As vaccines roll out around the globe, companies are preparing for the workplace of 2021. While some are readying their return-to-office plans to resume business as usual, others are embracing a dispersed workforce and adapting accordingly.

The reality is, the workplace will remain largely virtual in 2021 regardless of business leaders’ long-term plans. The vaccine will take time to roll out, and the need to wear masks and observe physical distance will remain in effect throughout the year.

While many of us look forward to eating in a restaurant or going to a movie theater again, the promise of a vaccine doesn’t mean we have to return to business as usual. We have the opportunity — and nearly a year’s worth of learnings — to fix inefficient workplace processes and start forging a better workplace now. The following trends will play a major role in the future of work, which is shaping up to be a bright spot for employees and companies alike.

Evolution of the Home Office

After abrupt transitions to working remotely in 2020, organizations will hit their stride in 2021. Remote employees experienced technological and hardware challenges this year due to the limited technological resources, slow wi-fi connections and inadequate workspaces in their homes. Yet at the same time, most knowledge workers are more productive at home than they were in the office.

Organizations will seek to fuel this productivity by facilitating better remote work experiences. Tech stipends will enable employees to upgrade their home set-ups, while software investments, such as AI/ML, process automation and AR/VR, will help streamline organizational processes.

Related Article: These 2020 Trends Will Shape the 2021 Workplace

Prioritization of the Employee Experience

One of the main reasons employees have been more productive from home is their improved work-life balance. They’re spending less time commuting and more time interacting with family or engaging in personal hobbies. As a result, they’re feeling more engaged and productive on the job.

Now that companies have the data to prove remote work positively impacts productivity, they’ll be open to long-term flexibility options that improve the employee experience, including permanent remote work, hybrid work environments and shifted hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities. Tech giants like Microsoft have already unveiled such plans, and many more are sure to follow suit.

Related Article: Dion Hinchcliffe on Why Remote First is the Future of Employee Experience

Increasing 5G Usage

Increased remote work goes hand-in-hand with a more mobile workforce. If anything, 2020 underscored the importance of agility: Companies need technologies that allow employees to work from anywhere.

Learning Opportunities

Enterprises will increase their investments in mobile technology next year, and 5G may finally take off. In 2021, many employees will be just as productive on the move as they were at home or in the office.

Related Article: How 5G Will Better Enable Remote Work

The Rise of Cloud Working

Although it may seem like we live in a largely paperless world already, the pandemic revealed just how much paper we still rely on in the workplace. But the health risks and infeasibility of sharing paper documents among coworkers across remote settings might finally push companies to do away with physical files and shift to entirely digitized documents.

Additionally, cloud computing — which was already on the rise thanks to the reduced operational costs and increased efficiencies it provides — will continue to become more popular. Solutions like process automation will help streamline tasks that used to require tedious in-person or manual labor, further enabling the new era of cloud working. Lastly, organizations will rethink physical office spaces, downsizing and maximizing remaining space for in-person collaboration when needed.

Enhanced Cybersecurity Strategies

The shift to remote work introduced countless new home networks — and new opportunities for cyberattacks — into the business landscape. From suspected Russian cyberattacks on US government computer systems to Clearview AI’s massive data breach, cyber threats have been growing in frequency and severity.

One recent study found that remote workers have caused a security breach in 20% of organizations. In 2021, businesses will work to improve employee education and adopt more comprehensive cybersecurity strategies like zero trust.

2020 saw enterprises sprinting toward digital transformation finish lines, and 2021 will certainly have its fair share of bumps in the road. But after nearly a year of remote work, organizations are now positioned to fine-tune organizational processes and digital strategies, creating a future of work that better supports both the employee and the enterprise. 

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