We can’t predict the future, but the lessons learned from the past can guide us to a new era of work.
By now, we’ve all read plenty of articles on changes in the workforce over the past two years. It’s pretty safe to say that the pandemic affected the workplace significantly.
As the dust settles and we close out our second year since the start of the pandemic, we’re starting to see a clearer picture of the effects and how the future of work is taking shape. We’re replacing phrases like “unprecedented times” and “the new normal” with new buzzwords like “hybrid workplace.”
The growth of remote and hybrid work is evident, and we know they are here to stay. But what other major trends are emerging for the year ahead?
Let’s examine a few of the work trends we can expect in 2022 and beyond.
A Quick Look Back
It is only by understanding the past that we can comprehend the future possibilities.
The pandemic had a sudden, drastic short-term effect on the workforce. Millions of workers lost their jobs, while others were forced to adapt quickly to working from home. Before the pandemic, new technologies and increased trade were the most significant disruptions to the workforce. This time, we faced the reality of work itself.
Work was no longer a “place,” but rather an activity we performed no matter where we were. This massive reorganization in the workplace affected the physical location of work and the concept of the work itself.
Challenges We Faced
During the crisis, we had to adjust our working habits and environments. This led to some hardships and the need for new methods of working.
Recently, we surveyed Freedom users about their experiences working during the pandemic. Here are a few responses we received regarding the challenges they faced:
What challenges did you encounter?
“The workload increased dramatically for a variety of pandemic-related and unrelated factors, and when working from home, the impact of that workload is practically invisible to management.”
“Working from home WHILE having young kids at home. Impossible..”
“Loss of connection to projects and outcomes. Time began to feel magical and never-ending. Loss of motivation/structure.”
“Distractions, lack of motivation, frustrating back and forth communication.”
Freedom users aren’t the only ones who experienced these challenges. Research shows 65% of remote workers felt more disconnected. More than half of parents working remotely had difficulty working without interruptions, and 26% of workers had trouble balancing work and family responsibilities.
Lessons We Learned
Challenges like these bring new growth opportunities, however. The lessons we’ve learned from 2021 are what will make 2022 so great.
Our survey also asked Freedom users to tell us what they learned from work challenges during the pandemic. Below are a few of their responses:
What is the biggest lesson you have learned about your working habits in the past 18 months?
“I have really weak skills in estimating how much time a task will take, and how many tasks I can complete in a day.”
“I need a bit of structure from my supervisors in order to do my best work, but once I have that structure, I’m very capable of working independently.”
“Time management is very important.”
“I am easily distracted and often lose focus. It is a battle to stay on task.”
It is clear that time, focus, and structure are important. These are essential skills for working remotely, something we have learned as a collective workforce. According to research, businesses that prevailed during the pandemic adopted more people-centric operating models, addressing things like communication and structure. Organizations that took the time to give clear guidance, break down work amongst the team, and make goals survived and increased productivity by 80%.
What Lies Ahead
Future predictions, trend forecasts, and year-end wrap-ups are everywhere as we head toward the new year. But one thing is crystal clear.
For organizations to thrive in 2022, they must change with the times and focus on their people.
What do we mean? Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company said it well: “The return to the workplace is a new muscle that organizations need to develop, not a plan with a predictable timeline.”
This year will be all about stretching our muscles, about molding the lessons we’ve learned from the pandemic into a new way of working. It is made even more complex by the “great resignation” of so many in 2021 and by the distinct perspectives added by Generation Z entering the workforce. Employers are changing how they engage, attract, and retain workers in response.
Let’s look at four prominent trends that will shape 2022.
This year’s work location options will remain the same, including centralized workplaces, remote work locations, and the newly developed hybrid model. Hybrid work offers the best of both worlds, allowing employees to work from home or at the office.
The most likely change this year will be that workers will choose which model they prefer rather than being forced into one model or another.
In 2022, we’ll see a variety of physical workplaces. These may be permanent offices that allow remote workers to come in a few days a week or co-working spaces that companies use for their remote teams.
86% of leaders and executives surveyed by Colliers International said they expect employees to work from home at least one day per week. In another report, 63% of high-revenue growth companies employ hybrid workforce models, and 83% prefer them.
There’s no doubt that many will be pleased to see the trend in hybrid work, however it is configured. Recent surveys show almost all workers and managers are satisfied with the possibility of working remotely, and 68% confirmed that working remotely and on-site is the ideal work model.
It will be crucial that we no longer view hybrid work as a novel idea and instead treat it as a norm.
Automation and AI Integration
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will also advance in the coming year. Automation has become a necessity in a world of layoffs, shortages, and remote locations. According to the World Economic Forum, AI and automation will generate 97 million new jobs by 2025.
There will likely be an increase in digital process automation (DPA) this year. DPA is typically used to automate repetitive tasks so workers can concentrate on more human-centered activities. Automate to liberate, as the saying goes. For example, banks can automate account opening to spend more time with customers.
Additionally, Forrester predicts that 35% of service companies will have physical robot workers in place by 2022. The need for service industry jobs such as food preparation and warehouse support is expected to grow steadily over the next 10 years, yet the employment rate is declining. While automation will keep production moving, a change in human roles could permanently alter the landscape of low-end service work.
As the nature of work changes, automation allows us to address specific issues we faced during the pandemic. Finding relevant information was one of those challenges. Individual workers often struggle to find the information, knowledge, and resources they need when working independently. In the coming years, AI-based content delivery systems will become increasingly popular to get relevant content to people searching for it and connect those working together.
As teams become more separated, collaborative platforms will become more critical. Microsoft has already begun introducing changes to Teams Rooms, including a new category of AI-enabled cameras with active speaker tracking.
Distraction is another significant challenge we can overcome with automation. People, social media apps, or other distractions often prevent us from staying focused. Managing our time and eliminating distractions is essential.
Tools like Freedom automate this process. The Freedom app can block all distractions to focus on what you need to do and reduce distractions. The schedules feature allows the app to automate processes so you can focus on what matters.
Employee Well-Being and Communication
Continuing the process of “unbundling the workplace,” as Deloitte describes it, the way we work in the future will put much more focus on the employee.
It’s easy to point out the vast majority who are happy, but many workers are still suffering. Loom found that about 20% of workers have a more difficult time working from home than at an office. There is a feeling of distraction, disconnection, and missing out on the office spirit.
The need for better communication is apparent if we wish for happier employees in 2022. At the pandemic’s start, organizations had little time to adjust their operations and prepare their employees. Communication across all levels of hierarchy was the key to surviving the crisis.
Leaders must reach out to employees to cultivate relationships. Employees need to feel connected to their companies through communication. Kathleen Schulz, global innovation leader for organizational wellbeing at Gallagher, called 2020 “the year of listening.”
According to research, organizations also need to adjust their perspective on benefits. A survey found that employees would like discounts on the things they enjoy outside of work, to be able to travel more, and to be rewarded for their accomplishments. Employees would also like to see more mental health and wellbeing resources in the workplace.
For companies to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic, they must pay much greater attention to employee wellbeing. Research by Korn & Ferry shows that successful organizations integrate employee wellbeing into every facet of their people strategy. This includes needs related to social, financial, and emotional wellbeing.
One firm, for instance, provides six paid days off a year for their employees to volunteer for local organizations while learning skills that will help them grow professionally. This multifaceted approach leads to positive retention, productivity, and employee satisfaction.
Shifting Occupational Mix
The ongoing pandemic will continue to accelerate workplace transformations in profound ways. A report on the post-pandemic economy shows that occupations in the eight economies will soon change significantly.
Before the pandemic, the majority of job losses occurred in middle-wage jobs. Meanwhile, low- and high-wage jobs were on the rise. Low-wage jobs were relatively easy to find, so someone who lost a job could easily find another.
The pandemic has, however, most adversely affected these low-wage jobs. As a result, most growth in labor demand will happen in high-wage positions. The explosion in jobs in high-paying occupations and the decline in low-paying occupations will result in a significant change in the workforce.
It is reported that up to 25% more workers might need to switch jobs than previously thought. Of this, more than half of displaced low-wage workers will need to find employment in occupations with higher wages and require different skills.
Find Freedom in the Future
Nobody has a crystal ball that predicts the future, as the pandemic has shown us. It is impossible to predict what the future will bring in 2022 or what the future of work will look like.
But as we enter the new year, we can use the lessons learned from the past to guide us. These challenges have led to significant changes, trends that will bring us to a new era of work. We’re eager for the freedom we will find in the future.
As McKinsey wrote, we’ve “exhibited extraordinary flexibility and adaptability in responding to the pandemic with purpose and innovation, that [we] might also harness to retool the workforce in ways that point to a brighter future of work.”