Remote Work Predictions for 2021

As 2020 draws to a close (and who isn’t pleased to see the back of it!) we pull out the crystal-ball for RemoteWork360’s 12 predictions for remote work in 2021.

1. Remote work is here to stay

From the FT, to CNN, Bloomberg to Google and Twitter to Facebook – you’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen heard or read the news that many companies are planning to make remote work a more permanent part of their working approach, in one way or another.

2. Remote work will become a new battle ground in retention

Remote work is embraced by some companies more than others – and by some employees more than others – but what is becoming standardized across the board, is the expectation of a degree of choice with regard to remote working, going forward.  Employers that attempt to “return to normal” post Covid, and bring all employees back to the office without question will find themselves facing a battle in staff retention.  The ability to work remotely and flexibly will increasingly become an expected part of employment contracts and those that refuse to bow, will find themselves losing some of their best staff.

3. Hybrid remote working will be disastrous for many

As businesses acknowledge the need to include remote work flexibility, as outlined above, many will adopt a semi-flexible approach, allowing employees to work from home and in the office.  A lot of businesses will struggle to get this right – trying to find the balance between employer and employee needs, manage their available office space, deal with potential variations across teams and avoid creating two tiers of employee or a business culture which outwardly embraces remote work but quietly rewards presenteeism.  Hybrid remote work is a humdinger of a brainsteaser to get right – plenty won’t

4. Remote work policies will need to be re-defined and tightened

Until 2020, employers have notoriously jettisoned the idea of remote or flexible working for employees, suggesting that a role simply couldn’t effectively be carried out, without being in the office.  This year has proven that’s not the case and employers will therefore find themselves having to revisit and rewrite their flexible home working policies, to incorporate more…flexibility.

5. Remote work will be heralded for its impact on carbon reduction

We’ve all been buried in the nitty-gritty of working remotely effectively.  But as it becomes the new normal and we look around at this new world, calculations around carbon reduction impacts will become commonplace.  Businesses, desperate to improve on their sustainability goals, will herald their carbon saving from the lack of travel to business conferences and exhibitions, their reductions in commuter-carbon, their reductions in office footprint – and, having bagged and trophied these reductions, will tighten policies around business travel to try to sustain them

6. Remote living will become a “thing”

There will be a rise in RVs and associated business parks to accommodate digital nomads, or to manage the flux of employees that have moved out of state, coming in and out of their office environments on an ad-hoc basis – or so says Chris Herd – along with 99 other remote work predicitons here: https://chrisherd.medium.com/100-predictions-about-the-future-of-work-and-living-2468d6dcab25

7. Conferences, exhibitions, sales meetings and AGMs will change

The carbon reductions mentioned above will undoubtedly influence decisions about participating in and travelling to global events.  That said, the isolation and fragmentation caused by Covid19 will make coming together a far more cherished, important, deliberate act undertaken more gratefully and with more relish than before.  Furthermore, many businesses will have extended their remote employees, who may not have yet met each other and therefore bringing them together will become essential.  The overall result – a reduction in quantity but improvements in quality of coming together when it involves travel.

8. Businesses will revisit their office-remote configurations

Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics agrees  – points out that approx. $11000 per year is saved for each employee who works remotely, 50% of the time.  Office space is a heavy overhead to carry – particularly if it’s being under-utilised, and whilst cost-savings won’t and shouldn’t drive the transformation toward remote work, it’s bound to come into the equation.

9. Cities will change shape

There’s been much concern on the impact of remote work on Cities – the commerce of restaurants and retailers that grow in a hub around communities of workers.  There is various speculation  – that large cities like LA and NY will shrink (are already shrinking, say some) – The Atlantic argues that this will fundamentally change American politics, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/just-small-shift-remote-work-could-change-everything/614980/

10. The gig economy goes mainstream

An increase in redundancies caused by Covid, combined with unprecedented access to materials, information, bandwidth and opportunities has meant an increase in freelancers and a gig economy.  The gig economy was already flourishing pre-Covid, and with many out of work, the opportunity to combine several jobs and to pick up work on a more ad-hoc basis will be far less “alternative” and will become more mainstream.

11. Remote workers won’t be called remote workers

When everyone works flexibly or remote, we no longer feel the need to label it – few people generally call themselves -in-office workers, they won’t call themselves remote workers in time either, as it will no longer be unusual, remarkable, or worth mentioning as it becomes more commoditised

12. Or…An Alternative Reality – the rush back to the office

One theory doing the rounds is that the enforced work-from-home mandated by Covid19 will create a backlash rush to the office, once things return to normal.   The thinking is that remote work covid-style hasn’t been great for many employees – particularly younger workers who may live in shared or crowded spaces and who miss the social aspects of the office, in addition to the easier learning of an office environment.

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