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New Workplace Trends of 2021
March 17, 2021

We are now three months into 2021 and despite the easing of restrictions and people returning to the workplace, there are plenty of things that seem to be here to stay or to continue as ongoing trends of 2021 and beyond.

The following trends were taken from research conducted by Dave Cook PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University College London.

Workers Must Be Disciplined
In March 2020, Cook published findings from a four-year research study tracking remote workers. The finding indicated that to be a successful remote worker deep reserves of self-discipline were required. If remote workers did not put hard limits on working hours, burnout followed.

The findings from this report are very relevant now. Reported levels of burn out are at all-time highs. One way to help with this is to build schedules that allow us to work part-time in the office or at a third remote location such as a co-working space. But for good or bad, conversations about disciplined routines will intensify in 2021 as we are working more from home and commuting full time less.

The Mini Commute
With many people enjoying the process of working from home and not having to factor in the time for a commune into their day. That being said in a surprise twist the mini commute is coming back.

In April 2020, Cook joined other academics researching work-life balance for a project called eWorkLife. The research data revealed increases in working hours when it wasn’t obvious when the working day ended. In the later months of 2020 workers started recreating mini commutes.

People wanted to create “a clear division between work and home”. Study lead Prof Anna Cox urged people to do pretend commutes so they could maintain a work-life balance. In 2021 work-life balance must become recognised as a public health issue and the eWorkLife project has urged policymakers to act.

The right to disconnect
While we have more time in the day due to not commuting, it appears to be lost to admin and email. There were signs pre-pandemic warnings about an encroaching 24/7 work culture. Social scientists argued that contemporary workers were being turned into worker-smartphone hybrids. In 2016, French workers were even given the legal right to disconnect from work emails outside working hours.

A hopeful wish-list for 2021 includes continued increases in workplace activism and for companies and governments to reveal their remote working policies. Twitter and 17 other companies have already announced employees can work remotely indefinitely. At least 60% of US companies still haven’t shared their remote working policies with their employees. Remote workers tell me until bosses reveal their post-pandemic policies – planning for their future is impossible.

What this means for Australian companies is still playing out. With the rollout of the vaccine, the need for remote work will not be as great, but the way we have changed as workers is here. And it remains to be seen how it will progress as 2021 rolls on.