5 Predictions (After an Unpredictable Year)

January 4, 2021 | Diversity & Inclusion | 7 min read
The Edge - 5 Predictions for 2021

Do you remember this time last year? How we naively set goals in December 2019, making plans for 2020? It would’ve taken a crystal ball and a very talented soothsayer to predict everything we’ve gone through this year. From a global pandemic, to widespread calls for social justice. From an economic roller coaster, to divisive elections in the U.S. and around the world. From work, school, and home life blurring together, to using “Zoom” as a verb.

For years to come, we’ll talk about our world divided into two distinct eras: before 2020 and after. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the after.

Now that 2020 is behind us, let’s look at what we can expect heading into 2021.

On my podcast, The Edge, I recently spoke to five of my esteemed colleagues and asked them to make a prediction (and offer a bit of advice) about the future of work. Here’s what they shared…

Prediction #1

Leaders and organizations will commit to pursuing real diversity, genuine equity, and meaningful inclusion.

In 2020, we saw a surge in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) learning. Elisa Vincent, Skillsoft’s Vice President of Global Talent Enablement, anticipates even more of that momentum in 2021.

“We’re going to see a common thread of DEI throughout all of our leadership competencies in the coming year. Organizations will embrace core learning experiences that include a new emphasis on DEI power skills — like building empathy, nurturing EQ, recognizing and addressing unconscious bias, and deep listening. I have high hopes that this will be a turning point toward realizing genuine diversity, true equity, and meaningful inclusion for all.”

Whether looking at unconscious bias in the workplace or welcoming women back into the workforce after so many have left during COVID, Elisa envisions an emphasis on ‘extreme listening.’ “I encourage all of us who work in the human capital space to help leaders in the organization listen to their employees and ask the right questions: ‘How are you doing?’ ‘How can I help?’ ‘What does your workday look like?’ ‘What are your home responsibilities?’ It’s about organizations doing the difficult work of asking questions, listening, and creating safe places where employees can talk about how their personal and their work and professional lives are coming together.”

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Prediction #2

Digital dexterity will be key to surviving and thriving in the post-COVID world.

Ready or not, 2020 forced organizations, leaders, and individuals to pivot to digital collaboration. Those skills, learned quickly and by necessity, certainly won’t go to waste. As Skillsoft VP of Technology and Developer Products, Mike Hendrickson predicts digital dexterity will be “Increasingly important for individuals and organizations, especially when facing uncertainty, market changes, or competitive pressures. And this applies to both tech and non-tech people.”

Mike points out that, “COVID has accelerated what could have been multi-year digital transformation plans into days or weeks. And those with digital dexterity right now have adapted much more quickly. The evidence is clear. Gartner published a research report concluding that 9% of employees have high digital dexterity and they also found that those employees with digital dexterity were 3.3x more likely to quickly and effectively execute digital initiatives in their organizations.” He finishes by admitting that we have, “No idea what 2025 is going to offer,” and emphasizes the importance in, “Cultivating a culture of curiosity to learn.”

Prediction #3

Compliance will evolve so that our new, hybrid work cultures can center on safety, security, and respect.

I was stunned to learn from Norm Ford, our VP of Compliance Products, that a recent customer survey revealed 21% of organizations were experiencing an increase in inappropriate communications and conduct while on messaging platforms. “If you think about it,” he explains, “You’re doing business inside your home, and there’s a certain level of comfort and informality in that type of environment, and a lot of us don’t realize that we’re inviting folks into our home to conduct business. The same rules should apply as in the workplace, as in the office, as they do in this new work environment. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is that a lot of employees are becoming just a little lax in their communication and being a little inappropriate. And so, that’s a concern in a lot of organizations: managing that.”

According to Norm, compliance will have to manage new risks of a hybrid workspace model, which also include privacy and cybersecurity. He predicts new threats will emerge, along with regulations across the country and around the world. “We need to prepare our employees because that’s the weakest link in any company, an employee responding to these threats.” Overall, Norm advises compliance leaders to focus on three things: talent, communication, and training. “I look at training as the way that an organization communicates its expectations to its staff. This is the way an organization can say, ‘Here’s my belief of your expected behavior. Here’s why I expect your behavior to be safe, healthy, and respectful of others.’”

Prediction #4

Agile will emerge as a core competency for all functions across all businesses.

Apratim Purakayastha (AP), Skillsoft’s Chief Technology Officer, joked that the core competencies going forward will be ‘Reading, writing, arithmetic, and Agile.’ “Agile is not just a software development paradigm; it’s actually a way of working. It’s about continuous planning, doing, and validating. It’s fundamentally about a team working in specialist roles, but optimized for team goals. It’s about planning work in short, quantifiable sprints. It’s going to be so much more prevalent than it is today in all functions — marketing, back office operations, sales and go to market will all be Agile much more so than today. Because at its core, the Agile principles can better manage a hybrid work environment and remote diversified workforce. And digital is the fuel of Agile; they will complement each other and drive each other forward.”

As AP continues, “The more subtle thing that’s sometimes overlooked is the role of inclusion and diversity in Agile. What will happen in a post-pandemic world where agility is more applicable is that we’ll have globally diverse workforces with different cultures and in different countries, and as a leader — or even as a participant — being sensitive to different cultures and how people collaborate across the globe will be much more important.” Positioning Agile as a need to have rather than a nice to have, AP’s prediction about its adoption is paired with a warning, “Organizations that haven’t adopted agile are missing out on an opportunity and if they don’t become agile sooner, they’ll be much less efficient than they ought to be.”

Prediction #5

The “Internet of Careers” will emerge as an innovative and evergreen marketplace for skills.

For a final 2021 prediction, I turned to Skillsoft’s Vice President and General Manager of Product and User Experience for SumTotal Systems, Debasis Dutta, who stressed the fast-emerging concept of the Internet of Careers. “It’s designed to give individuals the ability to properly showcase their skills and carry them digitally throughout all their careers,” he explains. Although Debasis notes that the Internet of Careers has been in the works for quite some time, “The real progress and digital acceleration took place during the pandemic. The pandemic pushed forward the adoption of remote work, a changing workforce, and redefinition of the business. We all learned how to use collaboration tools effectively, how to work in a virtual environment, how to do business completely online. Now, as we approach a world of work that calls for future-ready employees, those who have a clear record of ambition and achievement when it comes to upskilling will have a leg up.”

He continues, “When you allow this to happen, people are very encouraged to get ongoing learning, and that helps overall to build your resilient workforce.” And, he advises organizations not to miss out on this new world of work that benefits both employees and employers. “The plan of action would be (a) embrace and acknowledge that Internet of Careers is a business imperative, (b) redefine the talent processes towards being more equitable, and (c) be part of the credential exchange platforms that facilitate this change in the new world of work.”

2020 will go down in history as a year of great disruption, but also as one of great learning and even opportunity. It taught us that the only thing we can count on is change. But, by building and nurturing a culture of continuous learning, we can better prepare our teams to be adaptive, resilient, and future-fit … for whatever the future has in store.

If you’d like more of these predictions and recommendations, I encourage you to listen to my year-end podcast.

Happy New Year.