The entirety of 2020 was a wild one. From wildfires to social unrest to COVID, 2020 threw one unsettling scenario after the next. But on the bright side, 2020 ushered in the year of an unprecedented change: working from home. According to research, anywhere from 20% to 40% of Americans now work from home. But will the trend continue or increase in 2021? No one can say for certain. But Virtual Vocations has a few predictions for working from home in 2021. Although only time will tell if these predictions ring true, having reasonable expectations and views of 2021 can help you plan for the future—both as an employee and an employer.
1. Work From Home 2021 vs. 2020
From an overall perspective, 2020 was the year of remote work. Thousands of companies went fully remote while others implemented indefinite extensions or permanent work from home policies. However, some experts believe that this may have been the height of remote work, simply due to the skewed figures created by employment during COVID. To this effect, a sizable portion of onsite workers was furloughed or laid-off and may return to work, diminishing the overall percentage of employees working virtually.
Interestingly, other reports show a strong trend for the number of remote workers to double over the course of 2021, as reported through a survey from Enterprise Research Technology. Add it all up, and no one really seems to know exactly what will happen. Furthermore, a number of other aspects will play major determinants in whether work from home 2021 will look like it did in 2020.
COVID Vaccinations, Legalities, and Availability
Working from home in 2021 may look similar to 2020, but this depends on numerous factors. One of these aspects is the COVID vaccine. Many vaccines are still in their infancy in terms of real-world testing and distribution, while actual efficacy rates aren’t yet available, despite most pharmaceutical companies claiming a 95%+ efficacy rate in testing. In addition, the availability of vaccinations is still a gray area; no one’s quite sure how many will be available moving forward. That said, vaccinations are also being offered to the elderly and front-line healthcare workers first, adding to the uncertainty of vaccination availability to workers in other industries or based on age.
The legality of employers to mandate vaccinations may also lead to issues in 2021. While the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from conducting medical examinations, it doesn’t explicitly state whether employers can or can’t require a vaccine. Without a legal precedent requiring vaccination, some lawyers agree that employers probably can require a vaccine, but an employee can also refuse it. However, the “at-will” status of many employment arrangements may force some workers to take the vaccine, regardless of whether they want to or not.
This can lead not only to a sticky legal situation but also to resentment from employees, especially if the intent of a vaccination is to move the workplace back to a brick-and-mortar office. As a result, employers may find issues with vaccinations for work from home 2021.
A Strong Desire to Continue Working From Home
To add to the uncertainty, a Gallup poll also found that up to 2/3 of remote workers want to continue working from home. If some employers want to return to a traditional office setting, this could potentially cause problems in terms of employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction. This is because workers who have fallen into the remote work lifestyle may be less likely to head back to the office or work for an employer that eliminates the perk of virtual employment.
The same Gallup poll also reported that workers are returning en masse to physical offices since September—as many as 46% of workers previously working from home. This is a striking sign that this trend may continue once regional outbreaks subside and vaccinations become more widely available. And while the fear of COVID contraction at work is split about 50/50, this same consternation may discourage some employers from returning to the office—at least in the near future.
2. What Industry Leaders Are Planning for 2021
Industry leaders are planning for work from home 2021 in numerous ways. While these plans may not directly pertain to small or mid-sized online businesses, their ideas may offer a starting point for other companies in 2021. Here are some of the global giants and how they are designing a workforce in a COVID and post-COVID world.
Although Amazon deemed delivery and warehouse workers essential for onsite work, workers capable of working from will continue to do so until June 30, 2021. This is the third time that Amazon has extended its work from home deadline, with prior dates of Oct. 8, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021. While the company hasn’t issued a policy on permanent work from home 2021 arrangements, recent history shows the retail giant isn’t scared to extend their remote working deadline well into the future.
Tech giant Apple was a forerunner in extending work from home, giving their latest announcement in July 2020. Based on this statement, Apple fully plans to let its office-based employees to continue to work from home until at least July 2021. Apple is also taking a proactive approach to limit COVID exposure to its onsite retail employees, closing as many as 14 retail stores at a time due to regional COVID outbreaks.
Like Amazon and Apple, Facebook joins the ranks of major employers that extended their work from home arrangements until July 2021 after extending the deadline numerous times throughout early 2020. Yet one major distinction is that Facebook has plans to hire a Director of Remote Work. This unprecedented new role will help new staff acclimate to remote work, as well as promote a similar employee experience among workers, regardless of where they’re located. Whether the trend of a remote work czar will spread to other companies is still up in the air. But it does show a shift in company structure, organization, and responsibility that may become popular in other similarly sized companies.
According to a recent report from CNBC, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is extending the company’s work from home arrangement until at least September 2021, setting the plan farther in the future than almost any other company. But unlike some other companies such as Twitter that have implemented a permanent work from home policy, Pichai and Google maintain that it will not endorse any type of permanent policy. Instead, it favors a hybrid work from home policy, which splits workers’ time between home and the office.
3. How Employers Can Prepare Employees for Work at Home 2021
Transitioning to remote work is a difficult process for both employers and employees. According to a Society for Human Resource Management, 71% of companies are struggling with remote work. This not only includes operations but also employee morale, engagement, and sentiment toward employers. Yet the crux of adaptation lies mostly on the shoulders of the employer. To prepare employees for work at home 2021, here are some tips for employers.
Improving Employee Engagement
At its simplest, employee engagement is a measurement of how your employees feel about their job and the organization. Without daily face-to-face interactions or a straightforward remote work policy, such engagement can wane. But you still have options. This may include:
- Starting a virtual happy hour or other online social functions
- Maintain a flexible work policy in terms of family life and medical issues such as COVID contraction
- An open-door policy
- Open lines of communication and regular check-ins with workers
You may also want to get regular feedback from your employees. This will allow you to tweak your policies to be more inclusive, as well as increase morale and engagement.
Use the Technological Tools at Your Disposal
Email and videoconferencing software is all well and good for many online workers. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t stop your technological efforts there. Use every type of software and program you can to ensure your employees are in good mental health, as well as keeping up with your expectations as an employer.
Online collaboration software such as Slack and Asana are two programs that can dramatically improve employee engagement. Through these platforms, you can send instant messages, stay updated with projects and workflow, and even create a social channel to allow co-workers to interact or joke around.
You may also want to enrich the employee experience with continued education or certificate programs. In an onsite setting, providing training and education to employees is easy; in the virtual world, it’s more cumbersome. And while you can use your online training modules, don’t forget about other convenient options such as:
- Hubspot Academy
- LinkedIn Learning
By giving online learning options, you not only increase their engagement, but you also show how much you care. That’s something that every remote employee needs moving into the work from home 2021 season.
4. How Employees Can Thrive While Working From Home in 2021
Although employees can maintain morale and engagement, employees still have a responsibility to remain productive and thrive while working from home in 2021. If you struggled through 2020, here are some tips to make your professional life one to remember in the coming year.
Show Up to Events
Even if you’re an introvert or camera-shy, make every effort to show up to online events. While typically not mandatory, these events are designed to help you interact with others and remove some of the isolation associated with remote work. Remember that you don’t have to be the center of attention. Just showing your face is enough to allow a bit of bonding and let your employers know that you care.
Get a Feel for It
Hopefully, 2020 was a good year for experimentation in your remote role. But if you haven’t figured it out quite yet, don’t worry. Just do some soul-searching and trial-and-error as to what makes you productive and happy. This may mean working a certain set of hours, getting some exercise, or rearranging the home office. Getting a feel for it will take some time, but with most remote work policies extending, you have some extra time on your hands to figure out the proper work-life balance.
Do you have tons of questions as you navigate the virtual workplace? Chances are you’re not alone. That’s why you should communicate effectively and often. Not only will you get an answer to a particular question, but you may also obtain an answer for those that were too shy to ask. That’s a win-win on both an organizational and colleague-to-colleague level.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Remote work can breed complacency, but it’s not entirely your fault. Constant distractions, family life, and even the media can cause you to lose focus. Even if you’re feeling unfocused, however, you can still do one thing to ensure personal and professional growth: hold yourself accountable. By doing so, you can ensure that you stay on top of important tasks and projects without falling behind.
While the future of work from home 2021 remains relatively unknown, creating contingency plans and expecting COVID to remain a factor in the global workforce is a reasonable thought. But this isn’t a one-and-done idea. An effective plan will need constant tweaking that revolves around vaccinations, the health and well-being of workers, and productivity. Yet with a bit of forward-thinking and regular oversight, employers and employees can tackle 2021. Just cross your fingers that it’s not a repeat of 2020. If it is, at least you’re prepared.
Do you have any predictions for working from home in 2021? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you!
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