The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly changed the future of work forever. And Facebook’s (FB) Workplace vice president, Karandeep Anand, has five key predictions on what 2021 will look for the global workforce as well as new practices that will take place.
In a first look with Yahoo Finance UK, Facebook’s Anand outlined some of his thoughts, and will publish his full findings later on Tuesday.
“In recent memory, there has almost certainly never been a year that upended the nature of work as much as 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, companies around the world scrambled to keep their operations running by deploying new technologies, at scale, to let their workers do their jobs remotely,” he said.
“Now, as the dust settles, companies can see what was effective, and what wasn’t, about the experiment of remote work in 2020, and what they must do differently as it becomes the norm. As we move towards 2021, we envision a new world in which advanced technologies merge with evolving philosophies of work.”
Prediction 1: Frontline workers will be at the centre of decision-making, with “career frontliners” being the norm
In 2020, low-skilled or frontline workers have been repositioned as “essential workers” — further bolstering the new landscape of how we approach the world of work.
Anand points out that these workers — from delivery drivers and retail staff to teachers and doctors — will be at the centre of company decisions moving forward.
“Companies are starting to realise the invaluable and unique insights these workers, who are traditionally the first touch-point with customers, can bring back to their organisations,” he said.
“Businesses are now trying to make the working lives of these employees easier, by centralizing tools for tasks like getting shifts covered or sharing critical health and safety information with them instantly, on their mobile phones.”
Prediction 2: Health and wellbeing will be the new corporate KPI
The coronavirus pandemic has not just placed financial stress on companies and its employees but also the mental burden of working through a crisis and also balancing the physical and mental health implications.
“Companies have never been more aware that happy employees are those whose work has impact beyond the organisation. Study after study shows that a sense of purpose is key to job satisfaction, and companies know that motivating workers means aligning their self-fulfilment with business goals,” said Anand.
In 2021, Anand predicts that corporate social responsibility and looking after employees’ health won’t be an added benefit anymore — it’ll be embedded in company goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
“Businesses now realise they must do more to provide employees a social safety net. Those heeding that lesson will gain a major leg up on competitors, in areas like employee loyalty, retention, and productivity, versus those that don’t,” he said.
Prediction 3: Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will be widely adopted for training, collaboration, and improved customer contact
2020 has plunged the world into periods of a near-100% digital existence — with countries in lockdown and companies trying to operate without bricks and mortar offices, shops, factories and more.
However, even when the world starts returning to some form of normality again, workforces will still need to be trained and skilled up and be able to adapt to the new landscape.
With that in mind, Anand believes that it’ll be a prime opportunity for new automation technologies that “are rapidly reshaping the world,” to be adopted on a grander scale and throughout the workforce.
“According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, 54% of large organizations’ employees need significant re- and up-skilling to leverage these transformational changes,” he said.
“This requires new tools deployed at mass scale that can efficiently train millions to do their jobs of the future. Virtual and augmented reality, which enable inexpensive, sophisticated, and widely-distributable training scenarios, are perfect for the task. That's why, CCS Insights predicts, more than half of medium and large businesses in advanced economies will adopt AR/VR technology by 2025,” he continued.
“Meanwhile, businesses are increasingly using AR to enhance the consumer experience and engage new audiences in meaningful ways.
“When businesses utilize VR and AR, their employees are more connected and productive, regardless of where they live. Like previous technology shifts to the computer and the smartphone, AR/VR will unleash a flood of creativity, new applications, and new jobs that we couldn't previously have imagined.”
Prediction 4: Location will cease to matter as we see a narrowing of the digital divide
Dismantling the tradition of physical offices and locations during 2020 may be jarring for businesses and employees but it can be a great leveller at work.
Many of the initiatives to make the workforce more remote and agile were catalysed through necessity of the pandemic.
Anand said that while many thought of this transition to be temporary, studies by the likes of those like Gartner “now predicts 47% of companies will let employees work from home full-time after the pandemic, with 82% green-lighting the practice part-time.”
Anand said that “done right, remote work can be highly effective, saving everyone time and money.
“To capitalize on this sea change, smart companies will adopt effective collaboration technologies, like Workplace, that provide a true sense of presence and that let employees and managers alike communicate transparently.
“Businesses worldwide are embracing remote work, and it’s becoming one of the biggest economic opportunities in decades. By turning away from large, centralized headquarters, companies will save big on office space, while employees will be able to lower living costs by moving to less populated areas.
“They’ll also save hours a day—and drastically reduce their environmental impact—by not commuting. By decentralizing work, and redistributing wealth and influence, we will strengthen communities around the world like never before.”
Prediction 5: Companies will increasingly automate mundane tasks and focus on giving employees more satisfying work
Prior to the pandemic, numerous studies showed that greater adoption of artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics will put millions of the global workforce out of a job.
However, Anand says that “the reality is much more optimistic: Automation isn’t about replacing jobs—it’s about enhancing them.”
“Companies know that workers spend too much of their time on mundane tasks and not enough on real work. So increasingly, they’re using bots to take those tasks—things like filing tickets, sending and signing documents, and swapping hourly shifts with co-workers — off employees’ hands,” he added.
“Thanks to automation, these organisations are devoting much more of their focus to improving work culture and ensuring employees are happy at their jobs.”
Watch: Exclusive interview with Facebook’s prominent VP Nicola Mendelsohn CBE