The Future of Work Brings Us Together for In-Person Meetings & Events

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Seismic changes, some resulting from the pandemic and others from trends already in motion, have been shaking up the workplace for the past two years. While the most noticeable change is the shift toward more people working from home, other big factors include the Great Resignation and the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce. 

As we know all too well, in-person meetings have taken a hit, with virtual and hybrid alternatives replacing those where everyone gathers in an on-site conference room or at a local hotel. But in 2022, it’s time to get ready for another shift. Despite omicron, indicators point to a resurgence of live events and business travel. Along with this, more people will be heading back to the office, at least on a part-time basis. 

What is the work environment expected to look like in the coming year? 

Here are a few key trends that experts are noting.

Together Again

While the work-from-home trend is not going away, the workplace is growing less virtual and more hybrid. While people enjoy the flexibility of working remotely, two years of isolation are fueling a need for face-to-face contact with colleagues and customers, whether at meetings, during business trips or in the workplace. 

According to a recent survey from WeWork, 79 percent of C-suite executives plan to give employees, whose jobs allow for it, more flexibility in splitting their time between working at home and in the office. This is in direct response to employee demand, with 75 percent saying that being able to blend their work environment is an important priority. 

Some experts also predict that companies will do more to address the sense of isolation that remote workers often feel. This could mean adopting hybrid work policies in which companies pay for office spaces designated for in-person relationship-building activities, quarterly team sessions, meetings with employees from other cities and celebrating milestone wins.

Workplace trends are in tandem with the growing desire to meet in person with team members, industry colleagues and clients. Even with the omicron variant, business travel is on the upswing, according to a recent report in BTN and a survey from the Global Business Travel Association. GBTA found that 75 percent of the 389 travel and procurement managers surveyed expect their organizations’ travel volume to increase this year over 2021 levels. Only five percent anticipate a decline. 

Communication Gets Asynchronous 

Asynchronous, a fancy term for things happening one at a time, is the new buzzword in-office communication. With a remote workforce scattered around the globe, it’s no longer reasonable to expect people to respond to questions from colleagues or the boss immediately. As a result, we’re seeing technology designed to replace a lot of synchronous communication (in-person chats, live video, phone calls) with conversations that can happen at people’s leisure (messages, posts, recorded video). The intention is to allow people to better concentrate and to accommodate the realities of working from home in disparate time zones. 

Competition for Talent

In an era where more people are chucking their jobs to seek fulfillment elsewhere, the scramble to find and retain top talent is intensifying. While some companies are responding by offering more compensation, not all companies can afford to do this. And it’s not always more money that employees want most. Instead, some companies are keeping compensation flat but reducing work hours so that employees can enjoy more flexibility and leisure time. 

In another strategy, some companies are looking at new sources for talent, perhaps bringing in people from other disciplines such as teaching who might bring a new set of skills to the table. 

Fairness and Equity 

Workplace shifts are raising new questions about fairness and equity, including who has access to flexible work schedules, whether or not workers who relocate to less or more expensive cities get pay that reflects that, whether or not employees with children get special benefits, etc. Experts say that executives will need to address how they are managing fairness and equity across an increasingly varied employee experience. It could even become the top priority for HR executives.  

Challenge for Corporate Culture

What happens to corporate culture when employees are no longer working together in close proximity? A legacy of the pandemic has meant fewer encounters between employees, including impromptu meetings and other forms of direct communication. While employees have been interacting with a core group of colleagues, there has been a loss of interaction with a wider range of people. Company culture suffers when people work in silos and aren’t exposed to the same set of behaviors and values. As more people return to the office and in-person meetings increase, managers will have opportunities to improve this situation. 

Implication for Meetings and Business Travel

As we head into yet another “new normal,” one in which live meetings and business travel are rebounding during an ongoing and unpredictable pandemic, companies will need to employ strategies for keeping employees safe as well as motivated and engaged. 

One major strategy already in progress is the convergence of roles within companies to ensure the health and safety of employees. Covid protocols have pulled numerous stakeholder groups together, including travel and meetings management, legal, risk and HR. This will only intensify.  

As the challenge continues, tech solutions are playing a major role in helping organizations better manage risk, safety, visibility and the logistics of meetings and travel. In a recent McKinsey survey 85 percent of respondents reported that adoption of digitalization and automation technologies have accelerated. These solutions will be crucial during the uncertain months ahead.