What Will the Workplace Look Like in 2025?

Before the pandemic, General Motors Co. was moving toward giving employees more flexible schedules. However, the coronavirus outbreak threw that effort into overdrive.

FUTURE OF WORK REMOTE ONBOARDING & TRAINING

Team Guide

6/14/2022 6 min read

‘The role of the office has changed. People aren’t going to go back to five days a week. Offices are going to be hubs of innovation and social interaction.” - Bhushan Sethi

Before the pandemic, General Motors Co. was moving toward giving employees more flexible schedules. However, the coronavirus outbreak threw that effort into overdrive.

In November, the Detroit-based automaker announced it was hiring 3,000 technical employees, the majority of whom will work remotely. The company is offering more full-remote experiences than ever before. Leadership’s confidence to take such a bold step stems from the performance of the teams that are working remotely because of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

“Our workforce was able to meet the new challenges while working from home without missing a beat,” says Adam Yeloushan, GM’s human resources executive for global engineering. “We can work remotely well. We can do it effectively.”

1. More employees will work from home.

Working from home became a necessary stopgap measure to keep companies running amid the COVID‑19 crisis, but it has evolved into a new business paradigm. Many employees praise their newfound flexibility, while company leaders continue to manage their businesses effectively—and less expensively—even when employees aren’t in the office. Employers also welcome the broader pool of potential job candidates, since remote employees can live anywhere.“The role of the office has changed,” says Bhushan Sethi, joint global leader, people and organization, at global consulting firm PwC.

“People aren’t going to go back to five days a week. Offices are going to be hubs of innovation and social interaction.”That shift will be among the biggest business trends in the coming years, though it won’t be the only lingering effect from the pandemic. The virus pushed companies to grapple with health and safety issues like they never had before. Not only have they reconfigured workplaces to prevent infection, they have also grappled with how to address the pandemic’s toll on employees’ physical and mental health. Those efforts will continue to better prepare companies for other emergencies

While the combination of the pandemic and social unrest have led to major new trends, the upheaval has also pushed other long-standing issues, such as environmental concerns, worker activism and rapidly changing technology, to the forefront of C-suite executives’ minds.These are five major trends that will ripple through companies until at least 2025.

COVID-19 turned a spotlight on worker health and safety in all industries—not just those known for being dangerous—as even people who sat at computers all day landed in intensive care units after contracting the coronavirus. Employees who have returned to their workplaces wear masks, sanitize surfaces and social distance, and some even submit to temperature checks.

Those measures are likely to transform into workplace testing protocols, state-of-the-art ventilation systems, and high-tech detection and disinfectant tools.“We’re assured of having another [pandemic],” says Cristina Banks, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health.

“Our mobility around the world is at the peak, and there’s no stopping the spread. We need to plan for that.”The planning is already happening. A vast majority of business executives—83 percent—say they expect to hire more people for health and safety roles within the next two years, according to a report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. It’s the sector that’s predicted to have the most hiring

2. Companies will invest heavily in health, hygiene and safety.

The $8 billion that McKinsey & Co. says companies spend annually on diversity, equity and inclusion programs is not money well spent. White men still occupy 66 percent of C-suite positions and 59 percent of senior vice president posts, according to a study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org.

White women hold the second largest share of such positions, though they lag significantly behind their male counterparts, filling only 19 percent of C-suite jobs and 23 percent of senior vice president spots. Men of color account for 12 percent and 13 percent of such roles, respectively, while women of color hold only 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

COVID-19 turned a spotlight on worker health and safety in all industries—not just those known for being dangerous—as even people who sat at computers all day landed in intensive care units after contracting the coronavirus. Employees who have returned to their workplaces wear masks, sanitize surfaces and social distance, and some even submit to temperature checks.

Those measures are likely to transform into workplace testing protocols, state-of-the-art ventilation systems, and high-tech detection and disinfectant tools.“We’re assured of having another [pandemic],” says Cristina Banks, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health.

“Our mobility around the world is at the peak, and there’s no stopping the spread. We need to plan for that.”The planning is already happening. A vast majority of business executives—83 percent—say they expect to hire more people for health and safety roles within the next two years, according to a report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. It’s the sector that’s predicted to have the most hiring

3. Workers will demand better treatment for themselves and their communities from their employers.

Thousands of workers at companies such as McDonald’s, Target and Amazon, as well as at numerous hospitals, staged strikes this year to protest unsafe working conditions amid the pandemic.

Such actions followed two years of employee demonstrations over various issues—though not pay—signaling that employees were expecting more from their employers.

Last year, for example, Amazon employees walked out over the company’s climate policies, while Wayfair workers left company facilities over sales of furniture to immigrant detention centers in the U.S.Overall, work stoppages numbered 25 last year, more than triple the amount in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Organizations will re-examine how they impact the environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a brutal reminder of the ravages of climate change.The novel coronavirus evolved from a virus common in bats, though it’s unclear how it passed to humans. Experts say deforestation, which pushes animals farther out of their natural habitats, could have been a factor, as it puts animals closer to people. What is known is that climate change is making the death toll worse.

A Harvard University study found that a small increase in exposure to air pollution leads to a large increase in COVID‑19-related death rates.

“Businesses found themselves unprepared for COVID,” says Rachel Hodgdon, president of the New York City-based International WELL Building Institute, which has programs to create buildings, interiors and communities that promote health and wellness. The institute recently started a COVID‑19 certification program to help all types of facilities protect against the disease.

Having more employees work from home will help the environment as fewer people commute and office buildings use less energy. More action is required, however, and experts expect more companies to hire chief sustainability officers.Many companies already have such roles, though some practitioners only ensure that their organizations meet basic laws and standards. That won’t cut it anymore, thanks to the greater emphasis on health and the environment. Going forward, chief sustainability officers will be expected to look at their company’s environmental impact on workers, suppliers, customers and communities. “That will all be tied back to the business strategy,” says Anthony Abbatiello, global head of leadership and succession consulting at Russell Reynolds, a New York City-based executive search and consulting firm

5. Technology’s rapid transformation will continue, forcing companies to rethink how to integrate people with machines.

The pandemic forced employers to adopt more digital and automated solutions practically overnight, as organizations sought to severely limit—or end—human interaction to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

A McKinsey study found that 85 percent of companies accelerated the digitization of their businesses, while 67 percent sped up their use of automation and artificial intelligence. Nearly 70 percent of executives say they plan to hire more people for automation roles, while 45 percent expect to increase hiring for positions involving digital learning and agile working.

One area that’s expected to grow enormously is companies’ use of virtual and augmented reality, as fewer employees work at the same location. Companies are already using these technologies for training, telemedicine and team-building events.“People are looking for alternate ways to communicate, and virtual reality is a good fit,” says T.J. Vitolo, director and head of XR Labs, a division of New York City-based Verizon Communications Inc. “It allows a level of interaction that goes beyond voice and video.

It’s much more personal.”Robot use boomed during the pandemic, as companies sought to reduce workers’ exposure to the coronavirus. For example, San Diego-based Brain Corp. said use of its robots by U.S. retailers surged 24 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the year before, as companies used the machines for tasks such as cleaning stores.

The increased use of technology will eliminate jobs. That means companies will need to re-skill employees to prepare them for new tasks and responsibilities.“I think re-skilling will be the foundation of the new economy,” says Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director at Willis Towers Watson. “What it’s going to require is a clear understanding of how to get the optimal combination of people and machines.”