Flex is Next: Looking back at 2021's workplace shift

Britta Schellenberg
Britta Schellenberg

Remote and hybrid work models have dominated the headlines. 

COVID-19 and its variants continue to drive a global public health crisis into a second year. 

2021 has been a year of tremendous change in the world of work.

We don’t know exactly what 2022 has in store for you (or for Robin), but we can safely assume it’ll be another eventful year in the world of work, one requiring workplace flexibility and change-readiness for employees and organizations alike.

Robin will be here to help you, and, in 2022, I’ll continue keeping you updated on trends and news from the world of work, just with a new name to reflect the changing times. 

Introducing Future of Work Wednesdays: a bi-weekly update on what is happening with workplaces across the world.

At a time of radical uncertainty, we believe one thing remains the same: the need to deliver great workplace experiences that engage and retain your talent. 

Let’s explore news from the last few weeks.

Protocol: A catalyst for productivity and workplace flexibility by Robin CTO Brian Muse

In a post at technology news site Protocol aptly titled: Surprises, Setbacks and Safety: How to Recalibrate Your Workplace, Robin CTO Brian Muse looks back at what has happened since the pandemic and looks ahead to new possibilities the pandemic has spurred. 

“The pandemic was a catalyst for much-needed [productivity] growth. According to research by the New York Times, labor productivity rose at a 3.8% annual rate [since the pandemic], compared with 1.4% from 2005 to 2019.”

Muse explains that while organizations can’t predict the future, they can prepare for it. A few steps for future-proofing your workplace experience? Here’s a teaser:

  • Continuously collect and analyze workplace data so you can understand and then improve the office experience for your employees. Data is key for setting up an iterative feedback loop of learning and improvement.
  • Offer employees flexibility and put trust at the foundation for workplace experience. As Muse writes, offer choices then “trust your employees to make the right decisions for themselves. Remember: You cannot approach flexibility inflexibly.”

WaPo: Companies are Rethinking RTO Plans for 2022 Amidst Omicron Outbreak

The Washington Post just published an excellent overview of how U.S. companies are rethinking RTO plans for 2022 in light of the evolving Omicron variant. 

Companies are either delaying their RTO plans (echoing a pattern seen with the delta variant in the summer of 2021) or ramping up requirements such as vaccinations/boosters and mask mandates.

“Lyft says it won’t require workers to come back to its offices for all of next year, though they will fully reopen as planned in February,” explains WaPo.

One business leader shared a common view: “A year and a half ago, we thought this [public health crisis] would be for a very short time. But the pandemic has thrown us many curves, and employers need to continue to be nimble.” 

The only way employers can maintain needed flexibility and retain their talent is by continuing to focus on workplace/ employee experience. Forcing employees back into the office on some random date on a calendar is simply a recipe for a devastating talent exodus.

CNBC: NYC Mandating that Private Employees Get Vaccinated

In announcing a vaccine mandate for all employees (not just employees working for the NYC municipal government), outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio said

“We’ve got omicron as a new factor, we’ve got the colder weather, which is really going to create additional challenges . . . we’ve got holiday gatherings. We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it’s causing to all of us.”

Whether the Big Apple’s vaccinate mandate will hold up in court is a difficult question. Federal mandates similar to de Blasio’s have already been challenged and struck down in federal court cases, although the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to finally decide the matter. 

Courts would need to balance the rights of individuals/employees to privacy around their personal health information and their bodily autonomy against the needs of public health and governmental authorities to combat a serious public health crisis. No matter the legal determination to come, companies will need to stay flexible.

Future of Work Expert: Flexibility and Listening are Keys to Workplace Experience

We at Robin had an opportunity recently to chat with the brilliant author, future of work expert, and VP at Salesforce Karen Mangia about the evolving world of work (ps: stay tuned for our blog series covering this chat!).

Mangia’s terrific, just-published book, Success from Anywhere, is about how the workplace has permanently changed since the pandemic to accommodate employee flexibility – and how business leaders can adapt to the flexible “new normal” of remote and hybrid work.

Let’s end 2021’s final Flex is Next with a profound insight Mangia offered: “Employees are looking for more of what matters to them, and that’s flexibility, autonomy and choice in how and where work happens. It's not necessarily about getting paid more. For some, the only way they can get flexibility is to leave their job and go elsewhere. Organizations that are doing better at retaining employees are the ones spending more time listening to their employees.”

Thank you for reading and we at Robin hope you’ll have a happy, healthy Holiday Season and a great 2022!