9 major future of work trends to be aware of

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Added on by 10 min read

Earlier this summer, Proxyclick held its second virtual summit, Connect 2021, where key industry leaders shared their insights with hundreds of attendees from around the globe to help organizations better prepare for the challenges of an increasingly hybrid work world.

The event featured (among others) enlightening roundtable discussions on topics such as:

  • The changing face of the office beyond 2021
  • How to ensure buildings remain healthy and safe for occupants
  • The ways workplaces are becoming all about the humans they host
  • Methods HR leaders can aid the transition into future workspaces
  • What companies need to do to successfully navigate this new world of work

All-in-all, there were plenty of valuable observations for companies of all shapes and sizes to benefit from, but here are 9 of the most prevalent points you should definitely keep an eye on in the months to come.


What companies discovered over the pandemic...

1. The definition of ‘what the office is really for’ has forever changed

Over the course of this pandemic, employees learned first-hand that much of their work can get done from anywhere. Naturally, this has made their old office-based working arrangements seem a lot less necessary and enticing than they once were. As Tim Gobran, Principal Director of Talent and Organization at Accenture pointed out,

83% of people surveyed preferred working in a hybrid model, and not only that, we actually found that those who experienced hybrid during this pandemic period had better mental health, stronger work relationships, and were better off working for their organizations than their fully remote or fully onsite peers.

Tim Gobran, Principal Director, Talent and Organization, Accenture | Watch the session here

For offices to remain worthwhile to both companies and their employees as we move into the future, a determined shift in how they’re approached needs to take place.

Otherwise, organizations will soon find themselves dealing with frustrated workers who feel trapped in antiquated office models that serve little practical purpose. Or as David McGuiness, Head of Business Development at Openpath Security Inc put it,

The office used to be where you go to get work done, and we’ve proven we can get work done in other places... So, the role of the office now has shifted. Now it’s around collaboration. It’s around building and maintaining culture. It’s a connectivity point for all of us, and addressing the concerns or needs of health and wellness become now paramount to getting people to come in.

David McGuiness, Head of Business Development, Openpath Security Inc. | Watch the session here

In short, hybrid work is the inevitable future of the workplace, and so offices must be adapted accordingly. The trick for companies now is figuring out how to make hybrid workspaces function best for them.

2. Social connections are necessities shared workspaces can provide

Coming into the office and working alongside our co-workers is a fundamentally social experience that, until the pandemic struck, many of us likely took for granted.

Yes, the novel freedoms of remote working positions were thoroughly enjoyed by many at first, but over time the mental fatigue of prolonged isolation began to take its toll. While some people managed to satisfy the sudden social lapses of their professional lives with those who lived beside them at home, many others were largely left alone.

It makes sense then, how it was only a matter of time before isolated workers became eager to return to their previous, more social, work arrangements. As Tracy Brower, Principal of Applied Research and Consulting at Steelcase explained,

Whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we may have different needs for more or less time with people. But our social needs are absolutely critical to us as humans.
When we have more face-to-face interaction, we have lower levels of morbidity, we have lower levels of mortality, we have greater levels of mental health. We as human beings need each other.

Tracy Brower, Principal, Applied Research and Consulting, Steelcase | Watch the session here

While some of the effects of social deprivation can certainly be offset by video chat technologies like Zoom, such software doesn’t offer the irreplicable benefits of direct and physical proximity. In turn, the way hybrid arrangements combine the freedoms of remote work and the social benefits of office spaces have become highlighted much more so than in the past.

But at the same time, it’s also important to note that the office isn’t the only place such social hybrid work benefits can take place. As Robert Thiemann, Director and Founder of Frame, noted,

It is important to meet physically, but that doesn’t need to necessarily take place in the office space. You can do that in any hotel, restaurant, park, on the beach, wherever.

Robert Thiemann, Director and Founder, Frame | Watch the session here

3. Equity and fairness are more important employee values than ever

With the constant lockdowns and waves of shifting regulations we’ve all faced, the scramble to make remote work actually work for businesses during this pandemic had employees adapting to unique working arrangements rapidly, and frequently.

During those transitions, it quickly became clear how good communication and equitable employee treatment were key ingredients to smoothly make such speedy changes time and time again. Now, employees have very much come to appreciate their transparent and respectful treatment.

Moving forward, the expectation that such treatment continue is not going to go away. As Tracy Brower said,

In making hybrid work, one key element is going to be fairness. If we look at third party research, fairness is critical to people’s state of mind and their engagement. There’s so much research that says people will disengage if they don’t feel like there’s fairness...
It’s impossible to be completely equal, but things do need to be equitable... From a hybrid standpoint, we have to be principal oriented. Let's establish some principals, and then be super transparent about those principles.

Tracy Brower, Principal, Applied Research and Consulting, Steelcase | Watch the session here

4. Personalized employee approaches are becoming paramount

The remote working conditions employees recently experienced gave them tons of agency in terms of how they could approach their working days. From the times when they woke up, to what they wore, to how they scheduled their productivity hours throughout the day, everything was at the whims of the employees.

What’s most notable about that flexibility, is that it functioned better than traditional office arrangements ever have in terms of fostering productivity. So, to maintain these desired levels of productivity into the future world of hybrid work, the fact that everyone is unique and performs at their best in different ways must be catered to.


As Winnie Okonkwo, Head of Facilities and Property Operations at Mediacom, affirmed,

One design does not fit all. How our finance team works, versus how our client team works, is going to be different. So, we need to hear that feedback, and it needs to be a continuous conversation. It really needs to be agile and fluid in its truest sense of the form.

Winnie Okonkwo, Head of Facilities and Property Operations, Mediacom | Watch the session here

Everyone is unique, and that reality must be embraced in order to make hybrid work. More than that, the traditional overarching policies of the old office spaces have been proven to be outdated beyond a doubt.

To maximize what can be done today, the effective methods of each and every contributor to an organization should be analyzed and encouraged according to their own strengths and weaknesses. Or, as Tim Gobran expressed it,

We need to meet each person where they are individually, and then have dialogues that say ‘Look, its fundamentally about getting results. You’ve got to be productive, you’ve got to be effective, but do it in the way that works for you.’
It’s about autonomy, it’s about flexibility. It’s about, creating the conditions that create that environment as leaders.

Tim Gobran, Principal Director, Talent and Organization, Accenture | Watch the session here

What companies need to prioritize in 2021 and beyond...

5. Focus on health and safety above all else

While COVID-19 won’t stay around forever, the health and safety concerns that the pandemic brought to the forefront of people’s minds are sure to stay with the generations it has forever impacted.

Moving forward, the image of a good employer will no longer just be someone who shows respect at the workplace and pays well, but one who demonstrates a genuine concern for the physical and mental wellbeing of their personnel. As Joanna Frank, President and CEO of the Center for Active Design, explained,

In people’s minds, health and wellness is now up there with other aspects of carbon reduction or governance issues. So, health and wellness has really gone from something that was on the fringe or a nice to have before COVID, to something that you now HAVE to be reporting on. You HAVE to be measuring how you are impacting the health and wellness of the occupants of your building and your employees.

Joanna Frank, President and CEO, Center for Active Design | Watch the session here

This isn’t just a concern for those that find themselves directly within the office either. New studies show that roughly 90% of investors will prioritize health and wellness metrics when investing in organizations and their properties.

Additionally, words alone will no longer cut it. Too many workers have seen the deadly results of disingenuous promises given by careless employers during this pandemic. No matter what level of an organization people are at, their safety is going to be a key demand. As Joanna continued to explain,

It isn’t good enough just to say that you’ve done it. Now, you need somebody else to say that you’ve done it, and that you’ve met a standard, and that it’s evidence based. This is a huge change in the health and wellness space. This need for the data, and the verified data as well.

Joanna Frank, President and CEO, Center for Active Design | Watch the session here

6. Build flexibility and foster trust between employees and leadership

The need for flexibility and trust were driving topics behind most discussions.

But that should come as no surprise. Flexibility is a major element that companies need to ensure ever since COVID-19 accelerated the evolution of their workplaces. Meanwhile, without two-way trust between employees and leaders alike, progress is sure to stagnate—especially when considering the freeform ‘whatever functions best’ nature that’s inherent to hybrid work arrangements.

As Proxyclick’s Founder and CEO, Gregory Blondeau summarized,

You need two ingredients to make it work: trust and flexibility...You have to trust the team and you have to give flexibility to everyone to work the way they want... Always trust, and always flexibility. Otherwise, your future workplace will not work.

Gregory Blondeau, Founder and CEO, Proxyclick | Watch the session here

7. Create more purposeful physical workspaces

As stated earlier, the face of the office is transforming like we’ve never seen before. Employees no longer expect to show up and work at designated spaces just because ‘it’s the office’.

Rather, to derive real value from offices, companies need to design their workspaces so they are not only attractive enough to bring employees out from their home offices and other remote locations where work can get done, but so they serve specific functions that wouldn’t be as efficiently handled otherwise. After all, as Peter Ankerstjerne, Chief Strategy Officer at Planon Software and the Chairman of the Board of Directors at IFMA, made clear,

Work is not a destination, it’s what you do, and you can do that from multiple locations... We as employers, as building owners, and businesses, need to allow for the flexibility where you are able to scale up and scale down based on the need of the workforce at any given point in time.

Peter Ankerstjerne, Chief Strategy Officer at Planon Software and Chairman of the Board of Directors at IFMA | Watch the session here

To that end, the purposeful use of offices came up over and over, where it was made clear that future office spaces will be best used for employees to:

  • Gain key information and experience
  • Foster and absorb the unique work culture of their organization
  • Develop relationships with their team members
  • Optimize their collaborative and innovative work projects
  • Ensure they maintain confidentiality when needed
  • Complete any other tasks that couldn’t be accomplished as effectively remotely

But again, for workers to thrive under these efforts, offices need to be designed with more intention than in the past. Like Brian Kropp, Chief Researcher at Gartner’s HR Practice, said,

Ironically, in order for flexibility to work, we have to become dramatically more intentional about what we are doing. That is, intentional about what we’re communicating to people, intentional about what tasks we need to be in the office for, and intentional in thinking about what the purpose of the office even is.

Brian Kropp, Chief Researcher, HR Practice, Gartner | Watch the session here

8. Gather and share information much more openly

Hybrid workspaces are dynamic by their very nature. That means organizations need to constantly stay tuned in to what’s working, and what isn’t, to make the adjustments that best situate their operations for success.

To do that efficiently, companies will need to make a concerted effort to gather feedback from everyone across their organization, from general employees, to management, and even the remote workers that will never once set foot inside the office. But for that information to be most effective, it can’t just be leadership looking it over.

In the future workspace, everyone needs to be as informed as possible to perform as best as they can together. Mark Hill, Strategy and Transformation Director at Sodexo, may have put it best when he stated,

Multiple teams are now going to need to access similar data sources and share data. For example, whoever’s got the access control data needs to tell the other service lines how many people are in the building because it changes how you clean, how you protect the building, how much HVAC you need, how much food you should prepare.
This has been another huge change in the future workplace, this access and sharing of data and information across teams. We need to break these silos and not let people hold onto information and lock it down, because its purpose is next to useless in isolation.

Mark Hill, Strategy and Transformation Director, Sodexo | Watch the session here

It’s this collaborative approach to information that will allow it to be best used, and the same goes for overall company initiatives as well. Simply put, an organization’s plan is best carried out when everyone is intimately familiar with the same goals. Or, as Joanna Frank phrased it,

You need to have a continuity plan in place... That means really understanding what needs to be in the continuity plan, like ‘how do you engage your employees, or your tenants, or your building occupants?’ and actually make them a part of the process of creating that plan.
Because... if people are part of creating the plan, they’re more likely to follow the plan... You can’t really overcommunicate in this current state.

Joanna Frank, President and CEO, Center for Active Design | Watch the session here

9. Embrace technologies that can nurture fast changes

Implementing all presented practices and strategies can seem an overwhelming task, but countless technologies are available today that put them well within the reach of organizations. Rhea Claus, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer at Lane, emphasized this point when she said,

The only way to prepare for this future is to ensure that the processes you are putting in place, and the technologies you are putting in place, allow you to be nimble and be flexible.

Rhea Claus, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer, Lane | Watch the session here

Indeed, while many of our guest speakers expressed that incremental adaptation and adjustments will always be the name of the game, without a strong foundation of technology to manage companywide feedback gathering, remote working channels, and other critical workplace tasks, organizations will certainly find themselves struggling to keep pace. Or, as Mark Hill concluded,

It’s just so important that you have the right technology foundation that gives you that agility... There is a window of opportunity right now that organizations cannot miss. It is this expectation from their workforce, they know that when they come back to work things will change—and this is your window to implement the way you go about that change.
And I think, if you miss it, the exercise becomes 10x harder because human beings, by their very nature, are not programmed for change. It’s uncomfortable, as we’ve all felt over the last 12 months. But you have that goodwill and willingness over the next few months from your workforce to have these discussions and make the changes, and pick the right platforms that will help you react month-to-month or even week-to-week if you have to.

Mark Hill, Strategy and Transformation Director, Sodexo | Watch the session here

Paving the way forward: Changing with the workplace

The world of business is always changing, though rarely as quickly as we’ve seen it shift toward hybrid work throughout the last year.

To keep pace with the times, organizations must make a diligent effort to remain flexible, and to always keep their minds open to the valuable insights that their employees have to share. Of course, it certainly also helps to tune into the guidance of top industry leaders like those who joined us at this year’s virtual summit.

Want to see the informative roundtable discussions where they all came together yourself? Check out the recordings below, and be sure to tune in as Proxyclick continues to cover the most influential business leadership topics of the day.


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