The past 12 months have seen countries, businesses and in fact society battered by the global Covid-19 pandemic. It has tested us all. For my last blog of 2020, I am taking a look at five current trends in the world of work and what they might mean for 2021 and beyond.

This article was authored by Alain Dehaze, CEO of The Adecco Group.


The end of 2020 is fast approaching. Perhaps more than any other year in my lifetime, there is so much to reflect on. The pandemic has affected all our lives and has permanently changed the world. From how we live and interact with our friends and family to how we work and collaborate.

Photo: clay banks on unsplash

Despite the challenges and uncertainty, the resolve of my Adecco Group colleagues has been truly admirable and I want to sincerely thank them for that. We have helped clients and individuals to weather the storm, providing over 150,000 flexible placements since the trough in April; we have helped thousands of people transition to new careers and companies; we switched from face-to-face to fully digital assessment and onboarding processes as well as 100% virtual courses in just days – and so much more. All of this while dealing with personal challenges from severe isolation to taking care of loved ones, to juggling family and work responsibilities.


For my last blog of 2020, I am taking a look at five current trends in the world of work and what they might mean for 2021 and beyond.


1. CHROs stepped up to the mark in 2020 and will continue to lead in 2021 and beyond


The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated existing trends, but in one respect, it has truly turbo-charged the role of the chief human resources officer (CHRO) in organizations as business leaders realise the strategic value of the people at the heart of their operations.


The global health crisis has elevated the role of CHROs, HR departments and talent solutions companies. HR has emerged from a supporting role in many companies to becoming a strategic, business-critical function that commands board and investor interest.


This year especially, CEOs have heavily relied on their CHROs to ensure their people felt supported throughout the lockdowns and economic slowdowns across the globe, primarily to look after their health and wellbeing but also because the success of the business depended on it.


CHROs and their colleagues were thrust into the limelight early in 2020 as businesses had to rapidly deal with emptying offices and redeploy people to work from home. They spearheaded the protection of the physical and mental health of workers and re-imagined and reinvented remote-working policies while supporting their leaders and workers in navigating the crisis. They facilitated business continuity and growth by redeploying workers to different areas of the business and understood what skills were needed, and where.


“Now more than ever, HR departments have the keys to future-proofing companies."


Now more than ever, HR departments have the keys to future-proofing companies. They have the mandate to ensure the right skills are available for the business to weather an uncertain future. Rapid and ongoing assessment of individuals’ skills as well as their reskilling and upskilling needs, are going to be part of every company’s talent strategy, now even more than before.


The business-critical role of the CHRO is set to grow in importance in 2021 and beyond, and while the initial storm of the pandemic may pass, organisations will still need to navigate rapidly changing environments and develop new ways of working. They will be required to develop the future of work as well as the practices and policies that shape the way forward.


2. Flexible models for the future of work


The pandemic has fundamentally changed the where and how we work and it’s unlikely there will be a full-time return to work in offices. Already, some companies are mandating permanent remote working for some or all of their employees. This trend will likely to continue, although for many essential workers, remote working is impossible.


Hybrid working is here to stay. This mix of remote and office-based work has emerged as the ideal working regime for many. Hybrid working takes into account the obvious benefits of face-to-face team collaboration and promoting the company culture through a physical office, but also the space for those who don’t have a disruption-free setup at home.


The key to success will lie in how this is all implemented on a practical level. Ultimately it’s all about ‘flexibility’. Agreements on flexible working locations and hours will be developed with benefits for both the business and the employee. Companies will need to find ways to counter the ’always on‘ pressures some employees may feel, and ensure people have a right to disconnect. Understanding the needs of workers is the first step.


At the same time, new models of how performance is assessed and rewarded based on results, rather than hours worked, will continue to emerge for office workers.


3. Embracing diversity and inclusion will benefit all stakeholders


For the Adecco Group, our purpose is to make the future work FOR EVERYONE and 2020 brought another wake-up call for us to stand up against discrimination of any kind, and to re-commit ourselves to help build a better and wholly diverse and inclusive society. Companies that embrace diversity will undoubtedly forge a competitive advantage.


If there is a silver lining to the Covid-19crisis, it is that work opportunities become more accessible for more people through remote and flexible working models, opening the doors to more people with disabilities to find and excel in the world of work.


But diversity and inclusion won’t happen on its own. Companies must take steps to encourage and welcome people from diverse backgrounds. On gender diversity, more vacancies are advertised with the option of part time, full time, job share or flexible working, and companies are seeing the number of women hired into senior positions increase as a direct result of this initiative.


There is one overarching trend for 2021 and that is the increasing focus on people as the core enablers of economic prosperity for businesses and governments. A lot of work remains to be done, but we have an opportunity to “reset normal” and build a new, more inclusive future for everyone.


4. A new breed of leader will emerge in the 2020s


Company transformations and new blends of remote, flexible and on-site working will require a change in how managers guide and nurture their teams and how CEOs lead their companies. Building a positive culture for the new future of work will demand a greater emphasis on soft skills, such as empathy and trust, in order to meet rising expectations on employee wellbeing and to develop a shared vision. And while many leaders said they felt prepared to lead during 2020, more than half (54%) needed support to be able to meet these new expectations. Organizations should therefore prepare to invest in soft skills development of managers and executives to help them meet these emerging challenges.

Research: Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era Of Work

5. The pandemic has demonstrated the growing need for a new social contract


Two years ago, we launched a campaign “#Time To Act”. Its purpose was to underscore the need for a fundamental change of our labour markets. But while this new Social Contract was a necessity even when we first proposed it, 2020 has turned it into a matter of urgency.


If there are to be new ways of working, there must be a concerted effort to create a more flexible and equitable social contract to make the changing world of work a success for all. Collaboration between governments, employers and workers is even more vital than ever before.


In 2020 employers have gained the trust from workers to shape a better working world. 80% of employees surveyed in our Resetting Normal study believe it’s up to their employer to ensure a better working world.


The rapidly evolving work landscape has increased the scope of the gig economy, reflected in the rising number of flexible and part-time workers, contractors and freelancers, with the pandemic exposing the vulnerability of many of these workers in a crisis.


Governments were forced to put emergency measures in place to make up the salaries of furloughed or short-term workers and awarding statutory sick pay to self-employed or gig economy workers.


But now is the time to take a step back from those emergency measures and develop a new social contract to ensure that all workers, and particularly those most vulnerable, have the social safety net they need to succeed in the evolving working environment. The mere fact that 36% of the US workforce(59 million people) comprises so-called gig-workers should be enough of a reason for us to rethink our support system. This is an important issue and it won’t be long before it’s an important AND urgent issue.


I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful year-end holiday and a healthy and productive 2021.


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