3 Reasons to Be Optimistic About Work in 2021

…and 6 interesting workplace trends to inform your job search

By Julie Norwell

Many might argue that the greatest thing to look forward to in 2021 is the end of 2020. Between record-breaking Australian bushfires, a rampaging pandemic with over 1.5 million deaths, a tanking global economy, U.S. racial unrest, and political convulsions following a U.S. presidential impeachment and then a contested presidential election 2020’s miseries were numerous.

Even those who weren’t directly affected by these calamities were very likely indirectly affected, not least of which the millions of people who lost their jobs. Those who didn’t lose their jobs were either forced to work in potentially hazardous conditions or sequester themselves at home to work remotely – in many cases sharing the dining room table with a remote-working spouse and remote-learning children.

No matter what happens in 2021, it’ll likely be a better year by anyone’s estimation. 

But there are also some objectively good reasons to look forward to it from a jobseeker’s standpoint, not to mention some interesting new developments about a Covid-changed work landscape that offer a useful perspective for all workers, whether they’re employed or hope to be so soon.

1. An economic rebound!

Covid devastated the global economy this year, but the U.S. economy, at least, seems to have been surprisingly resilient. Many economists forecast a huge bounce in 2021. Morgan Stanley, with one of the most bullish positions, predicts a V-shaped recovery delivering as much as 5.9% GDP growth in the coming year. 

Of course, any economic recovery will rely greatly on a successful and speedy distribution of the promised Covid vaccine. But once the vaccine arrives, hiring is expected to take off and unemployment to fall by the end of the year.

“Should a COVID-19 vaccine become available by early 2021, we’re forecasting one of the strongest years of growth on record in 2021an especially important trend for talent acquisition professionals given improved revenue outlooks will prompt more hirings,” said Jay Denton, SVP of Business Intelligence and Chief Innovation Officer at ThinkWhy, a provider of labor market software for employers.

2. Jobs will grow (albeit unevenly)

The ThinkWhy team is one of many labor market analysts that expects businessesoverall to boost hiring nationwide in 2021. It forecasts the labor market to be back to pre-pandemic level by the first half of 2023. The absolute number of hires in many markets could be staggering relative to historic averages,” assertstheThinkWhy’s recent 

The pace of jobs recovery, however, could vary considerably by industry and location. While, many types of business will have recovered all lost jobs before the end of 2021, others will lag for years until normal social behaviors return. ThinkWhy predicts that the industries best positioned to rebound quickly are Retail Trade, Health Care, Construction and Financial Servicesin fact, they may even face talent shortages. Leisure and Hospitality, however, which took the biggest drubbing in 2020, isn’t expected to fully recover until 2025.

When it comes to location, the healthiest markets in the near term for job seekers are Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, and Phoenix, cities where many businesses are already in expansion mode. Other markets, like New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Orlando, which suffered bigger job losses, will see delayed job growth until the pandemic eases.

3. Remote work is here to stay

For better or for worse, Covid has ushered in many transformative changes to the workplace. One change for the better that is unlikely to go away is a business culture that accommodates remote workers. Workers love it and, it turns out, so do employers.

Remote working is not a new phenomenon, but Covid has tested its limits like never before. 

A survey of more than 9,000 knowledge workers in six countries found that most were happier working remotely than in an office. What they most valued was saving money, an improved work-life balance, and an, um, “shorter” commute. Just 11.6% of those surveyed say they wanted to return to full-time office work.

That’s not to say that 100% remote working will become the new norm.

First of all, only about a quarter of the workforce can actually execute their job function from home – mainly highly skilled employees who trade in, process, or communicate information or knowledge. (Think finance, management, professional services, and information sector workers.) But those who can do so could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office, according to a report by global management consulting firm, McKinsey.

Over 70% of knowledge workers prefer a hybrid remote-work model. In response, many executives are signaling plans for a hybrid model at their companies, whereby employees work part of the week in the office and part from home. This solution makes for a happier workforce – and it is a huge cost-savings for the company. What a win-win!

Notable workplace trends

In under one year, the acute, widespread pressures imposed on the world by Covid have accelerated many workplace trends that were already underway. Below are a few notable ones that could affect you.

Urban exodus

With remote working on the rise, some people foresee a population shift from large urban areas to smaller cities and suburbs in the wake of the pandemic. A LinkedIn report on workplace trends identifies indicators suggesting a great dispersal of urban workforces, including dropping rental prices, climbing vacancies, and worker sentiment surveys. Even before the pandemic, population growth in big cities was stagnating, but Covid-19 may well be the catalyst that permanently drives people away from high-cost, high population centers to other locales. How this trend plays out post-pandemic remains to be seen.

Virtual competition

If your job function allows for it, the trend towards remote working means that your future job opportunities will be less limited by geography – in other words, the world is your oyster. The downside, however, is that your competition will also no longer be limited by geography – it could be global.

Productivity

The million-dollar question asked by businesses in the Covid remote work experiment is how working remotely impacts productivity. A study of 12,000 professionals by the Boston Consulting Group before and during the pandemic finds a positive link between productivity and remote work, but notes that productivity hinges on four key correlating factors: social connectivity, mental health, physical health, and workplace tools.

Many companies are already stepping up their efforts to support workers in these areas, offering wellness packages and workplace tools to staff in their remote offices. Arguably, recreating social connectivity in virtual settings will be most challenging, but to the extent that employers can support this and the other important drivers of productivity, their businesses will have an edge.

So, expect to see exciting new opportunities to gather around the virtual water cooler going forward.

A focus on diversity in hiring

Real improvement in diversity in the workplace, especially at the executive level, moved at a snail’s pace until 2020. Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement amplified the inequities of diverse workers. Diverse groups – largely defined as people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ employees – suffered the most in 2020.

This year, more than ever, American workers are demanding better from employers. In a survey, 70% of job seekers said they want to work for a company that demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

They’re smart to do so because McKinsey research shows that companies in the top quartile for diverse leadership teams outperformed less diverse peers on profitability. McKinsey finds this year that employers are well aware of the challenges facing employees and that nine out of ten of them are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion despite the business pressures they face during the pandemic.

What will that look like? It could mean that we will see the creation of new roles, such as chief diversity officer, or new diversity initiatives that improve equality for job opportunities and salary.

Women under stress

Women, it seems, have become an unfortunate workplace casualty during the pandemic, especially those with children at home. Women are more likely to have been either laid off or to have dropped out of the workforce during Covid-19 as they struggled to balance increased childcare and home-life demands. They’re also more likely to have suffered mental health issues.  

A Workplace Trends 2021 outlook published on LinkedIn reports that two-thirds of women are planning a major career change post-Covid-19, and McKinsey found in its Women in the Workplace 2020 report that 25% of women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely in response to the added burdens.

New skills will be in demand

Once can’t beat the drum too much that upskilling is crucial in the digital age, especially in the Covid world. Technological innovation is reshaping the work world top to bottom and new skills will be in constant demand. Making upskilling a small part of your daily routine is ideal – those incremental efforts will add up over time and ensure that you aren’t left behind.

You may find that carving out time for this important habit becomes easier in 2021. Employees are increasingly responsive to employee demands for more support, so look forward to increased training opportunities, flexible work schedules, paid and unpaid leave and other perks.

It has been a tough year, but there are lots of solid reasons to look forward to 2021. In fact, count one more – Covid or no Covid, the post-holiday season is the best time to get a job.

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