All parts of wellness had a shake up this year—how we work out, what we eat, the products we put on our faces, the way we rest—and the reverberations of those changes will be felt into 2021 and beyond. Here’s how the innovations born of this year will usher us into the future.
The pandemic has driven a record number of office workers to a fully remote setup (an estimated 42 percent of the labor force, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom), and while the flexibility has been a win for some, it has proved incredibly challenging for others (hello, parents). With that in mind, 2021 will see employers adopting remote working as a permanent fixture rather than a pandemic Band-Aid, and will take measures to evolve company culture accordingly. So into next year and beyond, expect to see a shift away from “fun office” perks like ping-pong tables, unlimited snacks, and kombucha on tap in favor of more meaningful strategies to benefit employee health and facilitate balance, boundaries, and connection.
Even though it took a pandemic to spark widespread acceptance of remote-working flexibility, for those of us lucky enough to do so, the benefits of the setup are not new. Research suggests remote working helps with productivity, improves mental health, and saves you money. And that could be why remote-working options will remain available long after the pandemic ends—at least in some form. Tech companies, known as early adopters of workplace wellness programs, have been the first to announce plans for more flexibility in perpetuity. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told Time, “We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new so we don’t see that changing. But we do think we need to create more flexibility and more hybrid models.”
Remote working, of course, isn’t without its challenges—disconnected and disengaged employees; lack of privacy; juggling parenting duties with work responsibilities, to name a few—and companies will need to find creative solutions to solve these issues. First, as flexibility becomes the norm, companies will need to find ways to integrate technology more seamlessly. Janine Pelosi, chief marketing officer of Zoom, describes the company’s mission as “to make communications as frictionless as possible.” To this end, the platform added enhanced security features to prevent “Zoombombers” last month. Google Meet, meanwhile, is rolling out the capability to have 100 breakout rooms per call and the workflow management platform Airtable just added the ability for users to customize the program by adding their own apps and integrations.
Next, as Pichai points out, the social aspects of office life can be crucial to creating strong partnerships and increasing productivity and teamwork (and employee satisfaction at work), which means employers will need to “invent the virtual watercooler,” as a McKinsey & Company report on the future of remote work put it. With perhaps the biggest bet to date that remote work is here to stay, and that social interactions need to be replaced by digital alternatives, Salesforce recently acquired the ubiquitous communication platform Slack for an eye-popping $27.7 billion––Slack offers plugins like Donut to help facilitate random virtual encounters between employees and launched Slack Connect this fall, which makes it easier to chat on the platform with people outside your company.
To address limitations as schools reopen and remote work continues in 2021, a number of companies have taken action. Amazon and Netflix, for example, now pay for services likeCare@Work, which added some 800,000 people to its network in recent months, to help working parents. Other benefits that have been adapted to fit a WFH lifestyle include stipends for lunch from online delivery services, and companies that once offered unlimited paid-time off now mandate vacation for rest. Slack gives employees one Friday a month to reset, signaling a potential trend toward the four-day work week. (In December, Unilever New Zealand went all in on a year-long experiment with the once revolutionary idea.)
According to a 2019 study from Owl Labs, 80 percent of employees want to work remotely at least some of the time. In 2021, as companies continue to revise and evolve their remote-working policies, we may see greater job satisfaction overall. Wouldn’t that be nice?