COVID-19 has undoubtedly impacted businesses and individuals all over the world. From economic and finances to social and well-being, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how companies operate and priorities for the years to come. Here are eight trends that will shape the workplace in 2021 and years to follow.

1) Employee Experience to Employee Life Experience

COVID-19 has provided business owners insight into employees’ personal lives, exposing the unique impact the pandemic has had on them personally and professionally. As a result, many business owners recognize that their employees seek support in their personal lives. Doing so may offer them improved personal and professional situations and increase productivity and engagement.

Employers who support employees with life experiences reported improved employee mental health (23%), physical health (17%), and performance (21%). Prioritizing employee mental health, financial wellness, and life experiences will allow employers to reap the benefits of healthier, happier employees.

2) Employer Take a Stance on Current Affairs

As social and political issues have become more predominant in media and involved community members, more employees seek employment with organizations that align with their values. In fact, 2020 research reported 74% of employees expect their employer to be actively involved in cultural affairs. Many industry experts explain that taking a stance and showing support is likely to become the “new normal” for workplace culture.

Additionally, businesses had seen the impact their support had provided employees with a recent survey showing that 60% of employees were more engaged when their employer supported current social issues.

3) The Gender Pay Gap Rises

Some organizations have implemented, and some are planning to implement, a hybrid workforce where employees may work from the office headquarters or from an alternative remote location (i.e., home, coffee shop, co-working space).

Many chief human resource officers have reported employee surveys revealing men are more likely to return to the office setting than women. A recent survey provided that 64% of managers believe in-office employees perform better than remote workers and are more likely to give in-office workers a higher compensatory promotion than remote workers. Conversely, research from both pre-pandemic and current pandemic times has proven the opposite – full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to perform higher than full-time in-office employees.

Given the recent research, if employers are more likely to act on bias towards in-office workers and men are more likely to return to the office, the prediction is that men are more likely to be considered for higher compensation raises than females. This will increase the gender pay gap when COVID-19 has already had a disproportionate impact on women.

4) Employee Monitoring Limitations

As a direct result of COVID-19, one out of four businesses invested in new technology to track and monitor employees; unfortunately, many business owners are not versed in employee privacy laws and regulations regarding technology. Recent research reported 50% of employees trust their employer with their data, and 44% do not receive data collection information from their employer.

New local and state regulations will likely limit what employee information employers are permitted to track. Businesses should prepare to adapt to these new regulations that will probably restrict their employee monitoring capabilities across their organization.

5) Transitioning from Location to Time Flexibility

Remote work may have become the “new normal” for business operations, but the next challenge is addressing the specific business hours employees will be required to work. Recent studies have shown that employers who provide flexibility on location, schedule, and hours worked report 55% of their workforce as high performers. Industry experts predict employers shifting from monitoring hours worked to measuring employee productivity.

6) Prioritizing Mental Health

It likely comes as no surprise that the pandemic’s physical distancing and deterrence of social gatherings have impacted individuals’ mental health. As a result, a separate mental health pandemic emerged. In response, many employers have fought diligently to prioritize mental health through additional benefits to support employees. Pre-pandemic research showed that 45% of increased budgets for employee well-being were to mental and emotional wellness programs.

In March 2020, 68% of businesses implemented at least one wellness benefit to support employees during COVID-19. Industry experts predict that 2021 will push employers to continue destigmatizing mental health via expanded benefit offerings and “mental health days” to foster mental health awareness across organizations.

7) Employee Leasing to Temporarily Address Skills Gap

Recent analysis shows 33% more skills on job ads in 2020 than in 2017, which infers that businesses struggle to reskill or upskill existing employees to meet the organization’s evolving needs. Businesses have turned to employee leasing to temporarily address the skills gap, meaning they invest in employees with those skills when the demand is present. Other companies have opted to invest in gig workers or independent contractors or seek partnerships with third-party organizations to “rent” employees for a limited time to fulfill the skills gap.

8) Remote Work Becomes “New Normal” for Talent Acquisition

Throughout the years, states and cities have provided businesses incentives to relocate to their jurisdictions based on the belief that relocating businesses will bring jobs with them. However, remote and hybrid work will likely change this approach where an employee’s state or city of residence will not be as impactful to the employer’s location. States and cities are predicted to expand tax-related incentives for employees to relocate to their jurisdictions. For example, some jurisdictions offer remote employees a relocation fund to move to the employer’s state or city.

As we continue to navigate the shifts happening in the workforce, domestically and globally, leaders must embrace a digital workplace. A digital workplace means prioritizing a continued interest in reskilling and retraining, creating flexible working arrangements and environments for their team, all while establishing health and safety policies that will continue to shape our new normal.