No one could have predicted the global pandemic. Suddenly, the ability to adjust business operations for resilient delivery has emerged as an inevitable necessity. Utilizing the power of advanced technologies like AI, RPA, and intelligent automation, most industries were able to transition to remote mode. Modern productivity platforms provide means for telecommuting, workflow analysis, and reinvention alike. Digital business transformation is now imperative for most organizations. 

The future of work: workflow automation and more

As work style will never be the same, companies rapidly adopt new ways of operating. Due to isolation and unprecedented economic collapse, work and personal life are now entangled. The dividing line between them is so blurry, though, that leaders will need to take care of business stability and profitability and also focus on employees and their well-being.  

To help you prepare for 2021 challenges in employee experience, TEAM discovers buzzing trends and potential changes that executives should consider to plan their employee management accordingly. 

#1 Remote is here to stay   

Eventually, the post-pandemic times will come, and offices will re-open. But how many workers are willing to return? “Forrester Predictions 2021: Accelerating Out of The Crisis” guide reveals that 49 percent of European top managers expect an increase in remote staff in 2021. And 53 percent of North American workers say they prefer to work from home even after the pandemic. So, no illusions here — the telecommuting level will be 300 percent higher than during the pre-COVID times.  

According to the TechRepublic study, “Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic,” 62 percent of participants say their organizations will transition to a more remote mode in the post-coronavirus decade. As reported, telecommuting has increased workforce productivity, exceeding expectations for 56 percent of respondents. 

#2 Flexible remote policies: the dawn of a new era 

Based on the above statistics, rethinking existing employee experience (EX) strategies is integral to the change. Enterprises will be expected to provide employees with greater work mode flexibility to protect their well-being, and we may even witness the end of a nine-to-five business schedule.  

Slack, recently acquired by Salesforce, conducted comprehensive research called “Moving beyond remote: Workplace transformation in the wake of COVID-19.” The results show that next year operating mode will become more agile and dynamic as locations won’t matter anymore. Workers reported higher satisfaction and lower anxiety levels when working remotely, without needing to fit into nine-to-five limits. Flexible remote policy, virtual offices, and wider adoption of the gig economy will be essential for 2021 EX. 

#3 Hybrid workplace — Inevitable. Irreversible. Irresistible  

Going back to so fragile and jeopardized pre-pandemic ways of working is simply unacceptable. Now, employees appreciate choice. Seventy-two percent of workers surveyed by Slack prefer a hybrid workplace model — a mix of virtual and physical locations. So, a hybrid, office-home working environment will be a top choice for the 2021 strategy. Most importantly, such an approach significantly reduces employers’ operating expenses. 

#4 AI and RPA will dominate in intelligent workflow automation 

With automation, employees and businesses alike become location-independent while having efficient and secure collaboration. Some industry leaders project that augmented and virtual reality will rise to replace face-to-face office interactions. But the widest adoption will be seen for AI and RPA tools that significantly improve employees’ efficiency, engagement, and critical decision-making. In its “Worldwide CIO Agenda 2021 Predictions” report, IDC forecasts 50 percent of CIOs to adopt AI, RPA, and augmentation to maintain safe and intelligent work environments by 2024. 

AI and ML are even being used for managing cybersecurity and compliance policies and for running meetings. Bots and virtual assistants helped enterprises cope with both increased customer demand and modern workforce management. For 35 percent of companies that plan to increase investments in AI-enabled workplaces, smart tools will be the catalyst for unlocking remote workforce productivity and operational scalability. Daily EX will be enhanced and supported by further growth of conversational RPA and document extraction platforms. 

#5 Transitioning to the cloud  

Cloud solutions are more cost-effective and flexible for businesses. For remote workers, cloud platforms provide instant access to everything they need for operational efficiency and resilience. Forrester’s study reveals that 30 percent of CIOs will focus on cloud strategies to accelerate time to market and business agility. Subsequently, the global cloud infrastructure market is expected to reach $120 billion in 2021. 

Other benefits of cloud computing include: 

  • Easy and fast remote system scaling  
  • Offline mobility from any location 
  • Multi-user collaboration without barriers 
  • Extensive cybersecurity measures 

#6 Education matters for the ‘new normal’ career pathways 

People and their ability to quickly harness technology power are still essential to your success. Transitioning to telecommuting takes time for workers to learn new software and strike a balance between relationships and communication. The best way to help employees with this journey will be to assign the frontline curators who’ll drive the organization-wide adoption of digital workplaces and provide end-to-end support to ensure employee satisfaction.  

The main goal is to cover skill gaps and cross-skill remote workers directly affected by automation. So, education tendencies will continue to evolve in various forms, including personalized digitally-enabled career paths and retraining programs. Curators can set up a learning curve to enhance EX, provide training and adaptation tools for teammates to adjust to working with machines. Additionally, to facilitate the onboarding process and gain necessary speed on a tight schedule, you can also leverage external centers of excellence for AI, ML, RPA, data analytics, and workflow automation.  

#7 Legal and ethical boundaries of workflow analysis 

Recent scandals around Google are a clear example of how you should not manage employees’ workflow analysis. It goes without saying that telecommuting requires new key metrics of employee productivity. Managers will need to collect more data about staff performance. But illegally spying on employees, their correspondents, or personal data violates labor laws. It’s crucial to stay within ethical and legal boundaries related to privacy infringement. So, the priority for 2021 will be enforcing regulatory rules, policies, and tools to secure workers’ sensitive data from improper usage. 

How to retain the workforce by improving their post-pandemic work conditions

Nevertheless, the intersection of the operate-from-anywhere approach and workflow automation depends on human experience, communication, and personal relationships. How do we keep our humanity while working remotely? How to create truly comfortable conditions for people? Well, next year, an emphasis on employee satisfaction and corporate culture will matter the most.  

Business leaders will be pushed to promote connectedness and collaboration, drive intelligent AI self-service, and eliminate silos. All this needs to be done in alignment with data security and resilient delivery. 

Some tips on how to succeed in EX management in 2021:  

  • Be empathetic — everyone’s experience and mental well-being are different.  
  • Mitigate work stress by fostering self-care practices and ways to improve employees’ work-life balance. 
  • Encourage online happy hours with coffee breaks, lunches, birthday celebrations, and charity events. And recognize your workers’ contributions by giving kudos and corporate rewards. 
  • Transparency is a top priority during challenging times — be open and honest with your co-workers. Share regular updates about the company’s economic health to avoid misinformation and anxiety among staff.  
  • Don’t neglect virtual team building: you can engage people in movie nights, secret gift delivery, various games, and other activities. 
  • Drive corporate-wide policies focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion among employees, senior managers, and board executives. For instance, according to the data presented below, a diversity criterion directly influences businesses’ financial performance globally. 

Failure is not an option: forgetting barriers and limits 

The COVID-19 disruption made leaders pivot their business and adopt new strategies to operate and thrive amid any future crisis. Those organizations that will follow 2021 EX trends will not only survive the turmoil but stay ahead of their competitors and potentially evolve into autonomous digital enterprises. Stepping into the next decade, executives should be willing to create sustainable, much better working environments.  

The future of employee experience is human-centric, intelligent, hybrid, and tech-savvy. Modern workforce management will be focused on two essentially remote audiences — employees and customers. Having years of experience managing distributed teams productively, leading IT companies like TEAM can help other businesses by sharing our knowledge and best practices. We know how to make telecommuting work for any enterprise in the long term.