In 2021, the brightest stars on the horizon may be employees.

This post is part of ZoomInfo’s 2020 Annual Report series.

They took sudden work-from-home mandates and changed the narrative about remote productivity in ways that will have long-term effects on office culture and technology adoption. 

Workers will also further pressure their bosses to take social stands in the new year. 

“Employee activism is about elevating voices of underrepresented groups and employees feeling empowered to speak up about the things they think need changing,” ZoomInfo wrote recently.

More than anything, the pandemic has taught workers that they can adapt to changes, and employees will carry this confidence forward.

The Future Work Environment

Technology, flexibility, and taking a stand on social issues are some of the key ways the employee landscape has changed entering 2021.

WFH Technology

Technology played a large role in helping workers transition to WFH, and that software will continue to wield influence in 2021.

In particular, the increased adoption of team collaboration tools, electronic signature software, and web conferencing apps all increased significantly last year, setting the stage for the new office environment that workers will re-enter soon. 

Companies will not uninstall this software, but instead permanently add it to their repertoire of tools that will allow business continuity and hybrid work schedules.

Figure 1: Zoom, Go-To-Webinar, and Webex saw significant growth due to work-from-home demands. Source: ZoomInfo.

Web conferencing, which saw a huge upswing in adoption, offers a good example of what workers will still have at their disposal. 

According to data from ZoomInfo, Webex installations grew more than 162% from January through June 2020, GoToWebinar increased 310%, and Zoom jumped more than 1,000% — all signs of a permanent change in how businesses conduct meetings in 2021 and beyond.

Employees Expect Continued Flexibility

The WFH period that many workers have experienced for nearly a year has resulted in a juggling act of job duties, kids learning from home, and out-of-work activities. Workers who have gotten accustomed to this hybrid approach will demand continued flexibility from their companies when people return en mass to offices. How will this affect the future work environment?

According to TechRepublic, recent surveys of 2,000 U.K. workers revealed the following:

  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents said once their offices reopened, they expected to WFH at least one day per week.
  • However, only one in five respondents thought their employers were prepared to support a long-term mix of in-office and at-home work.

Employers will need to address this gap in 2021 in order to maintain employee morale and talent retention.

Balancing Cost of Living Against a Job’s Location

The WFH movement has also shifted how employees choose where to live. With digital boundaries forever lowered, many more workers in 2021 will take a critical look at costs of living and whether they can keep their current jobs while telecommuting from a cheaper community.

For example, as of December 2020, the median house price in Boston was $749,000, according to Compare that to Charlotte, N.C., which listed its median home price at $322,800 — 57% less. 

Even if a worker moved from Boston to Charlotte and took a 15% pay cut based on cost-of-living adjustments, the difference in monthly mortgage payments alone could more than make up the difference.

This appeal will strengthen for a subset of workers in 2021.

Social Issues Prod Expectations From the Workforce

COVID-19 and racial unrest further exposed inequalities in society. Police bias, Wall Street hitting records during massive unemployment, and women shouldering a high burden from the coronavirus all will remain hot topics for debate.

In what is likely to be a bellwether, workforces will push harder on their corporate leaders to take stands on these issues. This reaction is a hallmark for some Millennials and Generation Z members who want to work for woke companies.

“More CEOs will move beyond making statements about the issues impacting society and will evolve to making significant budget investments in supporting these issues,” Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, told Human Resource Executive.

At the top tier, businesses do appear to be responding to the overall diversity trends. In the second half of 2020, Fortune 500 companies saw a 200% spike in job titles with diversity or inclusion in them, according to analysis from ZoomInfo.

Figure 2: In 2020, Fortune 500 companies made clear efforts to create diversity-themed jobs. Source: ZoomInfo.

What 2021 Brings to Workers

When it comes to their employees, the overall message for companies in 2021 is clear: Change is here to stay.

These changes will forever impact future work environments. Whether it’s continued use of technology adopted during the pandemic, flexibility with schedule and location, or a stand on a social issue, bosses should expect their talent to demand more.

Employees will take a new road in 2021, one largely mapped out by the obstacles that the coronavirus threw at them.

ZoomInfo’s 2020 Annual Report Series

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The ZoomInfo Editorial Team

The ZoomInfo Editorial Team is our data-driven storytelling team.

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