The 2021 Workplace Trends you haven’t read about yet.

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

2021 has started with clear indicators that disruption and uncertainty will remain the status quo for this year. Here are 6 workplace trends that will help you navigate the unpredictable.

1 - Agility vs Rigidity

All pointers at the start of 2021 indicate that agility will remain in demand.

Agility requires leaders to be acutely aware of and adjust to how their environment, including the emotional well being of their workforce, is constantly shifting. Agility requires from leaders AND their teams to find a myriad of creative and helpful ways to respond.

It requires being flexible with work schedules for staff working from home. It must consider factors such as: amount of working hours, flexibility around the times of the day at which work is prioritised vs times of the day when family and well-being are prioritised according to individual needs.

The modern workplace needs to completely re-explore the outdated work-life balance paradigm.

2021 will demand from leaders to recognise the humanity in their staff and to create an environment in which teams are empowered to act and are trusted vs having everything under control through rigorous procedures.

However, agility will only possible in a participative and co-creative environment in which everyone shares ownership and responsibility.

Agility will never be achieved through a top down approach.

2 - Together vs Alone

Organisations that will thrive in 2021, will be doing so because they would have found ways to bring people together and work systemically as one unit.

Due to the amount of unpredictability and the speed of disruptive change leaders must lean into the collective intelligence of their entire workforce, vs to trying to make predictions and decisions on their own or with only a few others in a boardroom.

Finding solutions in a participative way is essential in a time when change happens in rapid succession, and successful implementation of solutions depends on everyone in the organisation.

Gone are the days when employees buy-in is sought long after decisions have been made. Organisations need to increase employee buy-in through engagement and collective participation that nurture a culture of inclusion and belonging.

This will require leaders to become more astutely aware of the current barriers to participation, collaboration and open creative conversations in their respective teams and organisation.

3 - Transformational vs Transactional

Transactional leadership works purely within a set of established goals and organisational boundaries, and is primarily focussed on processes and control. It requires a strict management structure.

Transformational leadership seeks to challenge the status quo, it is future-oriented and focuses on inspiring others to participate and contribute.

Transformational leadership prepares the organisation for the urgent need for agility and creating the conditions for distributed leadership, especially now in this time of remote working.

Transformational leadership looks to create the right conditions in which their employees know they belong and can actively participate.

Only transformational leadership encompasses a focus on individual employee consideration and supports the Human Experience quadrant in Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Trends Report.

4 - Systemic vs Mechanic

A typical mechanical approach to leadership focuses on the various parts of the organisation, like parts of a big machine, and makes sure that they each function well, often in isolation of each other.

Reward and recognition, performance reviews and organisational structure often embed this mechanistic view and perpetuate the resulting rigidity and dysfunction found in silo working.

To support a transformational approach, a systemic lens in leadership is essential.

A systemic approach looks at the whole organisation as a living and learning entity. The leader sees themselves as part of a complex system that is constantly responding and adjusting in intelligent ways.

The art of leadership is not to manage this system, but its relationships, so that the system can thrive.

“Leadership that focuses on the larger system is about knowing how strengthening the relationships between people is needed to solve problems that are too big and complex for individuals to solve,”

5 - Visible vs Invisible

To bring about real transformation and to take a systemic approach to leadership, the ability to skillfully navigate the many invisible dynamics of relationships becomes essential for all organisations that are aspiring to participate in a humane society.

The quality of relationships in teams and organisations predicts the team’s ability to get work done in a sustainable and humane way.

The poor climate created by relationships that are conflicted and toxic has become pandemic in organisations globally.

Relationship Systems Intelligence enables teams and their leaders to become conscious, intentional and skilful in working with the invisible dynamics in teams such as conflict, toxins, rank, lack of alignment and unconscious bias.

The invisible aspects of organisations are the root cause of dysfunction in most organisations, and they cannot be fixed through structural changes. They must be dealt with through Relationship Systems Intelligence.

6 - Conditions vs Procedures

Procedures will always have their place in organisations, but, they do not have a good track record in solving those big organisational challenges such as disengagement, silo working and conflict.

Leaders need to focus on creating the psychological conditions that encourage courageous and helpful conversations in the workplace. There is no shortcut to healthy conversations if we want to participate in an unpredictable world. For people to belong, they need to know that their views are sought after and matter.

For the workforce to openly and actively engage in dialogue, the right conditions need to be set to nurture a mix of enough safety, enough brevity and enough appreciation so that the diversity views, feelings and voices can be heard in service of the organisational goals.

The conditions are created by clear, honest and authentic message of caretaking. Taking care of each other and taking care of the business

To create these conditions, leaders need to have a good grasp of the invisible forces that shape the relationship dynamics in organisations. There are clear business benefits from relationship coaching in organisations.


The workplace trends provided here are systemic in nature and support organisations in being sustainably agile while enabling them to deal with the ongoing need for change.

Here are some structural workplace trends that need focus in 2021:

  • Mental health

  • Diversity, Equity and Belonging

  • Taking a stance on race, gender, social and environmental issues

  • Artificial Intelligence and Technological advancement

  • Soft skills development

  • Flexibility in the workplace.

  • Compelling Employee Experience and Employee Engagement


Without the careful consideration of the 6 workplace trends explored above, organisations won’t be enabled to thrive in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous time and implement the changes needed at the required pace.

These 6 workplace trends create the organisational climate that will strengthen mental health, create places of belonging and will actively engage with their workforce on social topics that are relevant for their people.

Please contact me to have an explorative conversation about these 6 workplace trends for 2021.

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