• The office experience is not over – but it must evolve.

• Remote working can be improved with better technology and management.

• From flexible working to diversity-focused recruitment, the employee should be at the centre of coming changes.

This year has taught us all valuable lessons that will shape the future of work in profound ways – from finding new ways to connect virtually, to leading with empathy. The employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks: It’s about creating and maintaining a meaningful culture for employees, no matter where they sit.

The work-from-anywhere model may be here to stay, but that does not mean the office is over. In fact, for many Salesforce employees, absence has only made our hearts grow fonder. In a recent employee survey, we found that 72% of our employees want to return to the workplace, hungry for the connection, collaboration and innovation that come from gathering in an office.

As we look to 2021, employers have a powerful opportunity to combine the best of remote work and in-office experiences in a way that works better for everyone. Here are the five ways we can reimagine the future of work:

1. Engage employees like customers

With the rapid advancement of mobile, social and AI technology, people now expect companies to provide highly personalized digital experiences. As a result, companies are racing to upgrade their systems to improve customer engagement, but in many cases they’ve left the employee experience behind. The pandemic has put this under a spotlight as many of us moved our offices to our homes, and companies found themselves with an entirely remote workforce seemingly overnight. According to HBR research, 62% of executives want more effective employee experience initiatives – but less than a third of employees say their employers are prioritizing them. Without the right infrastructure in place, the employee experience will be left behind in this new digital, work-from-anywhere world. Companies need the right tools to engage their employees and connect their workforce. Technology can be used to create more consumer-like experiences that deeply engage employees throughout their journey at a company – from attraction and on-boarding, to fostering ongoing career success. Companies need to adapt quickly and create more relevant and engaging employee experiences wherever they are – just as we would for customers.

2. Flexibility is key

The nine-to-five work day is dead. In our always-on, always-connected world, it no longer makes sense to expect employees to work an eight-hour shift and do their jobs successfully. Whether you have a global team to manage across time zones, a project-based role that is busier or slower depending on the season, or simply have to balance personal and professional obligations throughout the day, workers need flexibility to be successful. This has been made especially true over the past year when many employees have been faced with new challenges like homeschooling children when schools closed or dealing with sick family members during the pandemic. Employers must trust their workers to get the job done during the schedule that works best for them and their teams, and provide flexible options to help make them even more productive while preventing burnout. During the pandemic, we empowered every leader to implement ways to help employees find balance, which resulted in designated days off, no-meeting days each week, reimbursements for lunches and dinners, and other well-being initiatives. With increased flexibility and creative time-off strategies, employers will help make their workers healthy and happy, ultimately leading to better outcomes for the company.

The pandemic is ushering in profound changes to working patterns
The pandemic is ushering in profound changes to working patterns
Image: Statista

3. Embrace empathetic leadership

As companies continue to work from home, leadership has taken on new meaning, and the role of people leaders has grown considerably. Leadership today requires much more than driving results and productivity – it means keeping company culture alive and serving as a lifeline to employees as they navigate the challenges of remote work. In fact, 75% of our employees cite their manager as their number one most-valued source of information. For me personally, I’ve gotten to know my team on a much deeper level. I’ve met kids and pets, and have been invited into homes via video calls. This deeper level of understanding has allowed me to be a better, more empathetic leader. And this is something my team has helped promote throughout the company with new training and resources to help managers grow into their expanded role and guide their teams with empathy. Employers must rethink how they’re developing talent in the wake of the pandemic by prioritizing “soft” skills, and leading with empathy and understanding.

4. Unlock inclusive talent

The work-from-anywhere model has unlocked new productivity and growth opportunities. As remote work continues in 2021 and beyond, employers have an opportunity to transcend traditional boundaries and tap into new pools of talent to build a more innovative, diverse and inclusive workforce. By building a talent strategy without traditional boundaries like location, companies can broaden their search beyond urban centres and welcome untapped talent from new communities and geographies.

5. Reimagine the workplace

One thing is for sure, we’re not going back to the way it was. But that doesn’t mean offices won’t reopen. The majority of our employees want to go back to the office at least some of the time post-pandemic – and less than 10% say they want to work remotely permanently. In 2021, employers have an opportunity to recreate the magic of the workplace. Gone are the days of a sea of desks – offices will be reimagined as community hubs that will accommodate a more hybrid workstyle tailored around in-person collaboration and engagement.

The past year has brought about rapid and remarkable change that has fundamentally changed the way we work. While this has presented plenty of challenges, it has also created new opportunities for companies and employees alike to be more innovative, find more balance, become better leaders and create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.