Remote Work: The Outlook for 2021

By redback

It’s clear that remote work is here to stay in 2021. Even in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, which have had considerable success in keeping cases of COVID-19 relatively low, that success has been hard-won after regional lockdowns and sector shut-downs. And those low transmission rates are being jealously guarded.

Employers that sent teams home to work last year are finding little reason to wind back that change in a wholesale fashion when 94% have found productivity to be the same as, or higher than, before the pandemic.

More than 80% of 127 company leaders surveyed by Gartner said they intend to allow remote working some of the time as employees return to the workplace.

Nearly half (47%) said they intend to allow employees to work remotely full time in their current jobs going forward.

According to Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends report, the preference is for a “hybrid approach that mixes remote working with a centralised office”.

According to our own research, only about 14% of employees want to return to work in the office full-time.


Benefits of remote work


What have the benefits been? We’ve all experienced them:

  • Increased flexibility for workers
  • Less time spent commuting
  • Fewer workplace distractions
  • Reduced office and rental costs


The Cons of remote work


There are negatives, although these are perhaps less visible. These include:

  • Difficulty communicating and remote team-building
  • Wellness issues around a more sedentary lifestyle and social isolation
  • Family-based interruptions
  • Difficulty switching off from work.


So what should we keep in mind going into another year in which remote work is likely to be part of the norm for most of us, rather than a privilege enjoyed by a minority?


1. Work will be evaluated in terms of tasks completed, quality and outcomes rather than time


Attitudes to remote work are becoming increasingly important to employees who are used to greater flexibility than they may have had in the past.

Employers who recognise this will increasingly allow employees to complete work in their own time, as long as they’re available for regular meetings and the employer has visibility over what they’re working on. “Organisations will increasingly focus on work done instead of hours worked,” reports Forbes.


2. The remote workplace includes tools to support asynchronous work


Being able to complete work at different times of the day — and even in different time zones — needs to be supported with tools that make communication easy, whether that be instant messaging services, project and workflow management software or other tools.


3. Videoconferencing will remain the lifeblood of remote work


Videoconferencing and webinar platforms have allowed in-person meetings and events to shift to a remote environment but security, quality, connectivity and bandwidth all need to be considered in the longer term. Richer videoconferencing experiences may demand even more from the capacity of corporate networks, while there is likely to be greater demand for collaborative features such as digital whiteboards and breakout chat rooms.


4. Hybrid work may present greater challenges than fully remote teams


A communications and cultural divide often emerges between physically co-located team members and remote workers, according to behavioural researcher Anita Williams Woolley. “Research shows that the biggest problems come when a team is divided between some members who work remotely and some who are co-located,” Woolley says. “Those [leaders] who are physically co-located frequently forget to fill the remote members in on key details or fail to understand what [remote members] know or don’t know.”

It will be important to take a structured approach to meeting and communicating in a hybrid environment. You may choose to have specific days for in-person meetings and collaboration, and other days allocated for remote work, or reserve certain types of work — such as brainstorming — for workplace days and conduct work-in-progress meetings remotely.


5. Physical workplaces will change


With fewer team members in the office and physical distancing a requirement, employers will reconfigure existing workplaces. Individual desk space may be replaced with more meeting spaces, training rooms or individual phone booths. Hot-desking — once disliked by workers who favoured a personalised workspace and the routine of sitting in the same location — will be more acceptable in a climate in which people are less often in the office.

Workplaces may shift to a “desk for the day” policy, in which people reserve a particular desk ahead of time, and have exclusive use of it for a whole day, with strict overnight cleaning protocols in place, as well as clear signage indicating whether a desk is in use, free, or needs cleaning.


6. Remote workplace culture will be a talent magnet


A progressive approach to remote work is likely to become a differentiator when it comes to hiring top talent, with workers who have become used to flexible arrangements unlikely to accept a wholesale return to the office. Some workplaces have begun acknowledging the shift by paying remote work stipends, or facilitating their employees to work out of home without coming into a centralised office.

Whatever your approach, we look forward to finding better ways to work and collaborate as we continue along the remote and hybrid work journey in 2021.