January 22, 2021 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As companies look to 2021 after a harrowing year that saw a global pandemic, record unemployment, and sweeping social changes, many want to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible. That would be a mistake.
There have been some significant shifts in how people value things like online learning, working from home and building more inclusive office spaces. It is beneficial to identify how once-standard work policies changed in the last year and why they should continue to evolve as companies progress.
Embrace flexible schedules
I’ve toiled at organizations throughout my career that have attempted to encourage flexible schedules, and work from home policies, with varied results. How an employee’s individual manager feels about at home offices directly impacts the entire team. This creates different policy interpretations from team to team and can cause resentment and frustration.
This year many organizations made the shift to employees working at their living spaces, with several large tech firms leading the way to establish a long-term or permanent work-from-home policy. We need to continue this approach in the long-term.
As more parents exit the workforce due to limited childcare resources and school-aged kids learning virtually, it’s become clear that if job responsibilities can be completed with a flexible schedule, companies should work to offer those options while setting clear expectations. John Knotwell, GM of Bridge, a learning and performance management software organization, recently shared a personal experience that led him to rethink offering flexible schedules.
“I had a one-on-one meeting with an employee who shared that working from home with a toddler whose daycare was closed was difficult as they tried to work a typical nine-to-five schedule,” claimed Knotwell. “I realized that flexible schedules make sense for some roles…and making this change has led to a more engaged, productive team.”
Related: What’s Your Headline for 2021?
Revamp educational qualifications for hiring
Online learning was thrust into the spotlight in 2020 and, as we adapted, many recognized its value for the first time. In 2021, organizations that previously prioritized four-year degrees from brick-and-mortar universities will have to change their hiring approach as more and more qualified candidates are coming from varied educational paths.
When it comes to learning, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Outside of a four-year university degree, there are alternative education options like trade school or online career training that provide viable paths to meaningful employment. By being open to people who have taken the learning path that worked best for their life situation, companies can meet staffing needs by hiring from a broader talent pool.
Changing hiring practices means overcoming bias. It means recognizing that while attending a university is one educational path, for a growing number of the population, a bachelor’s degree and its soaring costs is not an option. Some astute employers are finding academic partners and offering subsidized or free tuition to employees. Others are working with organizations to provide professional development and ongoing training for employees.
Jill Wise, vice president and COO of Grace Health described how her organization works with a healthcare training company to provide at-work learning to retrain and retain her staff. “The program has allowed us to provide debt-free formal education and on-the-job training for staff who want to become medical assistants but have no experience or training. We continue to explore opportunities to partner with CareerStep in addressing our workforce needs while helping staff achieve their professional goals.”
Online learning and professional development also provide viable options for lifelong learning, and this year has helped more employers recognize the value of different educational pathways when it comes to hiring. Not only does this broaden the talent pipeline, but it also is one way that organizations can foster a more inclusive workforce.
Related: Five Business Skills Employers Will Want Post COVID
Commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
Throughout the year, many organizations have voiced their commitment to creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces. 2020 was a year of developing DEI programs for many organizations, and 2021 will be the year where company statements and expressions of support should also yield meaningful action and change. Many organizations are building plans for the future that include diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. This will continue to be important for company performance and to attract and retain talent.
“The majority of today’s workforce overwhelmingly supports non-discrimination protections and seeks to work and live in places that reflect the diversity and inclusion they value,” said Randy Pitchford, CEO of video game development company Gearbox. “We are in a battle for globally competitive talent, and our ability to successfully recruit and retain our future workforce is critical to our long-term economic prosperity.”
A recent Glassdoor study asserts that 3 in 4 (76%) job seekers and employees today report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Showing what strides your organization has made to date is an important step in living up to your company commitments. Continuing to engage and expand DEI programs will only grow in importance in the coming years. Research demonstrates year-in and year-out that diverse teams outperform their competitors and inclusive workplaces foster greater employee engagement and productivity.
Planning and implementing changes that lead to workplaces where people are genuinely valued, where they are provided pathways to lifelong learning and are given the flexibility necessary to complete their work and manage all of life’s uncertainties are some of the shifts that took place in 2020. We as organizational leaders can help these changes take root and cultivate the cultural benefits they produce.