What can you expect in the workplace of your company in 2021? Here's what we'll see on the pike and how we can prepare now.
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Obviously, 2020 broke all the rules when it came to the world of work and workplace issues. But what is in store for 2021 and how can managers and executives be prepared?
One thing is certain: there will be no return to normal work this year, even if we get a widespread vaccine in the US. Those who expect a smooth transition from chaos and turmoil to calmer (more predictable) waters may be in for a rude awakening as it is likely a bit of a bumpy re-entry into "normal life" – or a complete reinvention of what normal looks like .
This is because there are at least three main factors that will continue to disrupt and challenge corporate culture in 2021 – and that effective managers need to prepare for.
Return to the office chaos
For the past nine months, much of the world that used to fill offices and clog trains and highways has been hidden from their laptops and zoomed and emailed on the fort. While many strive to get out of the sweat and out of the house, quite a few will likely expand the work-from-home regime, or at least switch to a hybrid model, as soon as vaccinations make it safe. Managers are tasked with an even more dispersed workforce than ever before.
In fact, the vaccine could cause even more chaos as companies struggle to implement hybrid work models as well as safety protocols among workers venturing back into the office. Managers need to determine whether employees who receive the vaccine can be back in the office with fewer restrictions on social distancing. Or perhaps more importantly, what about the 42 percent of Americans now who say they won't get the vaccine? Should they stay home? The Emtrain Workplace Culture Report 2020 found that an unhealthy in-group / out-group dynamic is one of the biggest indicators of a bad workplace culture. The polarization that surrounds the vaccine could create a whole new dynamic inside and outside the group in companies.
Related: 5 Ways A Remote Manager Can Destroy Your Work Culture
Pendulum swing from cronyism and corruption to increased corporate regulation and compliance
For four years under the Trump administration, we saw little or no corporate regulation – along with what some would call an unprecedented level of cronyism and corruption, where even seated US senators are screened for insider trading. With the power shift at the top, it is likely that we will see a major setback in the other direction in response to perceived imbalances in wealth and power. It is more than likely that we will see today's equivalent of the Muckraker: destroy monopolies, regulate businesses, and increase scrutiny over ethics and compliance. Some of this has already started. In June 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice updated its guidelines for assessing a company's corporate compliance program in the event of complaints.
One part of the guidelines asks, “Has the company assessed the impact of the training on the behavior or operations of employees?” Companies are now expected to find out whether the training has had an impact: the actual improvement . Regulations on topics like ethics and compliance go beyond ticking a box to indicate that you influenced the behavior. Companies have to show real change.
Related: Bringing Ethics Back to Business: Alethia
Social justice, equity and inclusion are becoming a priority beyond the Personnel and Diversity Commissioners
The pandemic and free fall of the economy have highlighted the inequalities in our society based on race, gender and economy. Black and brown people suffered disproportionately, women shouldered more work due to school closings and assignments at home, and front-line workers were significantly more affected than knowledge workers.
Given the level of inequality, the visibility of these issues and the collective public anger, I believe that in 2021 we will see an increased focus on social justice, equity and corporate inclusion, addressing racial and gender equality, and protection and rights for this offers front workers. Increased public awareness of these issues, coupled with employee use of social media, will result in a skilled workforce that companies will have to adapt to. Look no further than outrage over Google's firing of one of its employees for loudly criticizing tech companies' treatment of black workers. Businesses will realize they can't get rid of "troublemakers" because, in just one tweet, those troublemakers can embarrass the company, make headlines and affect the bottom line.
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How can entrepreneurs and managers prepare for these challenges in 2021?
Establish and reinforce clear, open, and regular communication with your employees about the status of the job, expectations, and guidelines regarding vaccinations and remote work. Stay flexible in the transition process.
Understand and prepare yourself that due to the polarization around Covid, politics or social justice, you need to find different ways to communicate, reach different audiences in the workplace and create common ground.
Moving from a reactive culture management strategy to a proactive approach that optimizes to solve problems first and then think about defending litigation.
Record the social indicators of respect and inclusion in the workplace, and measure and increase these indicators in your workforce as you drive behavior and culture change.
The scale of the changes 2020 has forced all of us has been dramatic to say the least. I think the chaos will continue, but in different ways. Not all change is bad. A renewed focus in the workplace on social justice and measurable change is positive. Making business leaders more accountable to their employees, and the ideals that these employees hold dear, is progress. It won't be easy, but it will be necessary. And leaders who take the time to plan and prepare for massive change should be better equipped for it.