2020 was a year of challenge and change. Career and business predictions made early in the year seemed to quickly fall by the wayside in the face of a global pandemic.

However, not every prediction from last year was a complete miss. COVID-19's impact on the job market actually accelerated pre-existing trends such as flexible schedules for employees, more remote work options and a rise in contingent workforces.

So what job market trends can employers and employees expect in 2021?

Remote work is here for good

The trend toward a more remote workforce has been a steady drumbeat over the last decade as advanced communication technology has become more broadly used by businesses.

Many employers have concerns that abandoning an in-person work environment sacrifices company culture, team building and executive oversight. Regardless, many companies were forced to explore remote employment offerings to adjust to the new reality of a continually changing workplace.

Although this transition has been uncomfortable for many, most employers have found that productivity hasn’t slipped as a result of the change. Additionally, new communication cadences and management methodologies for project delivery have emerged in response to the surge in virtual work, making it easier to keep work remote.

Contingent labor will continue its rise in prevalence

Change management was a popular topic across the entire economy in 2020, with responsive organizations benefiting from early-mover advantages.

A need for flexibility manifested with a renewed reliance on contingent labor. As employers struggled to adjust to new virtual onboarding cadences and methodologies, leaning on third-party vendors for staffing and HR consultancy became an attractive option.

Hiring managers and job seekers can both expect to reap the benefits of flexible hiring models as they continue to emerge throughout 2021. Leaning into contingent labor will open new possibilities for workforce and career options around the globe.

Hiring processes will require additional resources and attention

There are many reasons it takes longer to communicate during virtual meetings than in-person meetings.

This efficiency gap has put a strain on the hiring process. As the hiring cycle moved from in-person to virtual, many businesses quickly found their HR and L&D departments unprepared and understaffed to meet new remote onboarding and training requirements. 

Organizations that upgraded their virtual hiring protocols and remained efficiently engaged with incoming prospects stood out to high-value candidates as impressively effective organizations.

In 2021, job seekers and employers alike should regard organizational responsiveness — including maintaining virtual candidate touchpoints throughout the hiring process — as a key competitive advantage in attracting top talent.

Smart businesses will continue to focus on risk and compliance

As the shocking immediate impacts of COVID-19 recede into the rearview mirror of the new year, the most resilient businesses will continue to lead. Organizations now recognize the importance of a risk-based approach in strategic planning, with a deliberate emphasis placed on sound risk-and-compliance practices.

For job seekers with finance and accounting experience, 2021 will continue to present high-value opportunities to develop or showcase skills related to risk and compliance. For employers, reorienting business as usual to incorporate risk-based approaches will help to develop effective response reflexes. This will be essential to navigating upcoming change, including new regulatory frameworks that can be expected from President Biden's administration.

Roles will become increasingly hybridized

Traditionally, workers benefit from developing increasingly specialized skills during boom times but are advised to fall back on varied experience to weather more challenging job markets.

2020 disrupted this pattern. Some industries surged while others lurched to a near halt. Certain specialized employee skills — such as risk, compliance and remote team management — became even more desirable. But even in areas where the job market remained tight, sweeping adjustments to managerial methods required employees to harness every skill in their toolbox.

Out of necessity, accountants became project managers. Financial analysts became data scientists. Expect that emphasis on hybrid roles to continue as employers bring in new candidates who can keep up with the trend of continuous change.

For hiring managers, it’s a good year to explore candidate profiles for evidence of versatility. For job seekers, 2021 is a great time to expand existing skills and grow in new directions.