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What’s next for remote working in 2021?

14 Dec 2020

As we exit crisis mode, the real challenges of remote working will begin to emerge, writes Elaine Burke.

Last year, our Careers reporter Lisa Ardill published what turned out to be an incredibly prescient headline. ‘Will 2020 be the year of working in your pyjamas?’ was published exactly one year ago and, at that point, we had no idea how emphatic a ‘yes’ the answer would be.

Remote working, whether in your pyjamas or not, became the standard mode of operation for many in 2020. This year has been a mass experiment of remote working – something that wouldn’t have happened without a pandemic putting the pressure on employers to try it out.

But the resistance companies may have had to remote working in the past will have to stay there, as employers have now been thrust into a world where this form of work has, at the very least, been proven possible.

With any luck, 2021 will be the year of the promised ‘new normal’. Should we manage to get Covid-19 numbers under control and distribute vaccines to frontline workers and the most vulnerable in society, the new year could see us emerging from our 2020 cocoons as a transformed digital workforce.

The benefits of remote working and distributed teams have been widely touted, but please indulge me in this brief summary: a happier workforce who can build work into their lives and not the other way around; lower costs with no need for office rental and related facilities; a team empowered to work smarter, optimising their abilities in ways tailored to the individual; the ability to hire from anywhere, spreading the net for your potential employees as wide as possible.

That’s all very wholesome and positive but as we exit the crisis mode of remote working brought by 2020, we have to prepare for the everyday challenges it will bring in the long term.

People managers in particular face the daunting challenge of maintaining a sense of community at a distance. This is, perhaps, the major reason why hybrid will triumph over fully remote in the near future. Recreating the magic and spontaneity of human interaction is a tremendous challenge and the simpler option is to continue incorporating it in some way, as soon as Covid allows. How exactly that will happen is a question employers need to start preparing an answer for now.

Managers must also get a handle on spotting employee burnout risks from behind a screen. Remote working can be a double-edged sword for the diligent worker. It offers the flexibility to work how you like, but if you like to keep ticking away at a project regardless of the hours clocked, the loss of oversight from a supervisor over your shoulder telling you it’s time to log off puts more onus on the individual to keep themselves in check.

But the duty of care remains with the employer, who will have to be watchful of how working asynchronously can sometimes mean colleagues are burning the midnight oil and potentially wearing themselves thin, all because it’s too easy to just jump into that next task (especially as you didn’t even have to get dressed today).

Ardill, our resident fortune-teller, has yet to give us her full forecast for what 2021 might bring, but there is one thing already written in the stars: she will start the new year as Silicon Republic’s Careers editor, continuing to hone her insight into what’s next in the world of work. She will be our guide and yours through the new normal of hybrid and remote working, seeking out the advice that will help both employers and employees find the best version of work in a much more flexible landscape.

Follow her insights here and on Twitter. Who knows, maybe she’ll foresee 2021 as the year of perfected work-life balance?

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Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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