Workplace Trends in 2021

This article on Workplace Trends in 2021: 9 predictions for the year ahead was published on the Knight Frank website recently and is worth a read…

How has Covid-19 changed previous workplace trends? And what’s in store for our working lives in 2021? We look at how our 2020 predictions compare to what actually happened, then outline our 2021 predictions – covering both accelerated trends and new ones.

To say that 2020 has altered our world of work would be an understatement.

As governments and businesses around the world began to grapple with Covid-19, our working lives – as we knew them – were turned on their heads.

The UK was forced into months of working from home. Some companies considered making office-culling moves – and in doing so – sparked the age-old ‘death of the office’ debate. Pretty quickly, we got tired of living at work. And as technology replaced face to face interactions, we started getting ‘zoom fatigue’.

Flexible working

“The future of work will be flexible – there’s no one-size-fits-all model for businesses or employees. Autonomy and variety will drive business performance.”

– Amanda Lim, Head of Flexible Office Solutions

Working from home will continue

It’s safe to say that Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of flexible working. Several lockdowns have forced many companies to work from home – even those that were reluctant to work anywhere but the office. We believe working from home, as well as other types of flexible working, such as staggered hours and working closer to home, will continue to form a part of our working lives in 2021.

While this partly comes down to our ongoing efforts to contain the pandemic, it’s also a consequence of our newfound focus on flexibility as a whole. We’re beginning to see the extent to which different people, roles and tasks require different parameters for optimal performance.

To boost employee productivity, engagement and happiness, our world of work will feature a strategic blend of different environments, places, working hours and even agile working setups – such as sit-stand desks, active sitting chairs and even exercise balls.

Office space will continue to be crucial

Undeniably, despite our newfound acceptance of remote working, there is a growing need for businesses to provide office space for their employees to develop their skills, collaborate and learn from one another.

The ‘death of the office’ narrative that murmured through 2020 wasn’t silenced by academic rhetoric, it was silenced by people sincerely missing their office environments – and everything that came with them.

Businesses still want a central hub. In fact, only 8% of employees want to work from home five days a week, and 53% of UK businesses surveyed by Knight Frank said they wanted their offices to feature more collaboration space. So, while the demand for flexibility continues, social capital remains critical.

Health and wellbeing

“We’ve spent the last year navigating immense uncertainty, coping with the loneliness of lockdown and worrying about our health. Wellbeing has to take centre stage.”

– Francesca Cooper-Isow, Senior Surveyor

For most forward-thinking companies, health and wellbeing were firmly embedded into corporate agendas, but Covid-19 has catalysed efforts across the board.

Covid-secure workplaces will prevail

As the first lockdown was lifted, flexible office space providers went to great lengths to create Covid-secure workplaces in order to comply with government guidelines and lower health risks.

They enhanced their cleaning regimes, increased airflow, added hand sanitiser stations throughout all spaces, displayed safety signage, organised one-way systems and redesigned furniture layouts to enable social distancing.

For all workplaces, this safety-first approach will prevail in 2021 and beyond as we continue to mitigate the dangers of Covid-19.

Active commuting will rise

In the months we were encouraged to return to our workplaces, active commuting became a popular way to both avoid public transport and break up a sedentary working day.

It’s likely this trend will continue, and as a result, employers will look for offices fit for a cycling commute, which neighbour cycleways and feature showers and secure bike racks.

Businesses will try to prevent remote working loneliness

For some, remote working came with a sense of loneliness and isolation – our innate need for social interaction was barely being met. But for others, it was a dream come true.

In fact, the dichotomy of the experience was highlighted by our LinkedIn poll on World Mental Health Day; 49% of 731 respondents said that working from home had a positive impact on their mental health, while 40% said that it had a negative impact.

Ultimately, 2021 wellbeing strategies will come down to personal choice, flexibility, and an additional integrity in remote environments. What’s important is that the conversation continues. Talent will look for businesses that appreciate the importance of wellbeing and provide the right environment for it to be cultivated. Employee happiness benefits everyone, and businesses are beginning to see that.

The office experience

“Offices will become springboards for creativity, innovation and collaboration. Through design, amenities and variety, they’ll create rich experiences that help teams thrive.” 

– Steven Lydon, Agent

Though dull, drab and cubicle-clad offices have been a thing of the past for some time, we’re likely to see an increased focus on the office experience in 2021. As our working lives are set to feature both working from home and commuting to and from the office, the experience of the office will need to incentivise an emotional and financial investment in the journey time.

Quality and collaboration will take centre stage

The office won’t be what it’s always been. Workplace trends strategies will feature a flight to quality, a focus on design and an emphasis on collaboration – especially as we try to rebuild our depleted levels of social capital.

The office will be a destination that provides experience, connection and choice – with insta-worthy cafés, curated meet-ups that instil a sense of community and belonging, biophilic office design that boosts wellbeing, agile working strategies that encourage mobility and technology that streamlines workflows.

In fact, we began to see the green shoots of these trends emerge towards the end of 2020. Knight Frank’s Re-occupancy and Re-imagined Workplace Survey revealed that 36% of UK businesses believe a higher quality of space will be a core part of their workplace strategies, while 63% are planning prioritise the design and specification of their offices.

The demand for flexible office space will grow

A focus on the office experience is also likely to boost the demand for flexible office space – which has already witnessed a surge (as monthly rolling contracts acted as a tonic for uncertainty amid lockdowns).

Flexible office providers work hard to curate rich, fully-serviced environments for teams to thrive in, from lunch-time yoga classes through to help-yourself-pantries, from packed events calendars through to inspiring interiors – they’ve been focusing on the office experience for years.

As mentioned in the above table, 47% of UK businesses interviewed by Knight Frank said they envisioned their real estate strategies to include a greater amount of flexible, serviced or co-working space.

We expect this to develop, with both big and small businesses set to gravitate towards flexible office space, or at least incorporate it into their portfolios.


“The climate crisis is critical. Sustainability needs to be a driving force in 2021. Businesses that fail to sincerely play their part will struggle to attract and retain top talent.”

– Tom Walsh, Senior Surveyor

Sustainable commutes will trend

We’ve already witnessed the rise of active commuting – and in particular – cycling to work, but 2021 is likely to see the sustainability workplace trends reach new heights.

In July 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a £2 billion cycling and walking initiative, which outlines plans to improve infrastructure and create new protected bike lanes.

In 2021, this could inspire London-based businesses to incorporate cycle-to-work schemes into their benefits packages.

Green, sustainable offices will win the war for talent

There is a growing recognition that younger generations of talent are seeking out businesses that increasingly align with their moral values across environmental, social and governance initiatives. These include efforts to reduce corporate carbon footprints, improve employee wellbeing, and ensure diversity and inclusion.

Though all are incredibly important, Covid-19 has kickstarted a new wave of green thinking among employees: 56% of 17,149 consumers feel that reducing single-use plastics, lowering carbon footprints and companies behaving more sustainability have become ‘a lot more important’ since the pandemic.

As businesses continue to view real estate as a strategic device and an investment, choosing to base their teams in green, sustainable offices is a clear way to demonstrate a commitment to the cause (for both employees, clients and competitors).

The full article on workplace trends can be read on the Knight Frank website.

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