49 of 3,816
Six ways your office will be different in 2021, assuming you ever go back to it
The Washington Post
Washington, DC, USA
Jena McGregor
Date Published: 
COVID-19, Pandemic, Videoconferencing, Collaboration, Return to Work, Working from Home, WFH, Workplace, Interior Design, Office Space, Artificial Intelligence, AI, Technology
Tapestry Statistics:
2021-01-09 15:44:19
2021-01-09 15:55:54
Content Score: 
Profile Views: 
Click Throughs: 
Washington Post illustration; iStock
The office changed forever in 2020. What workplace experts say we should expect next year.

After a year in which the coronavirus pandemic upended the very concept of the workplace — one in which millions of white-collar workers traded office attire, business travel and lengthy commutes for comfy pants, webcams and virtual school with their kids — predicting 2021 office trends might be a perilous exercise.

But with vaccines beginning to be distributed across the country, many companies have started to imagine some return to office life next year. At the same time, remote work isn’t going anywhere. And neither — despite our fatigue with it — is Zoom.

To get a sense of what 2021 might hold — beyond continued job market uncertainty, benefits focused on child care and mental health, and the proliferation of plexiglass — The Washington Post asked human resources advisers, workplace designers, employment lawyers and compensation analysts to share predictions for a year that could bring back some normalcy while returning people to workplaces that may never be the same.

“We’re just not going to go back to five days a week in the office,” said Erica Volini, Deloitte’s global human capital leader. “The idea that we’re going to get to some new consistent way of working flies in the face of what we’ve learned in the pandemic.”

Here are six predictions for what to expect at work in 2021.

As recruiting and remote work go national, some salary ranges will too.

As work-from-home employees fled high-cost cities for cheaper locales, some employers threatened to cut workers’ pay, bringing Bay Area compensation more in line with South Bend budgets. Facebook, for instance, has said it could adjust the pay of workers to their new locales, and an October survey by advisory firm Willis Towers Watson found that 26 percent of respondents said they would base compensation on location for remote workers.

But Catherine Hartmann, WTW’s North America rewards practice leader, said she is seeing companies take a more nuanced view. Many employees, she said, will need or want to return to an office at least part of the time.

And if employees can move to other locales, employers can recruit from elsewhere too, making location-based salary less of a focus. “As talent becomes more of a national marketplace, some of my clients have been contemplating the idea of having more of a national approach” about pay decisions, Hartmann said. Hot skills and expensive markets will still get a premium, but “maybe the bottom rises a bit,” she said. “Given the number of my clients who are asking about that, it’s on the table for sure.”

More likely than pay cuts, said Brian Kropp, chief of human resources research at the advisory firm Gartner, is that people who move to cheaper markets could just see smaller raises. “If you move to a lower-cost place and your pay is already above market, you may get a slower rate of increase,” he said. “The reality of a more remote workforce is you’re going to start seeing wages for jobs that can be done remotely start to even out.”

Josh Bersin, a human resources industry analyst, also predicted that efforts to cut pay for those who depart for cheaper spots may not last if there’s fallout: “If you have an engineer making $150,000 in San Francisco pick up and move to Montana, and now you’re going to pay him $120,000, what is that guy going to do? Look for another job.”

Video chats will get smarter — and, potentially, creepier — thanks to artificial intelligence.

If 2020 was the year video conferencing truly went mainstream, 2021 could be the year it gets smarter. Some of the largest platforms will begin using artificial intelligence to recognize and track certain gestures participants make, automate to-do items and help manage the challenges of workers split between work and home.

Zoom Video Communications, for instance, announced a “smart gallery” feature it plans to roll out in June 2021 that will use cameras to make multiple people in the same on-site conference room appear as separate, equal-sized windows on their live-stream video. Those working from home will see the individual faces of each colleague rather than just a view of the whole conference room, an effort to visually shrink the differences between remote and in-person workers.

“We want to maintain the democratization of Zoom, and have everyone on the