It’s Bee again here. Matt will be back to share his musings with you at some point this year I promise – it’s one of my 2021 predictions that I’ve got reasonable confidence in – but for now you’re stuck with me and my thoughts. And if you haven’t already guessed it, this week’s theme is predictions for 2021.

I wrote a Christmas letter for the first time in 2020. One of those cringeworthy family news sharing affairs that you really only write for your own records but somehow convince yourself it’s a good idea to foist on to your friends and family too. I concluded it with some personal plans/ambitions/hopes/delusions for 2021: have a baby, move house, get married and go travelling for a couple of months (with a dog and a new baby). Reflecting on that list one twelfth of the way into 2021 already, and with the UK having just had lockdown extended to mid March, I think I should have stopped at ‘have a baby’!

You only need to read this article to realise that predicting what comes next in 2021, or the 2020s more generally, is a fool’s errand. Nevertheless, I’m still going to try to make some predictions for what might unfold in the arena of People, Culture and Work this year.


Prediction 1: Remote is here to stay

I think most office based businesses were surprised by quite how easily they adapted to entirely remote working when the first wave of Covid, and the accompanying national lockdowns, hit. As the numerous employee survey results came in it became clear that, for many, productivity had increased and people were enjoying their new more flexible work life. But as time has passed and enforced remote working has stayed with us, the ongoing survey results are revealing a more nuanced picture. People are missing their colleagues and the stimulation and energy that comes from face-to-face conversations with no screens involved.

Nearly a year in to this pandemic, even I can admit that I really miss seeing Matt, and our growing gang of pioneers, in person. For certain things remote working just doesn’t perform well enough. You want to launch a new product or service line. You want to bring your team together, build bonds and get everyone excited about what it is you’re creating and how you’re going to change the world. An all day Zoom call just doesn’t cut it.

This New Yorker article tries to answer the question: “Has the pandemic transformed the office forever?“. It explores the more nuanced picture that’s emerging of what people need and want from their workspaces. It follows the companies that are trying to stay on the front foot with regards to what to do with their currently empty office spaces.

What do I think we’re going to end up with? Much more purposeful offices. Spaces that give people somewhere to come together and be collaborative. Spaces that are shared by networks of collaborative companies with similar ambitions. And when this kind of space isn’t what we need, we’ll work remotely. We’ll move towards working patterns that reap the benefits of both worlds.


Prediction 2: Everyone’s going hybrid

Speaking of benefiting from the best of both, it’s not just our workspaces that are going hybrid. As unemployment rises along with the threat of recessions, people with ‘hybrid skills’ and companies with ‘hybrid cultures’ look poised to win.

This HBR article makes a powerful case for the value of ‘and’ rather than ‘or’.

If my recent experience of the used hybrid car market is anything to go by then this prediction is one I’m firmly backing. Everyone knows that new cars lose nearly half their value in their first year of ownership. Not so it seems when purchasing a hybrid. So valued is that hybrid quality, we’ll pay almost as much for a one year old car with 5,000 miles on the clock as we will for one straight from the factory! Hybrid is the new superpower everyone wants.


Prediction 3: Education’s getting more serious

The challenge with hybrid skills becoming ever more valuable is that the people who were doing pretty well pre-pandemic are even better positioned now. You’re a data scientist with some management experience? Fantastic! Have a job in HR, marketing, finance or sales… take your pick! The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ is growing rapidly.

Some predictions suggest that by 2025 over 50% of the workforce will be either unemployed or working in the gig economy. For the ‘haves’ the gig economy allows them to develop portfolio careers, explore diverse opportunities and pursue personal learning and growth that might be restricted by working for a single employer. For the ‘have-nots’ it can mean being lumbered with poor employment terms and conditions, limited job security and unpredictable incomes.

If we’re going to close this gap, we’re going to have to get serious about learning. We’re already seeing a massive rise in EdTech and I can only see this trend continuing. Once again some companies are on the front foot of this trend. Companies like Daimler have made a business case for investing in people, seeing this as crucial to being able to fulfil their labour needs. To paraphrase from a fascinating discussion in The Edtech Pocast: “We’re not going to run out of jobs but if we don’t get serious about learning we could run out of talent”. Start listening at around 25 minutes for a really meaty and inspiring discussion about the future of workforce development.


What does all this mean if you’re a People person supporting your business through 2021?

  1. Make it as easy as possible for people to work remotely and start thinking about how to make your physical workspace as human as possible. When your people can come together, how can you make this the best possible experience?
  2. Drive your diversity and inclusion agenda. The more you can bring in diverse perspectives, skills and backgrounds, the better you’ll equip your organisation to adapt in this rapidly changing world.
  3. Get serious about learning at your company. Developing your people isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also likely to be your best route to accessing the talent and skills your company’s going to need to thrive in the future.

Until next time…

Bee 

Founder and wannabe Mystic Meg at The Pioneers