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5 key lockdown lessons for work in 2021

To say that the last twelve months have been tumultuous would be massively underselling it.

Even for those of us who weren't furloughed, the pandemic turned our working lives upside down.

Your daily commutes? Gone.

Grabbing a coffee with your teammates? Never gonna happen.

If there's a silver lining, it's that the past year has been very educational. There are plenty of lessons learnt from remote working that we can apply in our workplaces moving forward.

So, let's look at how COVID has changed the workplace, and the most important workplace lessons in 2021 for us to learn.

Employee wellbeing must be a top priority

Kicking off our important workplace lessons 2021 list is how vital it is for employers to look after their staff. If one thing's become clear since early 2020, it's that employee wellbeing needs to be the watchword for all of us.

If poor workplace wellbeing during the pandemic was purely the risk of catching COVID, that would be one thing. But physical health risks were only the beginning. The prospect of contracting COVID placed frontline staff under massive amounts of stress, while remote workers grappled with isolation, and those on furlough feared for their long-term employment and financial wellbeing.

But perhaps the most chilling finding was research from Gallup, which showed that the pandemic had caused employee engagement and wellbeing to diverge in the US for the first time since Gallup started tracking them in 2009. Although engagement continued to rise, wellbeing tailed off with American's evaluations of their own lives hitting their lowest levels since the "˜08 Recession.

To effectively support employee wellbeing, you need to communicate consistently to know when something is affecting your team, and take into account all four major types of wellbeing: Physical and mental health, social wellbeing, and financial wellbeing.

Engagement is important, provided you can handle it

Findings like Gallup's have shaken up the discussion around employee engagement, but it's still the core of what we do at Weekly10. Although the precise definition of engagement can vary, we've parred our definition down to this: Engagement is the level of emotional commitment and attachment an employee has to their work, the company and its goals, as well as their colleagues.

There are huge benefits to an engaged workforce that you absolutely need to consider. This isn't new wisdom from us, considering that we've been an engagement platform from the start, but it's still vital enough to place highly on our list of important workplace lessons for 2021.

But, if you're still not convinced, consider the fact that highly engaged employees have much greater potential for productivity. In fact, research shows that employees with high levels of engagement generate 2.5x as much revenue as employees with low engagement.

But the one caveat to bear in mind is that engaged employees will hold the business to a much higher standard than their less-engaged peers. They're paying more attention to what's going on, and so are much more likely to pick up on things like managerial incompetence or toxic work culture. Keeping engagement levels consistently high means providing autonomy, development opportunities, consistent feedback and fair compensation.

Businesses need to embrace asynchronous communication

Next up on our important workplace lessons 2021 list is how useful asynchronous communication can be. It's not new, by any means. Even before the proliferation of direct messaging and video conferencing apps, most workplaces made heavy use of email. But the necessity of remote work has put us back in touch with the benefits of asynchronous interactions.

Constant meetings slow everyone down and gum up the works. Group meetings and 1:1 meetings can be useful, but over-egging your work culture with them wastes a lot of time. Asynchronous communication, whether it's an email, text message, or Asana update, lets us broach topics and have discussions without taking whole hours out of everyone's day. It means you can ask a question, get on with other things, and come back for the answer when it suits you.

Doodle's State of Meetings 2019 report analysed 19 million meetings, and found that they cost US firms alone $399 billion. Add to that the costs for British, German and Swiss firms, and you have well over half a trillion dollars lost to excessive meetings per year.

Hiring is now a global game

Remote work existed before the pandemic, but as we all know, it was more of a fringe benefit. Rather than applying for a wholly remote job, you'd be offered the opportunity to do some of your work remotely once you'd been around long enough. In that by-gone era, hiring locally made a lot of sense. After all, you want employees to have a reasonable commute, so they can actually show up on time.

But, now that we've seen fully remote teams take the reins without crashing and burning, employers can now tap into whole new pools of potential talent. One of the most important workplace lessons of 2021 is that local hiring is no longer the necessity once was.

One of the biggest remote working benefits is that it can help to diversify your workforce, which is a great way to introduce more outside-the-box thinking to your team dynamic. With diverse remote teams, you'll have access to creative insights which can help your business break into new markets.

There are challenges to remote work, but they're outweighed by the benefits

Rounding off our important workplace lessons 2021 list is arguably the most important thing we learned in the last year. In fact, remote work has been so important that it's even intruded on several of the other points on this list.

It's fair to say that remote work has its challenges. It's easy to become isolated, not just from company culture, but from social interaction in general when you spend most of your week working at home. And, without the general hum of the work day going on around you, you're more responsible than ever for keeping yourself on task. Some employers have responded to this by implementing performance tracking software, but for what it's worth, we think that's a huge mistake.

Then there's the blurring of work and homelife. While remote workers can be just as (if not more) productive than their office-based counterparts, remote workers tend to spend more time at their desks than they would otherwise.

Remote working challenges shouldn't be ignored, but fortunately, they're outweighed by the benefits of remote work:

  • Remote workers have much greater autonomy (when they're not under the thumb of a performance tracker).
  • Flexibility allows remote workers to manage personal obligations more effectively.
  • Remote work and other forms of job flexibility make careers more accessible to more people.
  • Investing in remote teams lets you reduce office expenses.
  • Remote work has been incredibly popular among its practitioners, even before the pandemic.

So, even though 2020 was an insanely unpredictable year, it's helped us to learn important workplace lessons in 2021 that we might have otherwise missed. There are probably more lessons to be learned, but these are the ones we rate as the most important for everyone to bear in mind.

We've helped clients around the globe keep on top of engagement and performance no matter where their people work. Want to see how?