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8 Trends for the Future of Work

minute read

Written by Laura Veith on July 7, 2021

The Center for Health, Work & Environment wants to make sure small businesses are not left out of the conversation when it comes to return to work. In a recent webinar, A Safer Return for Small Employers, the Center invited John Dony, senior director of Thought Leadership from the National Safety Council (NSC), to speak to small employers specifically about returning to work after COVID-19.

NSC has over 16,000 member companies, the vast majority being small- to medium-size companies. NSC’s mission is to focus on eliminating the leading causes of preventable death so people can live their fullest lives. They focus their efforts on safety in the workplace, on the roadway, and by addressing impairment.1

As employers of all sizes prepare for the next phase of return to work, NSC developed the SAFER initiative to help inform every organization’s approach. SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns, is a framework for understanding how to safely resume traditional work operations both now and in the future for not just employees, but workers of all types.

The framework was developed by a task force – comprised of large and small Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, legal experts, public health professionals, medical professionals, and government agency representatives – that make recommendations based on best practices and proven workplace safety strategies. In May 2021, NSC updated its SAFER framework with the latest guidelines, including ventilation and filtration guidance, long-term implications of remote work and flexible schedules and vaccine policies.2

Over the last year, leaning heavily on the expertise of a diverse task force of corporate entities, non-profits, government agencies, and trade associations, NSC recognized eight prominent trends emerging from the last year that they believe will continue to inform how employers, small and large, will go from recovery to resilience. According to Dony, “COVID-19 hasn’t been the reason for these trends, it has been more of an accelerant or fuel for them.”

Eight trends for the future world of work

  1. Safety & Health Embedded at Core: Perhaps the loudest trend from the last year is an emphasis on keeping employees safe, healthy, and protected from disease. Businesses that want to succeed are those that emphasize employee and customer safety and health as essential to their workplace culture.

  2. "Whole Person" valuation or Total Worker Health®Organizations are understanding the importance and integration of physical safety, health, and well-being and the impact work has on all three of these categories.

  3. Lean, Distributed, Asynchronous Work Teams: After a year of constant change and flux, employees will be more multidisciplinary and may not work with their coworkers in the same ways they did before COVID (such as in-person, on a 9-to-5 schedule, etc.).

  4. New Skills & Modes of LeadershipWorkplace leaders have and will learn how to engage and manage their teams without as much or any in-person interaction, even after all restrictions lift. Included in this trend is the process for determining what employees return to work fully in-person, in a hybrid capacity, or fully remote.

  5. Dramatically Increased Transparency: After a year of seeing into our coworkers living rooms, organizations will be called upon to remain equally as transparent with their plans, goals, as well as short-comings, past or present. There will be an increase in cultural surveys and emphasis on employee needs, focusing on social justice and psychological safety.

  6. Technology as a Mandate: No one wants to be behind the curve when there is the next disrupter like COVID. Organizations that were most well-positioned in the last year were early adopters of new technology.

  7. Thriving Internal & External Partnerships: To stay afloat, organizations have and will continue to display a type of "radical collaboration" where employees of all levels roll up their sleeves and collaborate with whomever necessary to get work done.

  8. Reduce Footprints & Enhance Sustainability: With the likelihood of many organizations assuming hybrid schedules or keeping workers fully remote, we may see a decrease in carbon emissions from where we were before the pandemic due to less commuting and smaller office operations.

Of the eight trends, Dony emphasized transparency in communication for organizations and leaders as possibly the most important when returning to work. This, for many organizations, may be a radical shift from how they previously communicated with employees before March 2020. This priority ensures leaders reestablish an environment that is employee-centered and not merely on what factors leaders find important. Dony and the NSC believe this trend is imperative to reestablishing or building a thriving and productive workplace culture, especially as it pertains to worker health and safety.

For resources related to each of these trends and many other helpful topics, visit NSC’s Workplace Resource page. Watch the full webinar/presentation here on the Health Links™ YouTube page.

1 https://www.nsc.org/company

2 https://www.nsc.org/workplace/safety-topics/safer/safer-home