This year, it feels like the only constant is change. New coronavirus variants. Revised travel guidelines. Evolving back to office plans. Lots of resignations, and more new hires too. Many companies are reimagining office life and adapting to new circumstances. It’s a lot to manage — and support in the workplace has never been more important.

“I think this was the year that really highlighted the need for great management,” said Jennifer Farris, chief people officer at San Francisco-based hiring and employment platform Terminal, which works to connect remote engineering teams.  “If you didn’t have that, it became clear very, very quickly.”

The pandemic changed the tech industry — startups had to accept the work-from-home model and hybrid office plans were the new normal. That means if HR leaders want to remain competitive next year, it’s crucial to reevaluate the company’s people management approach.

“In 2021, most companies realized that they actually really need a remote strategy, and may have even needed to rebuild their entire company culture,” Farris said. “Everything has to be thoughtful and intentional, and you have to have people in HR who are willing to put in that time and energy.”

Built In reached out to managers and leaders in HR and tech to get a sense of the biggest workplace trends. Here’s 2021 in review — and how to prepare for 2022.

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Looking Back: Major Trends In 2021

Major Trends In 2021

  • More rigorous recruiting strategies
  • Wider candidate pools
  • Emphasis on work-life balance
  • Focus on mental health

RECRUITING STRATEGIES BECAME MORE RIGOROUS

Of all the HR headlines that emerged during 2021, one phrase buzzed more than others: The Great Resignation. In August and September, around 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs and companies in every industry struggled to both hire and retain employees. The tech industry had to adapt its existing recruiting and retention strategies to meet those challenges, sometimes overhauling them entirely. Many organizations leveled up their virtual recruiting tools in order to attract remote candidates, and according to a report from Recruiter Nation, around 40 percent of companies increased their hiring budgets over the last year. 

“Companies have had to create a much tighter recruiting process,” said Farris. “You can’t keep someone in an interview cycle for four weeks and expect them to still be there at the end.” 

“You can’t keep someone in an interview cycle for four weeks and expect them to still be there at the end.” 

The challenges brought by the Great Resignation led companies to get creative with their talent strategies. Social media has long been a useful recruiting tool, but over the last year, many companies embraced new platforms like TikTok and Snapchat to reach a younger candidate pool. Others adopted practices such as stay interviews to keep top performers on their team.

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THE CANDIDATE POOL OPENED UP

Some companies took a hit to their recruitment strategies in 2021, but the year also brought positive changes. The push for remote work opportunities accelerated which gave nimble organizations an edge in hiring. Now, companies can cast a wider net when scouting talent — looking for the best candidates in the country rather than just one city.

“We’re already seeing start-ups recruiting internationally as competition intensifies and remote working technology improves,” said Nick Adams, vice president of sales at Boston-based IT company Globalization Partners. “The challenge these businesses face is finding the global talent to build the best teams. The talent is there, but it’s likely to be in places organizations have not traditionally considered before.”

 

EMPLOYEES WANTED MORE WORK-LIFE BALANCE

While you and your coworkers probably didn’t commute to a physical office every day this year, that doesn’t mean the expectations and pressures of office life were any less significant. Remote work blurs the boundary between the office and employees’ personal space and can make it even harder to disconnect from work at the end of each day. For working parents and caregivers, the pressure to both succeed at work and to care for their loved ones makes it hard to avoid burnout.

“Employees want flexibility.”

In the last year, more people vocalized how essential a healthy work-life balance is to employees’ productivity and overall well being. Companies who recognized this need adopted more proactive measures to give their employees some relief, such as a company-wide week off, shorter work days and remote flexibility. It wasn’t enough for managers to encourage their employees to sign off at the end of the day — they had to draw a hard line between work and personal life, so that there was no confusion about that boundary.

“Employees want flexibility.” Farris said. “They should have the flexibility to say, ‘I’m offline for the next hour,’ or ‘I’m going to work late tonight, so I'm not getting up until late in the morning.’ [Your coworkers] should be able to integrate their work into their life in a way that works best for them.”

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MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT BECAME IMPERATIVE

The impacts of mental health on workplace behavior came even more into focus over the last twelve months, and companies could no longer afford to ignore them. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance has helped leaders manage burnout, but that was only one of many mental health challenges workers experienced in 2021.

“Financial stress soared throughout the pandemic, but so did regular stress, too,” said Matt Watson, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based fintech company Origin. “Mental health struggles like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse climbed as the country first went into lockdown then faced recurring COVID cases.”

“Financial stress soared throughout the pandemic, but so did regular stress, too.”

In response to the mounting stressors faced by employees and managers alike, some workplace leaders took action to lend a hand to teammates who had been struggling. 

“While many companies have long offered employee assistance programs, today employers are expanding their well-being benefits,” Watson said. “Subscriptions to meditation apps, tele-mental health sessions, and mental health stipends are readily embraced by employers hoping to support employee mental health as a formal company-provided benefit.”

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Looking Forward: Predicted Trends For 2022

Major HR Trends For 2022

  • Hybrid work is here to stay
  • Pay transparency is a focal point
  • Company culture is crucial
  • DEI is a necessity

THE HYBRID MODEL IS HERE TO STAY

 Most employers were focused on work-from-home as a short-term solution, doing their best to transition in-person protocols and culture into a remote environment. But hybrid work will continue in 2022, giving companies even more freedom to creatively design their work spaces. That could mean keeping a physical location for socialization purposes, making a policy for in-office work three days of the week or embracing digital nomadism and allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world.

“In 2022, business leaders are going to face a split: continue working remotely, return to the office or fully embrace the hybrid approach. The decision might influence which talent is attracted to your company,” said Svenja de Vos, CTO of the fully distributed IaaS company Leaseweb Global.  “Whether that’s allowing some people to be fully remote, checking in with a phone call every now and then, it’s going to take trial and error and a concerted effort to navigate the best way to operate business in 2022 and beyond.”

 

PAY TRANSPARENCY AND EQUITY WILL BE A FOCUS

For employers looking to onboard and retain high performers, compensation is a topic that will take on new meaning in 2022. Merit raises and bonuses that were sidelined in 2020 returned in the last year for many workers, and tech industry salaries have risen an average of 9.5 percent since then. If company leaders want to improve retention, they’ll need to offer compensation packages that are both competitive and fair. That means taking a hard look at their existing compensation methods and measuring them against industry and market standards.

“With new pay transparency laws now in eight states, employee activism and an incredibly dynamic, distributed employment market, responsible business leaders will take control of their compensation practices — this year, not next,” said Thanh Nguyen, CEO and cofounder of San Francisco-based HR tech company OpenComp. 

“Responsible business leaders will take control of their compensation practices — this year, not next.”

Rather than navigating compensation through individual salary negotiations, Nguyen says that employers must take a top down approach by conducting market analysis and setting equity bands for each role level at their organizations. This helps employers take pay standards out of the shadows and level the playing field so that every employee is compensated fairly based on their skills and the economic climate. 

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CULTURE WILL BECOME EVEN MORE IMPORTANT

Company culture has always been a crucial element of recruiting strategies across tech, and that wont change any time soon. However, in 2022, culture will take on a broader definition with so many companies shifting to hybrid workplaces or remaining remote. Organic social encounters can’t happen the same way in an era where many employees only meet on video calls, so HR leaders at hybrid or remote companies will need to take more proactive steps to foster workplace culture.

“Workforce culture and recruitment is going to be an interesting balance moving into 2022, because companies and business leaders have to stay true to how they want to operate and ultimately, to their business goals,” said Alex Pezold, founder and CEO at Oklahoma City-based cloud security company TokenEx. “At the same time, they can’t help but recognize that there is a new generation of workers and a new style of workforce that the pandemic has introduced us to.”

The workplace climate in 2022 will have many unique demands, but candidates will still seek companies that match their goals, support their growth and make them feel like part of a community. Companies with supportive and engaging cultures will play a key role in ending the Great Resignation, once and for all, Pezold said.

“Eventually, people need to be productive and they also need to earn money, and that will draw them back to the workforce,” he said. “Employers will be better able to attract the best talent when people have more opportunity to find a job that aligns with how they want to live. As long as those values and desires are aligned with how a business needs to operate, the partnership can be successful.”

 

DIVERSITY AND EQUITY ARE MUST-HAVES

Tech is an industry notorious for its lack of diversity, and lately it hasn’t gotten any better. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities across all industries, with low-wage workers experiencing the highest rates of pandemic job losses. The Recruiter Nation report found that 44 percent of recruiters say candidates turned down job offers due to lack of company diversity. Companies that don’t prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion in 2022 not only risk alienating or harming their employees — they’ll also fail to attract new talent. 

“When you think about innovation as a spectrum, you realize that the more people you have in the room who can look at problems from different angles or offer differing perspectives, the better your new products or systems will be,” said Jennifer Palecki, chief people officer at Silicon Valley-based software analytics company Imply. “A broad diversity of thought, life experiences, and leadership styles inform the most impactful collaborations in a workforce. [It’s] important to create an environment and room at the table where all voices are heard and feel safe sharing ideas.”

“A broad diversity of thought, life experiences, and leadership styles inform the most impactful collaborations in a workforce.”

2022 promises to continue many of the same trends seen in 2021, but as the coronavirus pandemic fallout has shown, there’s no way to predict for certain what the coming year may hold. As an HR leader, the best thing you can do to prepare for the upcoming months is remain flexible, listen to your employees, and prioritize their wellbeing in your decision making. 

“Employees want autonomy, to be trusted, and for their voice to be heard,” Farris said. “There are always new themes and industry shifts, but fundamentally, you just have to understand what it means to be a good employer.”

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