In many ways, 2021 has looked a lot like 2020. Covid-19 has continued to dictate how we all live, work and learn: we started the year with a national lockdown, many of us are still working remotely and our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing remain a top priority.

However, whereas 2020 was dominated by the rapid transition to remote working, 2021 has been more about hybrid working – doing it, embedding it and thinking about what the future of work will look like.

At the beginning of the year, we published an article that outlined the top three priorities for 2021 as being organisational agility, reskilling/upskilling and remote working. Those priorities still stand, if you substitute remote working with hybrid working. The article was published on 6 January, the same day that the UK went into the third national lockdown.

The hybrid work model

Over the year, there has been a shift in focus from remote working through necessity to embracing the hybrid work model through choice. And that shift has happened for many employers and employees, although not all. Remote working during the first lockdown was a huge success – it was the great homeworking experiment that worked. By lockdown number three, however, increasing numbers of people were missing office life. Several surveys have indicated that people now want the best of both worlds: remote working and office working.

Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index is one of those surveys. It found that 73% of people want flexible remote work options to continue, while 65% also want more in-person time with their teams. As a result, 66% of business decision makers are thinking about redesigning the physical workspace to allow for hybrid working. However, Microsoft’s report makes it clear that moving to a hybrid model won’t just happen overnight. The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready? is the title of a Microsoft article accompanying the report’s publication.

We have discussed the pros and cons of the hybrid work model in previous posts, as well as in 5Apps recent webinar Culture & People Challenges in the Hybrid Workplace. Many of the points raised in those posts and in the webinar are worth making again. D&I, for instance. The hybrid work model breaks down geographical barriers, enabling employers to access a more diverse talent pool. It makes it easier and more likely that underrepresented groups apply for roles when there’s flexibility about where they work and when.

During the pandemic, flexible working has become so popular and widely accepted that the government has consulted on making it the norm.

It’s not been without problems though. Numerous surveys identified a major drawback to homeworking: that women were doing far more than their fair share of childcare, homeschooling and housework during the lockdowns. Two hours more, according to research by the Trades Union Congress.

And while people have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work remotely, many are also complaining about spending too much time in the digital world. According to this academic paper, Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale there has been a thirty-fold increase in Zoom calls since 2019. Research by HR industry analyst Fosway Group tells a similar story as we discussed in our Business Software Solutions post in June 2021.

What this demonstrates is how critically important it is that organisations think carefully about the realities of hybrid working. What will it look like? How do you manage having a disparate workforce, with some people in the office all the time, some part of the time and some none of the time? How do you reach out to a wider, more diverse group of people? How do you help employees avoid digital fatigue? How do you make sure everyone can work and learn effectively?

Of course, a lot rests on two things: choosing the right technology and getting that technology embedded in the organisation, with employees engaged with it and using it day in, day out. The 5App Hub, for example, has been designed specifically to support and connect employees, to foster collaboration and community spirit and to facilitate effective working, whether people are in the office or working remotely. It’s not just a platform for sending messages or holding digital meetings – it enables organisations to have a digital workplace.

Learning in a hybrid world

Hybrid working naturally means learning has to be hybrid too. As a result, having a hybrid workforce is listed as the third most important challenge on the Learning and Performance Institute’s list of current L&D challenges.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) issued guidelines in Sept 2021 on how to approach hybrid working. Within those guidelines is a section on communication, where it recommends the use of asynchronous communication tools. Asynchronous working and learning have been around for a while, but take up has been surprisingly slow. Organisations need to really nail it and give people the tools to enable them to work and collaborate flexibly and effectively. Our webinar found that some companies are already up to speed with asynchronous working and learning, but many are not.

Skills

The importance of ongoing upskilling/reskilling has been another strong theme throughout 2021. There are huge skills gaps in the UK, particularly with regard to digital skills and management and leadership skills. According to The Open University’s Business Barometer 2021 report, skills shortages remain a long-term strategic challenge for employers and are likely to remain so for some time. Almost two thirds (63%) of business leaders struggle to recruit the skills they need, with 24% saying that their biggest challenge over the next five years will be finding people with the right skills.

There are many other reports telling the same story. L&D expert Donald H Taylor runs a regular survey. This year’s survey, The L&D Global Sentiment Survey 2021 – The Impact of Covid, found that reskilling/upskilling is the number one priority for L&D professionals. It’s no doubt one of the top priorities for employers too, if not the top priority.

Looking forward to 2022

Just as the themes of 2020 continued into 2021, so we expect many of the same themes to continue into 2022. Hybrid working and learning, D&I, reskilling/upskilling, organisational agility – these themes will still be at the forefront for many of us as we move into and through 2022. We expect more and more organisations to formulate and implement plans to incorporate and embed hybrid working. D&I keeps evolving – in the US, people are now talking about D,I, E and B: diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging. Will this come to the UK at some point? Quite possibly.

What’s certain is that organisations need to really get to grips with hybrid working and learning and they really need to get to grips with skills. The skills challenge is not going to go away. Over half the employers (52%) polled in our Impact Survey Report 2021 said they are under pressure because of skills shortages.

There are lots of ways that 5App can and will help customers address these challenges in 2022. We can guide you through how to approach these big issues with skills, hybrid working, D&I and organisational agility. We’ve got several webinars planned for 2022, starting with one in January on skills. And, of course, there’s what we offer in terms of technology.

Use a platform that supports your new ways of working and learning. The 5App Hub can help in supporting your L&D strategy, creating a learning culture and in aligning learning with the business needs and objectives.

Get in touch to find out more.