Powerful economic, societal, and technological drivers are reshaping work at a dramatic pace. The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of change.

To help our clients navigate this terrain, we issued a pulse survey in August 2021 to in-house legal and business leaders. We wanted to find out how they are feeling about the future, what trends they expect to have the most impact, and which near term challenges are keeping them up at night.

Q1: Which best describes the scope of changes for employers during the next five years?

Massive Change Ahead

In our 2017 survey, respondents were almost evenly split on the scope of changes in store for employers in the next five years. On the five year anniversary of that survey and post-COVID, the number of those expecting massive changes jumped to 64%, and more than 90% of those expecting massive changes are hopeful about the future. Open-ended responses expressed faith in the resilience of people and economies in the face of these changes, even while hiring, training, and fear of COVID continue to be top of mind.

Q2: Are you hopeful or fearful about the future of work?

Optimism Reigns

Our survey respondents overwhelmingly feel optimistic about the future of work, with 84% saying they feel hopeful. This is a marked jump from our 2017 survey in which 70% said they felt hopeful. In open-ended responses, hopeful respondents felt COVID was an inflection point for flexibility, balance, and inclusion, and that greater use of technology would lead to more innovation. Those who were fearful cited lack of employee engagement, greater turnover, and overreaching government mandates.

Q3: Pick the top three macro trends that will be shaping your business landscape in the next 5-10 years:

Automation, Labor Markets, and Inclusion

When asked to choose the top three macro trends for the next 5-10 years, nearly half or more of our respondents selected: greater use of advanced technology; evolving labor markets; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. While ESG issues ranked near the bottom, we believe this will be a growing area of concern for employers as shareholders, customers, and employees demand greater transparency and values-based leadership.

Q4: Pick your top three workforce concerns coming out of COVID-19:

Remote Work, Availability of Workers, and Culture

Coming out of COVID-19, respondents overwhelmingly chose navigating remote and hybrid work as their top workforce concern, followed by availability of workers, and maintaining company culture. While organized labor, wage and hour issues, and accommodations ranked near the bottom, we believe the adoption of remote work across industries will intensify the focus on these critical areas of employee relations and compliance.