With less reliance on fixed office spaces, businesses can reallocate savings into providing teams with better training and collaborative tools.

Organizations used to 9–6pm working arrangements are now finding remote-work to be a viable part of their long-term operational model, and not just a stopgap measure.

As we look to 2021, one thing keeping business leaders up at night is figuring how work will look like in a post-pandemic world. The answers are not immediately obvious, but I strongly believe that we can take guidance from some key trends that are already shaping the future of work as we know it, not just in 2021, but beyond.

Mobility, not just a buzzword

The pandemic has made it painfully clear that faster and more reliable connectivity was imperative for work to continue for a dispersed workforce. Connectivity will not just be a tool of the trade but will instead drive real-world benefits for business growth.

While technologies like 5G were supposed to come into their own in 2020, the coronavirus had significantly impacted operator rollout plans. When the benefits of 5G do become available and stable, teams will be able to increase efficiency and productivity when collaboration internally or with customers and partners—even remotely.

This flexibility to connect from wherever we are will play a leading role in post-pandemic recovery, as well as transform existing industries, including smart cities, telehealth, autonomous vehicles, education, and more.

Transform for resilience

Business leaders and organizations are now accepting that work can be done from anywhere to a reasonable degree of efficiency. This normalization is a key paradigm shift in 2020.

In 2021, organizations will start putting more thought into rethinking the future of work and the workplace, not just to drive the bottom line, but to build resilience so that they are better placed to adapt to future challenges.

We are likely to see more organizations adopting the hybrid working model where employees split their time between the office and their home office. This shift towards hybrid working will also change the way teams are managed: business leaders and managers will need to drop the culture of micromanagement and presenteeism, and instead empower their team with the trust and confidence that they will be able to get things done, even when out of sight.

In fact, entrusting your workforce with freedom can lead to positive results. A study conducted by Stanford University found that call center employees that worked from home for nine months saw their performance increase by 13%.

Navigating this new way of work will require business leaders and managers to take up remote-management skills and be equipped with the right tools to monitor, engage and interact with their teams. Issues of employee burn-out and equitable distribution of work are real issues that impact remote models significantly.

On the IT side of things, there also needs to be greater investments into the tools and platforms that will help sustain the workforce, whether by adopting video-first designs in office conferencing and huddle spaces, or by provide employees with equipment to enable better collaboration across a diverse range of locations and time zones.

Ultimately, this focus on flexibility is also about looking at work as something you do, instead of where you go. By making sure that employees are properly geared for success, whether in or out of the office, organizations can discover new ways to serve clients, and add to the bottom line.

Rethink the traditional workspace

With hybrid working splitting up both office and home workers, workplaces will shift from being the ‘default’ location of work, to becoming a central gathering point for employees to meet, socialize and conduct important meetings, most other work will continue to be done remotely.

Office spaces will thus need to be integrated with touchless functionality and technology, to adhere to distancing and employee density requirements. For example, sensors that automatically turn meeting room lights off when everyone leaves the room, or to track people-density hotspots in the office to facilitate safe distancing measures.

Likewise, technologies that impact employee wellness such as air filtering and circulation, or self-sanitizing door handles, will go a long way in helping workers feel more comfortable, and safe, when returning to work.

Not out of the woods yet

To be blunt, almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, we are still not out of the woods yet.

The first few months were a scramble to find some semblance of normality, to survive, and to fight another day. Almost a year on, many parts of the world are still struggling to cope with multiple waves of re-infections.

I think it is best to take a pragmatic view to the next year. Organizations must deliberately and purposefully invest in a flexible and more resilient workforce, and at the same time incorporate the lessons learned throughout 2020 as part of organizational best practices. Only then will we be in a prime position to adapt and build better resilience to global disruption now and in the future.

As much as the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be the greatest catalyst for digital transformation yet, 2021 is where the real work begins.