Last year, during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a couple of articles that touched on the subject of organizations coming up with solutions during chaotic situations. A consistent phrase that I've been hearing is, “The pandemic lockdowns didn’t cause [X], but accelerated [X].” Below are some of the trends and opportunities on which I'm keeping my eye in the coming months and years that I think will have the biggest impact on our industry and society.


Trending up

  1. Remote working: Many employees are saying “no” to going back into the office, or at least not going into the office every day. Whether the workforce is “WFH” (Working From Home) full-time or part-time, expect to see a certain percentage of these workers resistant or even insistent on not returning to the daily grind during the work week. 
  2. Remote hiring and remote working: Employers have just recently been realizing that some of the best candidates for their organizations don’t live anywhere near their office. As a result of working from home for the last year, more employers also realize not all roles are needed to be in the office, and other roles are not needed in the office every day of a work week. Pre-COVID, many organizations hired remote employees “straight out of Central Casting” (as it were) to fill critical roles — expect this number to increase moving forward.
  3. The shrinking or remodeled office: As a result of No. 1 and No. 2 above, many companies will have a unique opportunity to reduce operating expenses by reducing the footprint of their leased office space. The smartest companies will jump on this. Victor Assad, in his book “Hack Recruiting,” described this eventuality well before COVID-19 took effect. He further went on to detail in some of his talks that the typical office will eliminate many of its cubicles and private offices, instead increasing the number of “touchdown” or “collaboration” spaces. 
  4. Homes and apartments with working areas: It will be interesting to see if more homes will include areas for a study/workspace rooms. Also, it will be interesting to see if the trend of home improvements will continue, and if new developments will spend the extra money to make new homes/apartments and neighborhoods that much more welcoming.
  5. Industry-specific workshare spaces: One of the best parts early during the lockdowns (prior to the glut of Zoom meetings) was the opportunity to get more work done due to limiting interruptions. One of the worst parts of the lockdowns was the isolation because you were working by yourself. Especially if remote work increases, expect to see more remote employees asking to take advantage of shared workspaces (such as Galvanize Phoenix, starting as low as $125 a month for remote employees) and the networking-ability/sanity-building capabilities. Note: I wonder if we will begin to see “Architecture and Engineering” workshare spaces where competing consultants have employees in a shared space — from a networking and collaboration standpoint, this could be a real groundbreaking development. Getting manufacturing, technical sales and installers into the same space (similar to a “Big Room” via the IPD process) presents great opportunities to solve problems and practice collaborating with potential business associates. 
  6. Hybrid (virtual and in-person) seminars, events, committees and meetings: I think most of us are ecstatic for in-person meetings again. But there will always be reasons that could preclude professionals from attending a seminar, event or meeting; it could be picking up kids, other work events, financial constraints, physical distance, etc., that gets in the way. The best organizations will realize this and make a point of getting good at having in-person and virtual components for all of their meetings (i.e. hybrid meetings), thereby including those who may not otherwise be able to participate. 
  7. Golden age of education, training and certifications: I’ve said it before — we are living in a golden age for education, training and certifications. Take advantage of it. Those employers who begin to invest in their employees’ development, especially remote employees, have a great opportunity to leapfrog their competition.
  8. The rise of the experts: Well-aligned systems-thinking specialists and specialized experts are thriving in this economy. And why not? They have a very unique set of skills that if well-aligned with client needs offers incredible value. As Peter Drucker noted, “Generalists are of limited use in a knowledge economy,” and, “Any organization that maintains an activity that is used only intermittently guarantees incompetence.” That has been laid bare due to the high amount of “deep work” many of us were able to carve out throughout COVID-19. 
  9. Cross-industry projects: With the rise of the experts, there is the temptation to think that silos developing would be an issue. Traditionally it has been. However, COVID-19 has broken down many of the barriers, and when organizations like AWWA and IAPMO pool resources to come out with industry-pioneering guidance, you are trending in the right direction. 
  10. Good management practices: Such practices, like having regularly scheduled one-on-ones, were able to thrive in spite of remote work. And when good results happen because of these good management practices, it is going to get harder to ignore.


Holding trends

  1. Better-run meetings: “Zoom fatigue” is real — I know I feel it. With in-person work, some of the “networking” calls may reduce in frequency, which may help efficiencies, and many folks are getting better in minimizing meeting duration from 1 hour to 45 minutes to help colleagues and business associates make their next meeting, but it’s a work in progress.
  2. Good strategy: There were companies of all sizes that struggled during COVID-19. But what has been interesting to see is as we are coming out of the pandemic, some companies begin to fold. This, to me, is an indication of bad strategy development. Likewise, some companies will stay afloat, barely, which is also a sign of bad strategy. There is still immense opportunity for growth for many organizations, they “just” must systemize their approach. The question is can they do it? 

Trending down

  1. (Internal) Work social/fun events: With remote work and WFH, my sense is that “social-work events” are on the decline as the probability of scattered employees increases. And let’s be honest, some of the “virtual” happy hours felt … awkward, even for extroverts like me. For introverts, this will be a cause to rejoice. For over-scheduled workers, it will be one less work function they have to deal with on top of a full plate. 
  2. Bad management practices: Managers who weren’t intentional about their relationships (either pre-COVID-19 and/or during the lockdowns) with their employees were exposed. Unintentional relationships (i.e. “walking around the office”) pre-COVID-19 just didn’t cut it during a crisis where that option wasn’t available due to everyone WFH. Statistics consistently show that employees who leave an organization most often cite displeasure with their manager as the reason for leaving. A locked down economy was not kind to bosses who didn’t build their relationships with their direct reports before or during. Expect to see movement of employees over the coming months and years due to looking for a better boss, especially if they are WFH.