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7 Workplace Trends for 2021-2022

As I have studied the job market and workplace trends for more than 50 years, I thought it would be interesting to share a piece penned by Al Lopus: the Cofounder and CEO at Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Al is an organizational culture and leadership consultant, coach, speaker and author.

These trends could significantly affect your workplace in the next few years.

Where your employees work and how well they work (remotely or together) is just the tip of the iceberg as you and your organization navigate the yet-uncharted, post-COVID waters. Read on.

Trend #1: The return to delegating decision-making to the front line, and refocusing communication on mission, not COVID

Why is this significant? Comparing COVID vs. pre-COVID, two themes emerged:

First, COVID has caused leaders to centralize decision-making. For speed and efficiency’s sake, decisions were pulled into the leadership team without feedback from key stakeholders. While necessary for the short-term, this will need to change for long-term effectiveness and employee engagement. Moving forward, leaders will need to delegate participation in decision-making outside the leadership team and closer to the front line.

Second, communication of the organization’s strategy improved during COVID. Organizations did a good job communicating their internal COVID strategy to keep the wheels on the wagon. Generally, research shows the employees’ perception that the organization was meeting its goals improved during the pandemic. We questioned what goals the employees thought the organization was meeting. Possibly they were perceptions like “hey, we are doing pretty good despite COVID.” We believe leaders will begin to refocus employees on mission goals post COVID.

Also, for many organizations, the perception is they were more effective with employees working remotely, but not across the board. Look for increased communication efforts to keep employees informed during remote work.

Consider . . .

· Return decision-making to front-line employees involved and affected by these very decisions.

· Refocus on the good communication skills that got you through COVID. Post-COVID, the challenge will be to communicate your organization’s strategy to meet your customers’ needs and organizational goals.

Trend #2: Refocus on employee engagement and culture (human flourishing)

During COVID a number of leaders said, “We can’t focus on engagement. We can’t ask our managers and employees to do one more thing!” Engagement fell off the radar of many leaders. They didn’t have time to follow up with stressed employees, and they were afraid of what their people might tell them.

As the COVID vaccine takes hold, and workplaces ramp back up, employers will need to reconnect with employees to gauge the level of engagement. Leaders will actively listen and more freely model the strength and wisdom of Proverbs 27:23, to be sure and know the state of their flock.

Call to action: Christian led organizations must become examples of the Kingdom of God here on earth where leaders and employees flourish.

Consider . . .

· With people feeling increased stress (less work-life balance, kids at home…), ask yourself, ”What issues are affecting my employees now, and how do I plan to address them?”

· Refocus on your Values. With people back in closer proximity, facing (and causing) relationship challenges that didn’t happen on Zoom, it will be time to refocus on organizational values.

· Re-engage your top talent. Post-COVID, disengaged employees will take advantage of options and choices. While Society of Human Resource Management says employees are spooked by continuing high unemployment and staying put in their jobs not seen in nearly a decade, will “the return to normal” tempt your best people to leave?

· Give your female employees grace. NPR reports women are leaving the workforce at four times the rate as men. The burden of parenting and running a household, while also working a job during the pandemic, has created a pressure cooker environment, and women are bearing the brunt of it. In light of this, how will you listen to and respond to stress levels your female employees are facing?

Trend #3: Heightened diversity and inclusion focus

Last summer’s experience of racial injustice has significantly heightened the tone and focus inside organizations.

Consider . . .

· Improve multi-cultural competence. What is the hard work of creating workplace experiences where minorities would feel safe and welcome in your organization? Common reading assignments help build competence. Examples of books include:

· The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby

· Long Time Coming, Michael Eric Dyson

· The Colors of Culture: The Beauty of Diverse Friendships, Melinda Joy Mingo

· Evaluate and expand training. Where do employees presently feel a sense of belonging from empathetic leaders vs. well-meaning one-off training sessions?

· Include millennials in the discussions. Diversity and inclusion are important topics for justice-minded millennials. Ensure you pay attention to millennials values, voices, convictions, and ideas. Trend #4: Decentralized / hybrid virtual workplaces are here to stay

When we are done with COVID, it is estimated that the number of people working from home will double from pre-COVID numbers. So, there will have to be new patterns to incorporate larger numbers of work from home employees with office employees.

The Future Forum research of 4,700 knowledge workers found the majority will never want to go back to the old way of working. Only 12% want to return to full-time office work, and 72% want a hybrid – remote office model.

Consider . . .

· Discover current best practice workplaces. Listen to your key leaders and find win/win productive compromises (celebrate ‘wins’ in advanced productivity in hybrid atmospheres.

· Identify best-in-class hybrid virtual workplace approaches. Prepare and prosper in the post-COVID work environment.

Trend #5: Don’t be shocked: 1-1 meetings are key to your team’s success!

It’s true. Believe it or not, organizational cultures have truly moved from “performance management” to “development conversations.” Frontline managers continue to be the key link between employees and organizations.

A 30- to 60-minute weekly or bi-weekly meeting can be an oasis of mutual listening, understanding, affirmation, challenge, and action for individuals and teams.

What’s the key to a productive, rewarding meeting? There isn’t one! (What’s worked for you in the past stands a chance to succeed moving forward.)

Consider . . .

· Training managers to communicate. Generally speaking, how comfortable do individuals feel discussing issues and concerns with managers where you work?

· Pre-populate agendas with open-ended, invitational questions and genuine interest:

· How are you feeling?

· What’s on your mind?

· What are you most excited about?

· What are your top priorities this week, and how can I help you? Trend #6: The gig economy will continue to grow

Freelancers, consultants, independent contractors/professionals, and contract workers… what was considered a side hustle has turned into a trillion-dollar industry. People like the flexibility… some even like working from their van while on an adventure.

Upwork, a marketplace for gig workers says that 57.3 million people freelance in the US and by 2027 they estimate it will increase to 87.5 million. Edison research identifies that 44% of gig workers say their work in the gig economy is their primary source of income.

From an employer perspective, the gig economy can translate into cost savings for employee benefits, office space, and overhead, while bringing skills and competency to the organization.

Consider . . .

· Identify gig opportunities. Identify simple projects where employing a gig worker could add competence and save time or money. Examples include graphic design, web/mobile/software development, marketing, social media management, etc.

· Bid the project on a gig / freelance website. Some examples of places to find gig/freelance workers to complete projects include Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and Fiverr.

Trend #7: Go digital for continuous learning and business development

Research finds “ten percent of a person’s development is classroom oriented; online/digital training can meet the need at reduced costs.

While organizations learned this during COVID, it’s hard to place a measurable value on digital learning, just as it’s hard to focus while sitting at your desk facing a full email in-basket and lists of unread messages.” Are you amazed at how incredibly efficient meetings video-conference can be? Instead of driving to a meeting, or flying to a meeting, you can recapture all the travel time into productivity and spend less. These and other digital tools will play an important role as a new kind of headquarters now being developed in a digital-first world. Organizations that do it well will drive engagement, achieve organizational agility, maintain alignment, and empower teamwork across all disciplines and locations.

- Bob Funk Sr.


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