Home-office businessman talking on phone

The pandemic fast-tracked the evolution of remote work and has been the talk of the town ever since. Before the pandemic, the state of remote work was different and the practice was always thought of as a privilege and a nice perk that companies offer. Now, remote work has become the norm and all companies are forced to adapt. Everyone had to create a crisis plan as fast as they could. We at Kanban Zone even prepared a pandemic preparedness plan adapted from the process of the World Health Organization. Everyone had to rise to the occasion to adapt and survive the effects of the pandemic.

But along with adapting in an agile manner, we see consequent effects of this pandemic on the state of remote work this year and the years to come. The emergence of the different focus areas that companies should keep an eye out for will greatly determine how they thrive in these extraordinary times. Here’s how we’re seeing the pandemic changing the state of remote work in 2021. 

The State of Remote Work in 2021

Remote work will be permanent

Gone are the days where remote work was just a perk offered by the coolest companies. Employees will expect and demand flexibility. And if you want to be the top employer in your niche, then you need to offer remote work as a staple work agreement. In BlueFace’s 2018 Business Communications Technology Report, they predicted that remote work will challenge fixed office spaces as a primary work method by 2025. We all know how 2020 panned out and that this prediction has come to fruition. 

As companies start to bounce back in 2021, minimizing costs will be a top priority. With having gone through almost a year doing remote work, companies will look to reduce long-term fixed leases. More companies will go for a hybrid model and allow employees to work offsite and onsite. Satellite offices, co-working space incentives, and other programs that provide flexibility to employees will be more prevalent. This will allow companies to manage costs while keeping their employees engaged.

Health and wellbeing will be a top priority

The pandemic took a toll on everyone economically, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Those rocky first few months into the pandemic, anxiety was at an all-time high. Employees were worried about their jobs while also thinking about their health. Some businesses had to shut down. Others had to let go of their employees. Some even caught the virus and others succumbed to it.

The whole world was in crisis and I believe you would agree that we were all having our individual crises too. The state of remote work in 2021 pushes companies to focus more attention on their employees’ health and wellbeing. It’s a different case when you’re working remotely out of flexibility as opposed to forcibly because of a pandemic. Long periods of isolation and quarantine have been proven to induce adverse psychological consequences. Working remotely has its downsides especially on one’s mental health. But these can be avoided and managed. 

Companies will need to come up with programs that put employees’ health and wellbeing first. Managers will have the greatest impact in shaping health and wellbeing programs for their direct reports. Frequent one-on-one check-ins, virtual team building activities, Managers need to lead with empathy and compassion during these challenging times. This will help them keep their employees engaged and working productively.

Enhanced Cybersecurity Measures

Cybersecurity is another top focus area in this year’s state of remote work. With everyone working from their homes, ensuring accessibility while maintaining security will be crucial. As more companies turn to the cloud for their operations, cybersecurity teams need to double up on measures to secure data across all borders. We’ll see more companies adopt a risk-based approach to cybersecurity as opposed to a vulnerability-based one. And with the accelerated shift to digital and the cloud, companies will look for cloud services to provide built-in security measures to reduce the risks of cyberattacks.

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Performance Management Changes with the Times

The state of remote work in 2021 pushes the envelope when it comes to performance management. Up to this point, companies especially HR and performance managers are grappling with the idea of evaluating employees’ work as they work remotely. 

Feedback is a fundamental aspect of performance management. The idea is it’s easier to provide feedback when people are personally together. You can make eye contact. It’s easier to build rapport and trust. But how do you do that when you’re working miles away from the rest of your team? 

Constant communication will be a significant factor for performance management in 2021 and beyond. Managers must use technology to their advantage as this is what bridges the geographical gap. 

Managers must adopt results-based metrics to measure productivity and performance. While time tracking tools can be useful, they should not be the absolute basis of productivity. Managers need to get more involved by having multiple avenues to communicate with their teams. Remote team meetings, one-on-one’s, explicit remote work policies, and working agreements will help managers get a better understanding of how their teams are working. Peer feedback will also be helpful when reviewing another team member’s work. 

The distance can make it difficult for you and your employees to be on the same page. But that doesn’t mean you are left helpless. Setting clear expectations from the get-go will help establish a common understanding between employees and managers. Follow through with frequent check-ins and you will have a better picture of how work is progressing across your team. You can read our blog for more tips on how to become a better remote team leader.

All these measures boil down to one crucial component – trust. Trust should be at the foundation of building an inclusive virtual work environment for your company. When you trust your employees to get the job done, they’ll be motivated to turn in great work. 

Increased Reliance on Automation and Mobile Technologies for Collaboration and Training

The state of remote work in 2021 puts the spotlight on automation and mobile technologies for collaboration and training. Digital project initiatives have been put on steroids for most companies and everyone is clamoring for the best remote collaboration tools to arm their teams. Not only that, but more companies are switching to AI for learning and development initiatives. 

We’ll see more companies focus on getting their technology stack in place and ensuring their operations have a digital component. More businesses will leverage automation to speed up their processes and lessen manual burden. More companies will look to use project management methodologies, such as Kanban, that allow them to visually see the work their remote teams are doing. Project management tools that do more than just manage and assign employee tasks will be desired.

The Evolution of the Work From Home Experience

The state of remote work this year is very clear – remote work is here to stay. Employees and companies will both evolve and this evolution will bring forth challenges as well as new tactics to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape of remote work.

Everything will be fast-tracked so we can get to a stable state where everyone feels comfortable with working remotely. Employees will look to set up their own home offices. Companies will look to make their remote operations more robust and secure. Managers will look to increase and maintain engagement despite the geographical boundaries. The state of remote work in 2021 may look challenging but it will surely be a rewarding experience.

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