Three key leadership trends to note in 2021

1. Making a call on the office/WFH/hybrid strategy

During 2020, it was all about logistics – how to get everyone working from home as quickly, efficiently and productively as possible. Sending office furniture and computers to those who needed them, addressing all manner of technology issues from infrastructure to security, and trying to support those whose work-from-home setups were far from ideal due to lack of space, homeschooling kids, or unwell family members.

Despite the second and third waves of Covid taking place globally, there is nevertheless an air of ‘getting on with it’ now and, in many cases, a real desire to get back to the office,  ‘back to normal’ and back to a routine of sorts. Most of us realise that there’s not much chance of going back to anything the way it was before. There will be a new normal which will likely consist of some kind of hybrid office-home work scenario, determined by a number of variables, but mostly focusing on productivity. Which jobs, conducted by which types of people, are easiest to sustain remotely, due to their efficacy and productivity?

However, there are a range of additional variables that SHOULD be considered too, in making decisions about the future of your company’s home-office work strategy, including: team morale and culture, onboarding and training of new staff members, project collaboration and idea generation (yes, we’ve all been doing this using tech tools, but almost every leader I speak to is dying to get into a physical room with a physical whiteboard), as well as the learning and growth we all experience by osmosis, by being in the presence of other experienced, talented, creative people.

Making a call on the best balance of these variables can be primarily determined by asking the following questions:

  1. What value does being in the office physically bring to our people, and our organization?
  2. Have we been able to replicate this in some way (or perhaps fully) in a remote work setup? What strategies have been most effective, and could we maximize these?
  3. If we were to remain primarily as remote workers, what would the impact be? Can we quantify both the negative and positive impact of this?
  4. If we return in part (or in some hybrid form), what would we REALLY want to use our in-office time for?


  1. How does ongoing remote work impact on gender diversity in leadership?

The statement, ‘we’re all in the same boat’ – in relation to the global pandemic – was very soon recognised as false (not to mention cringeworthy!) by almost everyone in any work environment that included mothers of young kids and anyone not comfortably ensconced in the middle-to-upper working class. Undoubtedly, these people faced huge challenges not faced by those more well-off and able to operate from a laptop in their living room. Leaders should be taking particular note of the challenges faced by women who are required to homeschool this year.

Data shows that, in 2020, significant numbers of women needed to opt out of the work-place or reduce their hours in order to take on the bulk of childcare and homeschooling during the worst stages of lockdown. For those women who soldiered on, career growth was in some cases stunted due to passing up promotions, or not being considered eligible for promotions that might have been due had the additional stresses of work-from-home not become so painfully evident to the powers that be.

On the whole, pandemic 2020 proved a dagger in the heart and a real setback for women in leadership, the quantum of which is still being calculated.

Needless to say, if serious attention is not paid to this challenge, the gains in gender diversity and parity that have been made in workplaces globally, will possibly suffer irrevocably.

The question that every leader should be seriously asking themselves, their executive teams, and their diversity officers, is how to stem the tide, and stop the freefall.

  1. What new metrics – business and people – do you need to be tracking?

In 2020, people proved a whole range of assumptions to be false, including commonly held beliefs that if employees were working from home permanently, they’d spend most of their time sitting on the couch Netflixing and chilling instead of working. In fact, the opposite turned out to be true for the most part – with employees being overworked, always on, and overstressed. Long hours and too few breaks, combined with mental and emotional exhaustion due to virtual meetings replacing time previously used for lunch breaks and travel time took their toll.

Companies have taken their productivity inventory for 2020, and can see that, in many cases, productivity actually increased. In some cases, this was due to people NOT being in open plan offices with easy distractions and the constant disruptions of passing people and the fully loaded coffee machine down the hallway.

Regardless of what transpired in the past year, what 2021 requires from us is a review of all the measures related to tracking productivity, performance, and contribution. It requires a testing of old assumptions based on actual behaviours and data, and it also hopes for some real care and empathy to be applied to the ongoing severe strain that many are still experiencing as we endure what will hopefully be the final months of the worst of the pandemic.