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Automation, which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has significantly disrupted the world of work. This is leading to new forms of employment that are replacing the traditional full-time open-ended contract model, according to the 2021 edition of Randstad’s Flexibility@Work: Embracing Change report. 

The new report offers employers a detailed look into emerging trends with deep dives into technology advances, flexible labour, diversity and inclusion, automation and sustainability and includes insights from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and WorldSkills International.

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  • KEY TAKEAWAY: Individuals who typically did not fit into the traditional 40-hour, nine-to-five work-week format are better able to enter the workforce and are transforming the way organisations approach talent sourcing. 

Exploring the developments of work over the recent decades, the report contains extensive comparable global data sets on; unemployment, employment (labour participation), part time employment, self-employment and temporary employment - dating back to 2012.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted how businesses operate and has sped up the global trend of digitalisation, it has also allowed us to improve our technology, connectivity and mobility. If organisations want to successfully recover, they must ensure their workforce is prepared to meet emerging business demands, especially as the nature of work undergoes such a radical transformation. It’s essential that public and private stakeholders collaborate to identify and provide opportunities for more individuals to effectively enter and stay in the labour market.”

Randstad CEO, Jacques van den Broek

According to new data, temporary work arrangements are on the rise, and both the growing gig economy and available pool of flexible workers will play a key role in global economic recovery efforts. These types of flexible labour relations allow companies to quickly adjust their workforce size and composition based on needs, processes and business goals, but also creates challenges to ensure that workers have opportunities and entry points to establish their careers.

Working arrangements are becoming more diverse, and we must endeavour to properly understand these non-standard and innovative forms of work. We must think about entry points and opportunities. It’s tremendously important that people find decent jobs at the beginning of their working lives. This has a positive impact on their lifelong employment prospects.

Guy Ryder, Director-General of the ILO

Despite an increase in total employment, on average, one in seven individual workers will be faced with job loss as a direct result of automation. Based on key insights from the report, organisations will need to focus on three core areas in 2021: improving workplace flexibility, implementing widespread reskilling efforts and building a sustainable labour market. 

Remote work is rapidly becoming a mainstay for many companies, and the trend brings with it new challenges. Employers will need to introduce new forms of workplace flexibility and ensure all employees have equal opportunities to advance professionally.


We have an opportunity to build on the experience of 2020 and move from remote work to smart work. That means not only working from home, but working better and in more effective ways too. We also need to reconsider the purpose of our workplaces, in order to make them even more suitable for the hybrid forms of interactions they will facilitate going forward.

Stefano Scarpetta, director for Labour, Employment and Social Affairs at OECD

The report also found that as discussions around diversity and inclusion emerge, encouraging equity in the workforce will be a major consideration for organisations. An organisation's ability to overcome discrimination and exclusion will better position it to build a sustainable workforce that successfully meets and exceeds business goals. 

With almost 500 million jobs lost and 2 billion people struggling in informal work, people need a ‘new social contract’ that delivers recovery and resilience. Workers need jobs, rights for all workers, and the due diligence to hold corporations accountable when those rights are violated. They demand universal social protection and equality of income, gender and race. And workers are calling for inclusion that ensures peace as a basis for a new economic development model that provides opportunities for generations of people everywhere.

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

It's clear that the COVID-19 pandemic caused more disruption to global productivity than any geopolitical conflict or financial crisis, and public and private entities will be focused on recovery efforts throughout 2021. For business leaders, 2021 will be a time to redefine and reimagine the world of work, with a key focus on how agility, reskilling and sustainability will play integral roles in stabilising the global economy.

Adaptability is critical for the workforce, which is why there is such a big emphasis on transferable skills. You’re not so much trying to get people to do a particular job, but instead trying to get them to understand a particular application of their skills. People need to be taught how to learn as opposed to exactly what to learn.

David Hoey, CEO of WorldSkills International