5 ways employee experiences will change in 2021

COVID-19 forced a change in how people work, and 2021 will be the year many of those changes become a permanent part of business culture across industries, Forrester predicts.

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2020 was a big year for forced workplace changes, and many of those changes will become a permanent part of employee experiences in 2021, Forrester predicts. Along with a whole list of predictions for the coming year, Forrester has five particular ones for employee experience (EX) leaders to pay particular attention to. Among the findings, Forrester predicts things like automation flourishing in ways that help employees, remote work being largely permanent, and a drastic change in the role of HR managers.

1. Remote work levels will remain high

Forrester predicts that remote work will be the new normal, with a lasting 300% increase over pre-COVID-19 levels. 48% of North American managers surveyed during the pandemic expect the amount of remote, full-time employees they have to permanently increase in 2021 and beyond, and 37% of US employees said they want to work from home more often after the pandemic has abated.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

This will change the employee experience in several ways, Forrester predicts, one of the largest being the expectation that remote work is a standard option when seeking new jobs. "Expect this to reshape talent acquisition, moving right into talent poaching, as the most desirable workers seek location-agnostic work opportunities fully supported by anywhere-work tech and culture," Forrester said.

2. Remote work expectations will require policy overhauls

Working at home naturally means cost and liability is shifted from employer to employee, and Forrester said policymakers in some countries have already taken notice and are acting accordingly. In Germany, for example, a proposed bill would make working from home a right, and some US state governments are working on plans to require employer reimbursement for expenses like computers and internet access. 

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"Over the next year, we anticipate more local governments will update or create these policies. Don't wait for the regulations. Take action now to turn your work-from-home policies into properly funded strategies for engaging and retaining high-performing employees," Gartner said.

3. Coming automation will support workers, not replace them

Fears over automation eliminating jobs is misplaced, Forrester said, and automation coming in 2021 will be more about supporting current employees. Grocery store robots, for example, promote social distancing by doing inventory checks for employees to prevent too many people on the floor, and Forrester expects a tripling of robots of that sort in 2021.

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"By the end of 2021, one in four information workers will be supported in their daily work by software bots, robotic process automation, or (artificial intelligence) AI, taking rote, repetitive tasks off their plates and yielding higher EX," Forrester predicts, and recommends that "rather than focusing on substitution, focus more of your automation efforts on helping your staff be more effective."

4. HR will become strategy-, not liability-focused

Remote work is permanent, and with it comes the need to work closely with IT to coordinate at-home workers, working with CFOs to coordinate budgets and a new approach to employee hiring and training, Forrester said.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

HR will have to start considering what a post-pandemic workforce looks like and how to best suit its needs, which will require more than just reacting to problems. "Don't wait until occupational safety and health lawsuits for work-from-home injuries pile up. Invest now to build the EX environment you'll need as a bridge to post-pandemic work life," Forrester said.

5. Tech giants will get into the education game

"We predict either Amazon, Apple, or Google will buy a significant stake in an accredited college or university, creating the shortcut they need to extend their current education initiatives and shape their future workforces," Forrester said. 

SEE: The future of IoT: 5 major predictions for 2021 (TechRepublic)

It's not just those companies' workforces that will be affected if that prediction is true, Forrester predicts: Future employees at all sorts of companies will come to jobs with training from big tech companies. Savvy companies, Forrester said, will look to partner with educationally linked tech companies to promote continual education.

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