The 6 biggest lessons about work from 2021 - Deepstash
The 6 biggest lessons about work from 2021

The 6 biggest lessons about work from 2021

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2020, 2021, and Now 2022

2020, 2021, and Now 2022

In 2021, we assumed we’d return to something a little more consistent, with more concrete answers than we had in 2020. We envisioned ourselves back in offices at least a few days a week, returning to meetings (albeit with more hand sanitiser).

But, for much of the workforce, things haven’t played out that way; if anything, 2021 showed us that what’s going to be ‘normal’ in the world of work is a constantly moving target.


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Work Is Now Flexible

It didn’t take long for huge numbers of workers to figure out how much they liked remote work and all the elements that come with it. But in 2020, changes to work set-ups felt reactive to the pandemic, and it was hard for employees to know which shifts would stick.

A year on, it doesn’t matter what was supposed to be temporary. Workers are now living in a world with different workweek structures, asynchronous communication and permanent remote work – and now that they’ve sampled more flexibility, it’s unlikely employers can revoke the changes the pandemic has put in motion.


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Back to The Old Ways

Of course, there is a possibility that some of these new work arrangements won’t stick, particularly if the labour market tightens and employees have less voice than they do now.

But an overwhelming number of companies have already committed to new work practices to accommodate worker desires – a signal that stuffing the genie back into the bottle is increasingly unlikely.


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The Great Resignation

The mass worker exodus and labour reshuffle has been most extensively documented in the US, where American workers continue to leave the workforce in record numbers each month.

But similar trends are staring to emerge in the UK, where workers are increasingly reporting a desire to change jobs, or are taking the plunge. (Data on the phenomenon in other countries varies; for instance, in Australia, workers are swapping jobs more than quitting en masse.)


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Worker-Centric Work

Across the world, the workers resigning, contemplating quitting or hopping into other positions have put pressure on employers to offer better perks to both attract and retain talent.

And what workers want has changed: they report asking for more personalised benefits, access to mental-health services, childcare assistance, home-work stipends and general flexibility with their work arrangements.


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A Focus On Mental Health

Many companies have stepped up to meet these desires, and more have announced plans to.

Over the summer, major companies including LinkedIn and Nike shut down entirely for mental-health days and weeks – an unprecedented move in a productivity-driven, capitalist society.


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The Widening Inequality Gap Among Workers

For frontline and service workers, the return-to-work in a still chaotic and uncertain world has not been optional, and many are bearing the brunt of customers acting out.

Many of these employees are stretched incredibly thin, as businesses are understaffed amid labour shortages in industries like hospitality and transport that haven’t fully recovered due to the pandemic.


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Problems In Work From Home

We’ve become keenly aware that access to efficient and comfortable remote work is not equal for all knowledge workers, as basic utilities like reliable high-speed internet is not a given for some employees, nor is space to work comfortably or quietly.

Entry-level and younger workers in general are particularly squeezed for space – one of the reasons they’re requesting a return to office, at least a few days a week.


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Proximity Bias

There are fears that women who are able to get back into the workforce and resume their careers may fall behind male colleagues who consistently work in the office, due to presenteeism and proximity biases – potentially worsening the gender gap.

Surfacing inequalities is the first step to change, but it’s unclear what can and will be addressed, both individually and systemically, especially when conditions are still evolving.


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The Weight Of An Increased Poor Work-Life Balance

Without commutes to take or office doors to walk out of, many workers are finding it harder to draw hard lines between personal and professional lives. They’re reaching for their phones at all hours, answering messages in bed first-thing and sending off emails after their children go to bed.

The pre-pandemic problem of presenteeism trumping productivity has found its way into the digital world. Workdays have lengthened, and disconnection feels impossible, no matter the source.


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Never Off From Work: The Problem Of Burnout

Unsurprisingly, burnout and unpaid overtime are rampant, especially among certain groups such as middle-managers and women. Many businesses are running on skeleton crews amid the labour shortage, which has put an immense amount of pressure on those who stayed amid the Great Resignation.

Although some companies are trying to address issues of work-life balance, and encouraging employees to step away from their phones, it’s still culturally difficult for many to avoid overwork. So, if remote work sticks around as it seems it will, there’s no guarantee workers will press the ‘off’ button.


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A Hybrid Work Environment

Employees and employers alike are expected to gather in person again in some form and hit a new stride. Many companies even put money into redesigning their offices, in many cases eliminating banks of desks, and adding more collaborative spaces and isolation booths to cater to worker requests, now that the purpose of the office has changed.

The return-to-office has been patchy; certain businesses have brought workers back part-time, but these policies vary widely among countries, industries and employers, and haven’t been consistent due to the continually fluctuating nature of the pandemic.


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Left In A Limbo

Many employees are still left in limbo without having a sense of how a hybrid set-up will – or won’t – work for them. It’s a kind of uncertainty that’s weighed down workers, both emotionally and logistically, for nearly two years.

Additionally, without hybrid in action, employers lack data they need to understand what’s both successful and unsuccessful about their approaches.


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A Work In Progress

As much as we continue to speculate about what will and won’t work for hybrid, we’re doing exactly that: speculating.

Neither workers nor businesses have the real-life experience we need yet, which means the hybrid set-up we’re touting as the future of the workplace is very much a work-in-progress.


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