The COVID-19 pandemic has had a seismic impact on the way we work, manage employees, and even think about the workplace.
But the move towards decentralisation and more flexible ways of working that we’re currently seeing was already well underway before 2020.
Several recent studies have analysed the most significant trends affecting the workplace in 2022, giving us an idea of what the world of work will look like over the years to come.
In this article, we’ll discuss eight key insights from the EY Future Workplace Index and other research into the trends shaping the future of work.
#1 The Future Is Hybrid
The EY Future Workplace Index is a study involving a survey of C-suite executives at 501 companies across various industries.
Respondents ranged from those at companies with 250 employees to those with more than 25,000.
The results, published in October 2021, reveal several key trends affecting the post-COVID workplace.
And the study’s key finding shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Put simply, the survey found that the future is hybrid, and companies need to be on board.
This is a trend that was already taking shape before the pandemic.
According to data from 2019, 40% of employees were already working in both office and remote locations, with 45% in the office full time, and 15% fully remote.
However, in 2021, 42% were working on a hybrid basis, with only 27% working in the office full time.
While companies are still navigating the return to the office, it’s very unlikely that the world will go back to pre-COVID levels.
75% of the companies surveyed said that they could envision a future with no centralised workspace at all.
#2 …but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to hybrid work
However, it’s also clear that there’s no obvious, one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid working.
According to a Gallup poll in which respondents were asked how often they’d like to work in the office if given a choice, 4 in 10 (38%) said they’d like to work 2–3 days per week in person, and 3 in 10 (29%) said they’d like to be in the office less than 2 days a week.
Only 16% said that they’d like to work either ‘primarily’ or ‘rarely’ from the office.
What this data shows is, essentially, that opinions vary, but that most people do prefer some sort of hybrid arrangement.
In 2022 and beyond, companies will have to work with their employees to find models that provide the flexibility and in-person time that each employee needs — and that work for the company as well.
#3 Productivity needs to be redefined
In the old days, managers could measure productivity — at least informally — by tracking the number of hours each employee spent at their desk.
And even today, in many organisations, employees are praised for putting in extra time to get the job done, and burning the midnight oil is almost an expectation in some industries.
At the beginning of the pandemic, managers and employees alike were forced to reassess how they thought about work.
With so many people working from home, managers could no longer glance around the office to see how many people were working.
And as hybrid work continues into 2022, they need to find new ways of measuring productivity.
The statistics are encouraging: a Gartner study found that 30% of people felt that spending less or no time on commuting improved their productivity, and 43% said it was improved by having flexibility in terms of working hours — which are both key components of the hybrid work model.
Many employees and employers have found that hybrid work can improve productivity, despite initial worries in early 2020 — it just needs to be measured in different ways.
#4 Wellness initiatives are vital to avoid employee burnout
While many employees feel that hybrid or remote work offers them flexibility and a better work-life balance, others are not so keen.
Many people find the lack of delineation between work and home to be difficult, and others feel the need to ‘prove’ their productivity by working long hours at unsustainable rates.
When these things are left unchecked, they can easily lead to burnout.
In fact, a study by Indeed found that over half (52%) of workers had experienced burnout at work in 2021, compared to 43% before the pandemic.
And when people are not physically present at work, it can be difficult for managers to spot the symptoms of burnout and other mental health problems.
In 2022, employers need to take preventative action to help their employees work in ways that are both physically and mentally healthy.
This could be as simple as ensuring that everyone has the office equipment they need to comfortably work at home, or providing basic mental health support through a wellness app.
More generally, good leaders need to work to create a culture that doesn’t praise employees for putting in long hours and ‘going above and beyond’, but encourages employees to look after themselves instead — which only increases productivity in the long run.
#5 Digital tools are key to success
The rise in virtual workspaces and other digital tools is another trend which was already in motion before 2020, but which the pandemic has accelerated.
According to a McKinsey survey of executives in late 2020, the pandemic may have pushed forward the adoption of digital technologies by as much as seven years.
In a world where employees are working in different places from day to day and may only run into their immediate colleagues once or twice a week, digital tools are no longer a nice-to-have extra — they’re crucial to keeping the workforce connected.
Worldwide IT spending is projected to reach $4.4 trillion in 2022 — an increase of 4% from 2021.
Companies that have not yet embraced digital transformation need to invest in tools that allow their teams to work seamlessly and efficiently together, whether or not they’re physically in the same place.
#6 Companies need to reimagine culture for a hybrid world
Developing and maintaining a strong company culture is just as important in a hybrid or remote work environment than an in-person one.
However, it’s much harder for companies to develop their culture organically when people are working remotely at least part of the time.
On-site perks like free drink fridges and comfortable breakout zones are likely to have less of an impact in the hybrid world, since employees will only be able to access them part of the time.
Instead, companies should consider providing things like digital tools and apps that employees can access from anywhere.
However, it’s not just about perks: companies with healthy cultures often emphasise knowledge sharing, feedback and bottom-up innovation.
This makes employees feel that their work has purpose and that they’re valued at work.
And, while building this type of culture certainly takes some work when operating a hybrid work policy, there’s no reason that it can’t be done.
According to a podcast from McKinsey, the return to work after the lifting of COVID restrictions presents a vital opportunity for companies to remake their culture from the ground up — and companies that don’t take advantage of this will be left behind.
#7 The Great Resignation will drive internal mobility
One trend that can’t be ignored when we talk about the state of the workplace in 2022 is the so-called ‘Great Resignation’.
This is a phenomenon that began to take shape in May 2021 and has been accelerating since.
The fact is, employees are more ready to quit their jobs in today’s world of work, and employers need to do more to retain their best people.
However, the Great Resignation could also have another effect: an increase in internal mobility.
With companies struggling to make external hires, many will turn to their internal staff to fill roles.
This could represent significant savings for employers, since retaining staff is typically much cheaper than replacing them.
According to HR services firm Workhuman, the Great Resignation could also result in companies seeing more ‘boomerang employees’: those who leave for exciting-sounding opportunities, only to later return when they find that the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere.
#8 DE&I initiatives are a key success factor in today’s workplace
2020 saw social justice movements taking off around the world.
And in 2022, it’s clear that employees need to respond to this call to action — if they haven’t already — or face disastrous results.
66% of employees said in a recent survey that a company’s DE&I initiatives impact how long they will stay with the company, so those who fail to make this a priority could face problems with retention.
Studies have also consistently shown that an increased focus on DE&I efforts can have a huge impact on a company’s bottom line.
For example, a company with an ethnically diverse leadership team is 25% more likely to outperform those without.
Those with gender-diverse leadership teams outperform others by 36%.
More Workplace Insights
2020 marked a seismic change to the way we work and think about work — but many of the trends mentioned above have been bubbling away for years.
To learn more about how trends in the workplace could affect you and your organisation, read our posts on the Great Resignation, labour arbitrage in a post-COVID world, and diversity, equity and inclusion in the contingent workforce.