What Employees Really Want in 2021

Tim Minahan
6 min readDec 9, 2020

New research shows flexibility, agility and diversity will be key to attracting and retaining talent

Few employees are interested in adding to the upheaval the global pandemic has created in their lives by changing jobs. But when it eventually subsides, many will be open to exploring their options. A new study reveals what they will be looking for. And it’s not what many employers think.

The pandemic has forever changed the way employees view and approach work. If businesses want to attract and retain the talent they need to move forward, they must understand their mindset and desires. But according to the Citrix Talent Accelerator, a survey of 2,000 knowledge workers and 500 HR Directors in large, established corporations and mid-market businesses based in the US conducted by Censuswide, the majority don’t.

Done in connection with the Work 2035 Project, an ongoing initiative in which Citrix is partnering with enterprises, governments and academia to understand the future of work and create frameworks, solutions and skills to ensure that organizations — and entire economies — can adapt to the new world order and use it to their advantage, the measure sought to understand how both employees and HR directors see the future of work.

And it revealed significant gaps in their views that will need to be closed if companies hope to attract and retain the talent they need to power their business and move things forward.

Digital Nomads

Now, more than ever, employees want flexibility in where, when and how they work. In fact, 88 percent of those workers surveyed said that when searching for a new position, they would look for one that offers complete flexibility in their hours and location. And 76 percent believe that employees will be more likely to prioritize lifestyle over proximity to work, even if it means taking a pay cut.

When it comes to where they work, 83 percent of employees and 69 percent of HR directors think that workers will be more likely to move out of cities and other urban locations if they can work remotely a majority of the time. And this will pay dividends that extend far beyond the four walls of the enterprise:

· 78 percent of workers and 67 percent of HR directors predict that the geographical decentralization of organizations will result in the creation of new work hubs in suburban/rural areas in the next 12 months.

And this means more jobs and money flowing into local economies.

Borderless Work

In the future, work will know no boundaries. In response to the global skilled talent shortage, 83 percent of employees polled as part of the Citrix Talent Accelerator predict that companies will leverage flexible work models to reach out to candidates no matter where they live.

While just 66 percent of HR directors feel the same, it’s clear that companies will need to meet employees where they are in order to position themselves to win in the future. And those that leverage technology such as digital workspaces to enable remote work can not only attract hard-to-find talent, but increase employee engagement and boost their productivity.

Virtual Reality

While the pandemic and the remote work mandates associated with it have physically separated workers, technology is proving its worth and keeping them connected and engaged.

· On average, two-thirds of employees and HR directors surveyed say they feel more connected to their direct manager, CEO, senior management team, and peers when working remotely than when working in the office.

· 86 percent of employees and 69 percent of HR directors report that business leaders in their organization are using technology to collaborate effectively and innovate.

· 73 percent of employees and 72 percent of HR directors think the increased use of technology in the future will break down hierarchies and lead to more open communication with business leaders and senior management teams that may advance their careers.

Organizations that provide employees with digital tools that remove the friction from work and enable them to be and do their best are the ones that will ultimately thrive. Because when employees feel empowered by the solutions they use rather than hamstrung by them, they can focus, innovate and deliver value. And the Citrix Talent Accelerator supports this notion, as 89 percent of employees who responded to the survey said that technology makes workers within their organization more productive.

Outcomes over Output

Work is no longer about getting the most out of people, but the best. Modern employees want to be measured on the value they deliver, not the volume, and expect to be given the space and trust they need to do their very best work, wherever they happen to be.

· 86 percent of employees who responded to the Citrix Talent Accelerator said they would prefer to work for a company that prioritizes outcome over output, but just 69 percent of HR directors say that their company currently operates in this way.

· 69 percent of workers say they are more productive — by an average of 72 percent — when they feel their employer trusts them to get the job done without monitoring their progress; while 51 percent of HR directors think that their organization would be more productive as a whole if their employer/senior management took this stance.

In the future, companies will need to rethink how they measure productivity because traditional metrics — and views that real work can’t get done outside the office — will no longer cut it. Forward-thinking companies recognize this and will focus on designing people-centric experiences that unlock the full potential of their employees and empower them to deliver transformative results.

Career Agility

The pandemic has upended the very way we live and work. New roles are fast emerging to support new business models sparked by changes in customer preferences and needs, and 82 percent of employees who took part in the Citrix Talent Accelerator believe that workers will need to hone their current skills or acquire new ones at least once a year in order to maintain competitive advantage in a global job market.

As the battle for talent heats up, it will be important for organizations to focus on cultivating the talent they already have, as well as recruiting externally. And one point on which employees and HR agree is that digital learning programs will be key to doing so. HR directors believe that ensuring an organization has the latest collaborative technology in place to enable agile learning is the most important factor in recruiting and retaining the best talent, and 88 percent of employees confirm this notion, saying that they look for this when searching for a new position.

Diversity Matters

Diversity isn’t just a boardroom agenda item. As the Citrix Talent Accelerator reveals, employees and HR directors alike believe it will be a defining feature of the future workforce:

· 86 percent of employees and two-thirds of HR directors believe that a diverse workforce will become even more important as roles, skills and company requirements change over time.

· 78 percent of employees and 69 percent of HR directors believe that neurodiversity is increasingly recognized in their organization and will drive competitive advantage in the future.

People want to work for companies where they can pursue their passions and explore, create and innovate alongside individuals with different perspectives to deliver meaningful outcomes. And as we progress and create a world where there is more equity and opportunity for all, companies must focus on creating diverse and inclusive environments in which employees can be their authentic and whole selves, take risks and are empowered to contribute to the business.

We live in the most uncertain of times. But one thing is clear: talent will be critical to not only recovering from the pandemic, but emerging stronger and better. Savvy organizations will embrace the chaos and the new, flexible work models that have been forced on them and cultivate a workforce that is flexible, agile, diverse and empowered to adapt to changing conditions and innovate quickly.



Tim Minahan

Tim Minahan is the executive vice president, business strategy and chief marketing officer at Citrix, a leading provider of digital workspace solutions.