7 Employee Experience Predictions for 2021

Written by

Ted Hewett


January 13, 2021

While it’s not been exactly the start to the year we were hoping for in the UK, 2021 remains a year brimming with potential. The world of work went through some radical forced transformation in 2020 and while there was a race to maintain productivity back then, this year promises to be a year of regrowth and considered action.

At Totem, we’ve been having a chat about the trends we’ve seen in employee experience, and what we think will come to pass in 2021.

1 – The Formal/Informal Switch

Our research report taught us loads about what’s really going on with employees during the pandemic. However one of the more surprising findings was from individuals who previously worked in informal cultures; they referenced a perceived increase in formality when interacting with colleagues. Inversely, individuals who previously worked in hierarchal, formal cultures referenced a perceived decrease in formality.

Whilst seemingly minor, it demonstrated how home-working has deconstructed cultural norms created by the office and changed the nature of our conversations. We fully expect this workplace culture trend to continue into 2021, as previously formal workplaces have employees that turn up to Zoom meetings in pajamas and less formal workplaces are forced to have more structure around their communications.

2 – Inclusive Cultures

Creating an environment where people feel accepted and included has always been important, and while D&I is a critical piece of the puzzle, what we mean here is more around ensuring all your people are included in all the things you do. Zoom coffees and virtual lunches are great, but if an individual doesn’t enjoy that sort of interaction they will be left behind, leading to disengagement and an overall poor employee experience.

In order to combat this, businesses will need a new focus on building familiarity and trust during every interaction, and thus will need to think inclusively about all their culture programmes. Open door “hangout” rooms, offline activities, virtual away days, one-to-ones… there’s a tonne of options to explore and experiment with, but from our experience the best way forward is to provide as many options for your people as possible to cater for how everyone likes to be interacted with.

3 – Flexible Working

Flexible working is a buzzword that’s been thrown around a huge amount over the last few years, but the events of 2020 thrust this idea firmly into the spotlight. The idea that employees can have more flexibility as they work from home is rising in popularity and is becoming more generally accepted, and while not every role can be fully flexible, 2021 is set to continue this trend.

We expect to see more businesses running four day working weeks, more agile practices, and even flexible specific roles (check out https://flexa.careers/ to see the great work they’re doing in flexible recruitment).

4 – Cleaner Channels

One of the big shifts more remote working has driven has been an increased reliance on communications and keeping employees informed. Tools like Teams and Slack have been great for enabling teams to collaborate and be productive, however for the user these channels can become very noisy very quickly.

2021 brings new opportunities to keep cleaner channels that are dedicated for a specific purpose. Where do your people go to socialise? Can workplace clubs and groups have a space to meet?

A rise in the usage of things like Discord and Whatsapp Groups demonstrates a desire for different spaces for different activities, and in order to best facilitate good employee experience it’s vital to have channels that are clear and people know what to expect from. Our own platform, Totem, offers a place for employees to engage informally, build familiarity, and recognise their colleagues for living and breathing your culture that is distinctly separate from something like Slack (which we also use internally – for work stuffs).

5 – Hybrid Working

With a vaccine now a reality, it’s likely there will be a sizable return to the office this year. However, remote work isn’t going anywhere – our research report found that almost 75% of respondents wanted to work either remotely or in a hybrid fashion going forwards, showing that this period of change has had a big impact on employee expectations.

Alongside our initial findings and from speaking with many companies who tried some hybrid working last year, there are some huge hurdles to overcome to enable a great employee experience alongside a hybrid model. Keeping teams connected, avoiding FOMO, maintaining visibility… even having hybrid meetings poses both technical and social challenges. That being said, we believe it’s the future of business, and creating a great experience wherever your people might be working is crucial this year.

6 – Onboarding Focus

Like many of our customers, we said goodbye and hello to a few folks last year, and it quickly dawned on us how tricky remote onboarding and offboarding can be. The office played such a vital role in building community, it’s only natural that without it, integrating into that community becomes harder for the individual, and even tougher when they then leave it.

Businesses will need a stronger focus on onboarding than ever before to ensure the right people join and stay in their roles. Understanding how your peer networks currently operate and enabling line managers to create great experiences from day 0 (including a great remote hiring framework) will play a big part in finding and keeping those great new hires who add to your growing culture.

7 – Intentional Culture

Many of these points come down to an increased focus on specific areas, and so we could probably summarise all of the above into a single point that was described by Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab so eloquently:

“You have to be intentional with your culture”

Gone are the days when we could leave teams in a room together and let culture occur organically. Instead, leaders have an opportunity to choose what their culture is tomorrow, and can take steps today to ensure they arrive at that destination. Team building, away days, online activities… all of these and more will need to be considered and delivered with clear intention.

By being intentional with how we use our values, what our mission and vision is, and how our teams all interact both online and offline, we can mould and shape our culture to become an enabler of great employee experience for all involved.

These predictions come from a combination of many sources, like chatting to our community and customers, as well as the data we presented in our research report – The Hidden Impact of Remote Working – that we published recently. It’s worth a read, get your free copy here.