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2021 Is Still Going to Be Different. 4 Predictions for the New Work Normal.


Everyone’s looking to 2021 as if the calendar flip from December 31st to January 1 will be the magical cure-all for one of the worst years on record. Frankly, I’m grateful to put 2020 behind us and enter a new year with optimism and hope. However, we’re all old enough to know that things don’t change overnight. There will still be major adjustments to the work and tech recruiting environments over the next year – and beyond.

Here are four considerations to keep in mind.

The vaccine news is amazing – but also opens the doors to new questions so interview processes will stay remote

Yes, the recent news on the vaccine front has been amazing, with some likening the speed, teamwork and results to a viral version of the Manhattan Project. But most of us won’t be able to get it right away (check out this handy interactive estimate of where you might be in line – I’m behind 268 million people, which feels lucky but shows how much needs to happen before I’m vaccinated). Even with it, health experts indicate it will be some time before we get back to normal(ish). That has continued implications for the work environment, particularly with respect to hiring.

For example, what if some employers start inquiring about vaccine status as part of interviews? Do candidates want to disclose health risks as part of your interview process or continued employment? Should you have to? Are employers prepared to “know” this information? What if an employer doesn’t extend an offer – are there legal risks? What if the vaccine hasn’t been tested in your demographic? Can employers mandate it as a condition of employment? If not, will it be tacitly understood – but never overtly said – that a vaccine is a requirement to work for a particular business?

That’s just a smattering of the questions that might crop up for employers, employees, and candidates alike. I have to imagine most leaders – like myself – are not remotely interested in understanding underlying health risks of employees. They’re simply not germane to the job at hand – plus, we wouldn’t want even the appearance of bias to impact future interactions. But there will almost certainly be questions to which we don’t have immediate answers – so my bet is that interviews stay remote for the foreseeable future.

Expect – and respect – a change in employee attitudes around remote work as hybrid work becomes standard

Many employers foresee a rush back to the office when the pandemic finally recedes. And it’s true some people long for adult interaction, the more clear-cut boundaries between work and home life, and even simply the daily routine. But many have adapted to our new world. They’re comfortable working from home. They don’t miss the stress or wasted time of a rush-hour commute. Some have even moved to the suburbs or relocated to a different state altogether, chasing the dream of home ownership, proximity to family, or greener pastures.

The smartest companies are looking at hybrid office and home office solutions. Maybe the office becomes the place to gather for big meetings that necessitate in-person connection, like a rich brainstorming session or a place to get away for a change of scenery. Maybe instead of the “privilege” of working from home one or two days a week, it’s now one or two days only in the office. Or maybe companies get really radical and – gasp! – let employees decide for themselves where they’re most productive as long as they actually produce. (Side note: demonstrating trust in employees is always a smart play when you’re competing for talent). I predict hybrid work situations become the norm.

Remote is now an “always food,” becoming the default

Ever heard Cookie Monster talk about cookies as a ‘sometimes food’? No? Okay, well, I’m obviously the mother of small children but bear with the analogy for a moment. If remote work was a “sometimes food” in the past – viewed, obnoxiously so, as the occasional treat for well-behaved employees – now it’s an “always food.” Remote will now always be a prominent part of professional life, particularly because there are so many unknowns around the when/if/how/should we manage the return to offices. But even more, because it’s the future of a modern workplace (I mean, why have all this tech if you don’t use it to your advantage?). Get used to it, adapt to it, embrace it.

You’ll need to in order to compete with others. If Facebook and its peers are now transitioning half of all engineering jobs to remote status, what excuse do you have? Without flexibility, you will lose ground (and promising candidates) to employers who have a modern personnel management approach. You’ll need your tools and processes to embrace remote workers as part of daily business operations. I predict the default for new processes and roles will be remote – with in-office employee needs becoming an afterthought.

New consumer habits mean businesses must adapt technologies too – every company needs to be a tech company

Staying at home for the duration has meant new habits and routines for all of us. My family now defaults to order ahead and carry out when we might previously have walked around Target or sat down at a diner. Retail stores are no longer an option for us personally – and the numbers say we’re not alone. On Black Friday, online commerce was up over 20 percent year over year. That’s absolutely insane. And indicative that online shopping is a new habit.

What does that mean for businesses? As people become more and more comfortable shopping digitally only, companies will need more technology than ever before to make this happen consistently and easily for consumers. Get ready to hire engineers – or be prepared to spend money on technical solutions built by engineers to accommodate this new demand. The metric is no longer if you have an online presence. The winners will be those who build on that foundation the fastest and adopt new, tech-based methods to surprise and delight consumers. Watch for companies that never considered tech as a function to move fast to hire developers.

Reading the tea leaves? What do you foresee for 2021?