplace.”


8. Sanitation policies will be key

Many companies have already begun to drastically change their policies regarding cleaning/sanitation. But as employees begin to feel more comfortable going back into the office following the pandemic, consistently high cleanliness standards will become extremely important.

It will be key for companies to have clear guidelines in place for sanitizing shared spaces and letting workers know when shared items are safe and clean for them to use.

Workplace scheduling tools like Smartway2 can help with this in many ways including the following:


  • Preventing touch contamination by ensuring meeting rooms and desks are cleaned after every use
  • Easily prevent people from booking desks that have been used in the past 48 hours
  • Each desk has a countdown timer, so you can see at-a-glance how long it’ll be before a desk becomes available again


9. Superteams emerging

Professional services company Deloitte has placed superteams on its top 5 predictions for workplace trends in 2021.

Deloitte’s article on future trends says in part, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations doubled down on teams and teaming as a survival strategy to enable adaptability and speed. Leaders now have the opportunity to use what they have learned to construct “superteams” that pair people with technology to re-architect work in more human ways. By amplifying humans’ contributions to new and better outcomes, superteams can play an integral part in an organization’s ability to grow and thrive.”

The article further states the following as Deloitte’s hypothesis for 2021: “Superteams can give organizations the opportunity to re-architect work in more human ways, leveraging technology to elevate teams’ ability to learn, create, and perform in new ways to achieve better outcomes.”


10. A whole new look at recruitment

Since many companies have been forced into a remote modality for nearly a year, it is likely COVID-19 has permanently changed the all ways recruitment is handled by companies. .

CareerPlug, a recruiting software company, reports, “The percentage of businesses that say all of their hiring is conducted in-person has decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March (from 44% to 28.3%). Conversely, the percentage of businesses that have switched to fully remote hiring methods has increased by 6 times since March. Lastly, 71% of businesses have integrated some degree of remote hiring methods.”

According to CareerPlug, many changes that have been made are ones that companies want to maintain moving forward. “Sixty-one% of businesses made changes to their hiring process during COVID-19 that they plan to keep implementing in 2021. Some examples include video interviews, electronic onboarding and training, recruiting in new regions for fully remote positions, and using hiring software to better evaluate candidates at the top of the hiring funnel.”


Smartway2 can help you boost employee experience, collaboration and productivity, while automating a safe return to work. To find out more request a demo with a member of our team.