Never before have so many companies in so many regions of the world asked the same questions as in 2020. How do we ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees in light of Covid? How do we transition to remote working quickly and safely? How do our employees feel? The pandemic was a real step-change for HR leaders, forcing them to provide innovative answers, adapt and try to stay one step ahead of the unpredictable. 

It’s likely the pandemic will define the workplace well into 2021. There will be no going back to “the old normal” – flexible working times and remote working will still challenge leadership teams, whilst HR and employer branding professionals will still be thinking about the onboarding, performance, health and engagement of employees. Bill Gates predicts that more than half of business trips and more than a third of days in the office will disappear. A better balance between office and remote working will need to be struck and hybrid models will be trialled and put in place – it’s what employees want, too. But there are more changes on the horizon. Here are three trends we expect to characterise the employee experience in 2021.

1. Brands will accelerate digital transformation through optimising the employee experience
A well-rounded employee experience strategy doesn’t just provide an opportunity for the business to ensure employee satisfaction but also to improve its own internal processes. 2020 has made brands more sensitive to the employee experience – in 2021, this will translate into a fresh impetus for the digital transformation of the brand itself.

When a business enables digital, in-the-moment, experiences – those that empower employees to submit feedback, ideas and suggestions on anything the business does, anonymously, via easily accessible channels – it creates a win-win situation for both parties. Providing consistent engagement and response strategies will make employees feel valued, while gaining real-time insight into how well employees think the brand’s technologies are performing. These insights will lead to process improvements, new innovations and a better prioritisation of future investments. In 2021, companies that offer employees simple-to-use, digital channels to check in on how they are feeling about recent communications, initiatives or just overall that day, will be able to turn employee experience management into a revenue-driving business function.

2. Employee feedback to become richer, more rapid and responsive
As economic realities and business objectives continue to shift, brands must become more receptive and responsive to changing employee needs and wishes. Successful businesses will collect and analyse real-time feedback throughout their employees’ day-to-day experiences to spot concerns, outstanding performance and even great ideas. This will require a dynamic model that goes beyond one-off touch points, such as surveys, and instead takes into account rich employee data that helps HR leaders and managers find effective responses rapidly. Leading HR industry analyst Josh Bersin describes this as “continuous response”.

Video feedback analysis will play an increasingly large role in understanding employee sentiments and capture nuances in communication that text cannot convey. This means that employee experience tools that make it possible to pull together video feedback and other employee signals and translate them into actions, will be business-critical in 2021 and beyond.

3. Technology will take collaboration to the next level
With impromptu brainstorming chats by the water cooler gone and an overall reduced number of in-person connections in the workplace, facilitating collaboration and idea exchanges will be a top priority for managers in 2021. Even if physical meetings resume, the learnings of 2020 and the methods adopted to keep companies buzzing while offices are abandoned will live on.

Most of the companies that had no enterprise-wide messaging platforms, such as Slack, before the pandemic will have deployed one by now, and even the least tech-savvy of us have learnt to share screens on Zoom. Collaboration platforms earned their keep in 2020 and going forward crowdsourcing tools will be an indispensable part of this technology arsenal. Idea crowdsourcing and management can be an incredibly powerful tool for the employee experience, as it enables team members to contribute ideas, no matter how small, join conversations, vote on each other’s suggestions, stand out and become part of the solution.

Ears to the ground!
Undoubtedly, 2020 put the employee experience front and centre and the lessons learnt must guide us to more responsive, collaborative and experience-driven working environments. The key takeaway for HR leaders and managers from the year 2020 is that listening to employees and helping them thrive is critical for their job satisfaction and mental wellbeing. 2020 might have been a rollercoaster of a year, but as we move forward into 2021, we can expect technology to continue to augment human creativity, fuel productivity and elevate the employee experience.

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