The IABC Trends Watch Task Force identified and researched six key trends shaping communication in 2021 and beyond. In 2020, the workplace experienced a major shift in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article presents research about how communicators will be challenged in remote and hybrid groups to find new ways to achieve alignment, work culture, motivation, and productivity. Read on to understand why this trend is relevant to IABC members, and download the full 2021 Trend Report here.
Definition of the Trend and Its Context
The relocation of central and office staff in organizations around the world over the course of 2020 has set up the emergence of a broader trend for 2021 and beyond — the extent to which organizations’ decisions about how to organize and situate themselves will have far broader repercussions.
Potential Impact and Scope (Based on Scenarios)
It is critical to note that the repercussions are unlikely to be the same from one case to another, even if each organization makes the same decision: to return to the office, stay remote, go hybrid, or see the change of workplace issue as a rationale for exporting positions through outsourcing or offshoring. These decisions do not seem to be driven by sector: Google and Twitter will have their employees work remotely, while Netflix is speaking of the earliest feasible return to the office.
More importantly, at a macro level this replaces the dominance of the approach where employees were largely office-based with four competitive approaches: office-based, hybrid, remote and offshored/outsourced.
Who Will Be Most Directly Impacted?
We expect this trend, as it emerges, to have three key impacted constituencies, and additional practical ramifications. Specifically:
- Each company’s employees will be highly affected regardless of which model is chosen.
- Employees looking to move between companies will look closely at which approach their target companies are embracing before deciding whether to pursue new positions with them. This will be particularly true of prospective employees who may have relocated to new locations in the wake of the pandemic.
- Organizations choosing any of these models are likely to face more pressure from other stakeholders on environmental and total cost grounds.
- A company with an office-based approach may find itself challenged for its contribution to traffic and its environmental impact (commutes per day, petrol consumption).
- A hybrid company may incur the highest total cost, as they will need to retain considerable real estate and facilities when they host a fraction of their normal employees on any given day. Employees, in turn, may question the need and value in staying in an expensive metropolitan location in order to be within commuting distance for that weekly office visit, while, perhaps, claiming home office-related expenses back from their employers.
- A company that embraces outsourcing may surface anger or sabotage from departing home-country employees, and may create an additional challenge around whether to adopt an office-based or remote approach in the new location.
Why Is This Trend Relevant to IABC Members?
This trend presents potentially significant challenges for IABC and its chapter model. The chapter model is based on having a critical mass of members physically situated in proximity to a concentration of other IABC members. The chapter model is under stress already, but the decision of IABC member employers to opt for a remote approach or full outsourcing will likely cause its members to disperse to cheaper and/or more pleasant locations, many of which will lack viable IABC chapters.
The Future of Communications: 6 Trends to Watch
Download the full 2021 Trend Report from the IABC Trends Watch Task Force.
What Do IABC Members Need To Know and Do by Audience?
Employees will be impacted in any number of ways, depending on the approach chosen by their enterprises. Some companies that have offered remote working have linked it to recalibration of salaries. Some companies offering hybrid work environments are insisting their employees remain in their current metro locations. Employees in remote situations will need onboarding programs that are far more thorough and connective than the much-more-analog in-person programs delivered by human resources.
More importantly, workplace approach has the potential to be one of the most pivotal drivers of job selection decisions, along with job content and salary. It has the potential to become a “Great Differentiator” not only because of the convenience and compatibility of the job location itself, but because each approach will deliver markedly different cultures.
While companies will likely construct their interfaces in a way that makes their activities less than “location-obvious,” it will be harder to hide any turmoil or bad feeling if the change between approaches is not managed well and proactively.
Each workplace model chosen will have community implications — increases or decreases in traffic, loss of positions forcing communally active people to move elsewhere, reduced critical mass for volunteer organizations and institutions, or returns to pre-COVID commute traffic congestion.
The state of the workplace has implications for the state of the post-COVID recovery. Outsourcing/offshoring will place huge burdens on the government to help those displaced from their positions, at a time when their coffers will be depleted from COVID relief activities. Environmental regulators (and sustainability monitors) may well start calculating work commutes into the overall sustainability measurement for companies and individuals. Deductibility and assignment of home office expenses could also present tangible issues.
Each approach has a different cost-base implication, many of which will not be known at the outset.
Mike Klein is a member of the IABC Trends Watch Task Force.