Top Modern Workplace Trends for 2021

This time last year, none of us foresaw the events that would change the way we work for 2020 - and possibly for years to come. It started normally enough and then suddenly in March/April, the pandemic escalated to a point where people could no longer operate from their offices due to health and safety risks, and work-from-home policies were no longer nice-to-haves, but a mandate. 

Whilst New Zealand was very fortunate to return to some semblance of normalcy normality by mid-year, most of the world is undergoing yet another swell of lockdowns and stay at home orders, and many have yet to return to the office. 

Considering this, you would be forgiven for thinking modern workplace trends for 2021 will be dramatically different - however, some basic principles still apply, no matter where you work from, such as the need for flexibility and reliable data.

Read on for our predictions for the top modern workplace trends to look out for in 2021. 

Trend 1: A New Take on What the Modern Workplace Looks Like

For decades, the expectation was people would go to work to and spend seven or eight hours a day hunched over a desk. They didn't collaborate much with their co-workers as companies simply weren't built for it. 

Over the past several years, the modern office has undergone a shift - in part because of technological developments as well as changing expectations. Advances in technology mean we can easily share information with one another, so collaboration is no longer an unusual event, but rather a natural part of the employee experience. Moreover, there's no need to be tethered to desks, thanks to mobile devices and the cloud; your employees can work wherever they want, yet still be connected to your organisation. 

Trend 2: The Need for the Right Business Tools

The need for the right tools to enhance working practices have been growing for several years now, although the events of 2020 brought it into sharp focus. 

Here is a basic list of the features you need to build a digital workplace with a collaborative focus: 

  • Communication and collaboration tools
  • A set of trusted business applications
  • Mobile applications and business services
  • Access to authoritative data
  • Productivity tools
  • Automation

Communication and Collaboration Tools

There was a time when communication and collaboration took place via phone calls and emails. Whilst these are still important tools, there are more immediate and direct options available today, including online chats and video conferences.

The right online collaboration tools will be reliable as well as flexible, and make it easy for your workforce to use, no matter if they're sitting next to each other in the same workspace or working remotely across time zones. Team collaboration tools allow you to share information quickly and easily with everyone else you work with (and sometimes, with external stakeholders playing a temporary role in the team). 

In real terms, this looks like files being shared while video conferencing, or several people co-editing one document in real time to meet a deadline. It's dropping a casual "You up for a call?" in a chat window or starting a dialogue in a channel where everyone in the team can read, participate if they have information to share and all can refer to later if necessary.

A Set of Trusted Business Applications 

There is no shortage of applications available in the market. You only need to open your app store to find various versions of spreadsheets, chat tools, and expense sheet reporting (just to name a few). Here's the rub: they're not all safe, and they might not 'talk' to your corporate technology stack.

That's why a set of trusted business applications-ones built with enterprise security in mind-are crucial. When you're contemplating business-critical file sharing, meetings, tasks and online discussions - especially with remote teams - you want a platform solution that takes security seriously and can give you the peace of mind that remote workers are using apps that align with your existing systems but don't put your organisation at risk. 

Mobile Applications and Business Services

Thousands of employees in New Zealand - and millions more around the world - were remote working for months, relying on mobile apps and infrastructure from home instead of within their regular office environment. 

Yet, as we all know, mobile apps don't always play nicely with your existing services and are liable to be insecure if not designed for organisational use. The need for mobile apps and enterprise-ready platforms is critical; without them, projects can hit roadblocks because employees can't effectively chat, call or file share with colleagues, and using less than suitable platforms could leave your company more vulnerable to cyber threats. 

Access to Authoritative Data

This past year has really emphasised the importance of having data you can trust. As citizens, we have all asked ourselves if news is coming from reliable sources and whether we can believe it.

For businesses, the need for trustworthy data has become even clearer now much of the workforce is working from home. Workers are no longer sitting at their desks, directly connected to systems of record. Some companies even had to scramble to give employees remote access.  

Going forward, remote access and/or cloud platforms will be a given, ensuring organisations can access and trust the data being used in decision making from wherever they are. 

Productivity Tools 

For some, working from home has been a dream come true: they have shorter commutes and have been able to improve their work-life balance. For others, though, it has been a challenge: they've found themselves easily distracted and not as focused as they would be if they in the office. 

Productivity tools that show employees how much they've achieved in a given time frame can help with focus. The right tools have these characteristics:

  • They work all the time and in any location.
  • They're easy to use and useful, so there's no user frustration.
  • They integrate into the current corporate technology stack.
  • They're secure, so organisations aren't exposed to digital threats.


It's a harsh reality that some organisations have had to shed numbers during the pandemic (or soon after), leaving remaining employees with the unsavoury task of taking on more work in addition to what they're already doing to cover the gaps. 
Automation tools can really help streamline efficiencies by stepping in to take care of repetitive, time-consuming tasks, allowing the employee to focus on parts of the business process where they can add value.

Robotic Process Automation, Workflow and Machine Learning tools are becoming more mainstream and accessible to businesses big and small, so you don't need to be a global organisation to benefit from workplace automation. 

Trend 3: External Communication and Collaboration Tools

It's fast become a 'must' for the communication and collaboration tools within a company to also work externally. In fact, the events of 2020 really served to highlight how essential external communication channels are. Regardless of what's going on in the world, you and your customers still need each other.

In some cases, external tools that allow you to work closely with your customers can actually improve on the more traditional style of project collaboration.

We experienced such a case with a website development that had just begun when the New Zealand lockdown was announced, forcing all project communications to move from in-person to online - which turned out to have a silver lining.

A dedicated project channel with invited external stakeholders allowed project managers to touch base regularly and informally to keep the client fully informed every step of the way. A simple chat message could result in an instant meeting for clarification, without the need for travel time, parking, or meeting room availability. The whole project was reported by the client as 'smooth and seamless'. 

Having a solid, virtual platform so you and your clients can communicate and collaborate means they can turn to you at any time, and you can remain agile to their needs.

Trend 4: Greater Empathy

Yes, you read that right. Trend 4 won't be a particular software application or platform solution but rather a different way of managing and relating to others within the organisation. 

Whenever cities or even countries had to shut down and required people to stay at home on account of the pandemic, employees worried about what the future held for themselves and their companies. Managers, many of whom were also stressed by the very challenging situation, found themselves in a new role: carrying out wellbeing checks and providing emotional support to their staff.

The idea of empathetic leadership has slowly been gaining momentum over the past few years, but the events of 2020 really highlighted not just the need but also the value of empathy as a vital leadership competency.

Here are just a few ways you can show empathetic leadership in the workplace:

  • Watch for signs of overwork in others.
  • Show sincere interest in the needs, hopes and dreams of your team members.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to help with personal problems.
  • Show compassion when others disclose a personal loss.

Everyone had a rough 2020, in some way or another - and this year is still presenting some tough challenges. Treating each other with empathy and compassion at work doesn't take much but will greatly benefit everyone.

Enlighten Designs: Helping You Create an Effective Modern Workplace

Since 1998, Enlighten Designs has been delivering amazing digital experiences to our clients. We've transformed our own company into a modern workplace and are well equipped to help you implement the right communication and collaboration solutions to help you achieve your organisational goals. Check out our Empower with Teams package - a functional Microsoft Teams environment configured to your business needs.

Empower with Teams

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