In 2021, not only will business leaders need to be mindful of economic recovery, but they also need to be mindful of the psychological recovery of their team members. 2020 was an incredibly stressful year for various reasons, and leaders who are looking to strengthen their company culture need to be cognizant of this fact.
Employee Morale and Welfare
If bolstering employee morale is on your list of corporate objectives for 2021, empathy will be at the core.
In terms of employee mentality, there is a bit of a divide; while some professionals may want to go back to the way things were in 2019, many others are looking to find a sense of normalcy by moving forward. For them, the “normal” of 2021 is not (and should not) mirror that of 2019 or 2018.
Having a company culture that focuses on “going back” or “returning” as opposed to moving forward may be perceived as rigid and/or resistant to change. For job seekers and employees, this could be problematic, so it is important to exercise caution in the delivery of your company’s 2021 business operation plan.
Your Remote Workforce
If 2020 proved to be beneficial for increased revenue, overall productivity, and/or process innovations, returning to “old” 2019 processes might not make sense for your organization.
Furthermore, if you hired remote professionals who live outside of a realistic commuting radius, requesting everyone else on your team to return to brick-and-mortar operations may impact their employee welfare because these remote employees will now be seen as the exception to the rule. If flexibility needs to be granted to some employees, be sure you can be consistent across the board in providing similar flexibility to others.
Although a large-scale remote workforce is not a realistic operation model for every company, there are benefits to managing a remote team. So, even when businesses are safely able to return their employees to the office, not every business may be willing to jump on that bandwagon.
Transitioning to the Back Office
With a list of viable COVID-19 vaccines growing, many Americans can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s important to remember, however, that vaccinating a population does not happen overnight, and the changes organizations made to keep their business open will not disappear overnight either.
It is safe to assume that 2021 will see a large segment of the workforce returning to in-office work. Factors like productivity, childcare, employee attitudes, and your office’s ability to follow CDC guidelines will all play a factor in what your individual business’ return to office plan looks like.
Currently, a hybrid or partial work model seems to be the popular (semi)permanent solution to manage the return. Many professionals have built stay-at-home routines that include child care, or have capitalized on the time saved by a lack of commute. Asking employees to pivot rapidly and work strictly from the office may have adverse effects on employee welfare.
Is Zoom Losing Speed?
For businesses that pivoted to remote work, that transition came with some speed bumps, but ultimately, the majority of businesses were able to maintain or increase their operational productivity. Savvy business owners used this as an opportunity to reach customers (and talent) in geographic markets more easily.
If leaders hope to build on this momentum in the new year, it is important not to lose sight of the tools, tactics, and technology that facilitated success in 2020. Again, the transition to in-person operations probably won’t be as widespread nor as immediate as one may hope. It is very likely that, even if in-person events like tradeshows, career fairs, seminars, or one-on-one (sales) meetings can happen, they might stay in the virtual space out of an abundance of caution.
Your Digital Presence
If The Social Dilemma taught us anything, it’s how powerful social media and targeted content can be. We have known this for years, but as people continue to turn to technology to feel connected to their community, corporate branding and marketing initiatives that do not include a strong digital presence will be severely hindered.
Diversity and Inclusion
The desire to create a diverse and inclusive workplace is at an all-time high. Outside of the 6 states that mandate sexual harassment training, many companies have taken it upon themselves to foster a more inclusive workplace. 2020 saw a dramatic rise in diversity training and cultural sensitivity programs. Some companies have even gone so far as to create positions within their HR teams designed to help facilitate continuous learning of these subjects and foster an inclusive working environment for all employees.
The importance of creating a safe workplace for all employees regardless of race, gender, religion sexual orientation, etc., is not a new concept by any means, but the political and social tensions brought to the forefront in 2020 demonstrated to many business owners the value in a company culture that actively and regularly demonstrates the tenets laid out in their EEOC and zero-tolerance policies –as opposed to taking a more passive approach.
Because this corporate push is a relatively new phenomenon, what it means to be truly inclusive is still settling into its “sweet spot”. We can expect the trend towards more socially conscious company cultures to continue, and corporate brand messaging to be more active within the social conversation as it pertains to their employees, prospective candidates, and customers.
The Year of Recovery
As we look to the year ahead, it is important to keep in mind where we have been. 2020 has been an emotionally, mentally, and financially stressful year, and the legacy of 2020 will shape the landscape of 2021 for various industries, corporate work culture, the employment market, and hiring strategies. Though we all may be feeling the fatigue from the events of this past year, there is cautious optimism within most Americans that will allow 2021 to be a year of recovery, resourcefulness, compassion, and hope.