Coming off the heels of COVID-19’s arrival in 2020, this past year has seen foundational shifts when it comes to how we work. While 2020 was spent figuring things out on the fly, 2021 was about building organizational support for the unknown. And as we continue living in one of the biggest disruptors of our time, we can only expect things to be in flux. But there are good reasons to be optimistic – particularly in the world of work.
Companies have been outfitting their team members with the tech (software and hardware) needed to do their jobs, facilitating and encouraging interpersonal office dynamics that boost mental health and personal wellbeing, and adjusting hiring practices to accommodate geography and work style. As we look forward to the year ahead, we consulted some of Staples’ Work From Anywhere Advisory Council members to share their predictions for the biggest trends we’ll see in 2022.
1. Employers will take new measures to create a positive work environment
Isolation, whether alone or with family, created unforeseen issues when it came to productivity and mental health. In 2022, organizations will take a more comprehensive view of health, with an increased focus on mental health, says Dr. Gillian Mandich, a happiness researcher and the founder of The International Happiness Institute of Health Science Research.
“Employers will provide increased mental health resources in employee benefit packages, fitness reimbursements or paid gym memberships, subscriptions to wellness and therapy apps, meditation rooms, and nap pods,” she says.
This expansion of offerings jumps off what we were already beginning to see at the height of the pandemic. In a piece for Harvard Business Review, Brian Kropp and Emily Rose McRae, leaders in Gartner’s HR practice, stated that a Gartner 2020 survey of 52 HR executives found that 94 percent of companies invested in their wellness programs, with 85 percent increased support for mental health benefits and 50 percent for physical wellbeing. Moving forward, Mandich also predicts that there will be increased company-supported community stewardship, such as providing community service time, paid time off in exchange for volunteering, or volunteering as a group.
2. Home offices will continue to be optimized
The past year was spent finessing and finagling our existing home spaces into workable office environments. As we head into a year of more remote and hybrid work, these spaces will continue to be optimized. “Some companies have been offering stipends, but I expect this to be more pervasive as work from home is fully entrenched,” says Clare Kumar, a productivity coach and author.
Work from home essentials including noise-cancelling headphones and an ergo-conscious task chair will continue to make a difference in 2022 for both employees and employers to be comfortable with remote work.
3. More organizations will seek out cross-country talent
Thanks to tech tools, for many employers it no longer matters where employees live, simply whether they are right for the job. According to a report commissioned by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, almost 80 percent of the businesses in British Columbia plan on continuing remote work arrangements post-pandemic, no matter where in the country their employee resides.
While time zone differences can impact meeting times, the increased flexibility in work schedules makes those, now seemingly small, quirks manageable.
So, what will 2022 look like? “More companies will continue to focus on finding and hiring the best talent available, wherever they may be located, and figure out their working arrangements after,” says John P. Trougakos; Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour & HR Management, Department of Management, University of Toronto Scarborough.
4. Remote work is here to stay and flexibility must be adapted
We know we’re not going back to the office full-time anytime soon. In fact, a PwC US survey from 2021 found that only one-fifth of executives said it was necessary for employees to be in the office five days a week. What’s more, in PwC’s 2021 Canadian office worker survey, 15 percent of respondents said they’d prefer to work entirely remotely. According to Trougakos, a growing number of potential employees will seek and expect flexible modes of working such as hybrid work and four-day work weeks.
“After a few more ups and downs, companies will really get down to business when it comes to implementing hybrid and other ‘non-traditional’ work models,” says Trougakos. “Great organizations will figure out how to make flexible work models a real pillar of success.”
The conversation around work is about satisfaction. Work life balance is not only envied but required. And the ability as an employee to make one’s own schedule is what will become more than a nice-to-have in 2022.
“We hear of The Great Resignation…which I think reflects an inherent need for A Great Redesign,” says Kumar. With boundaries blurring, employees are finding their voices (with the support of government legislation in Ontario on the right to disconnect) to set limits on their workday in an effort to ensure professional time doesn’t erode personal time, she says. “Flexibility and a new level of autonomy are now expectations which leaders can only ignore at their peril.”
As an employer, help facilitate flexibility by ensuring the team has what they need to succeed. Implement a “no meetings before 10 a.m.” policy. And depending on the size of your team, equip them with tech (like an Apple Watch) that will keep them connected on their way to and from yoga.
5. Employers will offer microlearning and upskilling
Investing in the skill development of employees is imperative to not only their success, but the company’s. Microlearning and upskills focus on narrow fields of learning that enhance an existing skill set, rather than teach an entirely new disciple. It’s what keeps your employees and your organization current, and what helps keep everyone engaged.
Throughout the pandemic, Kumar has been giving leadership workshops that focus on skills to help leadership show up more effectively in a hybrid world. “Building skills such as showing empathy and acting compassionately, being comfortable with vulnerability, and developing stronger self-awareness are all hot topics,” she says. “As is expanding inclusivity beyond the Canadian Human Rights Act to address life challenges around caregiving, temperament, and traits such as introversion, high sensitivity, and ADHD.”
Mandich agrees that focusing on professional development opportunities in 2022 will be key to increasing talent retention and productivity. With multiple online learning programs — from Masterclass to Coursera — as well as talks and one-off workshops like TED and Staples Spotlight, the opportunity for micro learning is aplenty.
6. Privacy and cybersecurity will remain a priority
At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the disruption of Zoom meetings as trolls infiltrated the platform before the company increased its security protocols. Moving into the third year of COVID and remote work, there remain concerns around keeping information confidential and proprietary information private.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) create a space in which employees collaborate remotely, risky software can be firewalled, and is the most effective way to safeguard the work your team does. The technology experts at Staples Professional can help your organization set up a VPN that works for the scale and needs of your organization.
As for possible print privacy issues, providing personal shredders will become part of the work-from-home packages companies provide their employees to make sure nothing is compromised from a confidentiality perspective.
In 2022, organizations will be well-equipped with the learnings brought on by the past two years. And if these experiences have taught us anything, it’s that leading with agility and empathy can truly build a business.