4 Remote Work Lessons From 2020

4 Remote Work Lessons From 2020

Saying goodbye to 2020 felt like the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” moment. As much as we’re all eager to put the trials and tribulations of last year behind us—there is something to be said for reflecting on the lessons we’ve learned.

Here are 4 things I learned in 2020, and how I think we can apply them in 2021.

Lesson 1: Aim for Adaptability

The two basic responses to adversity that I saw in 2020 are exemplified in the story of the Oak and the Reed from Aesop’s Fables. The oak stands tall against the raging wind, while the reeds bend low. As the story goes, the reeds are unharmed by the powerful gusts of wind because of their flexibility while the oak is ripped up by the roots.

In 2020, teams that had already learned to adapt to new technology, and had already embraced some form of remote work had a much easier time transitioning their workforce during the shelter-in-place.

What does this mean for 2021?

Those who pay attention to the upcoming trends, and adapt early will have an easier time transitioning than those who resist change until it is forced upon them. Commit to placing value on continuing education and new technology, so that your team stays agile and adaptable.

Lesson 2: Ergonomics Is Not Just an Upsell

I had only been sitting at my kitchen table for a couple of hours before I started to miss my desk chair. Though ergonomics isn’t limited to work-from-home spaces, this year was the first time I realized just how important it actually is.

What does this mean for 2021?

If you’re at home, experiment with different screen heights or maybe try a new keyboard. Workstations are as unique as the people using them, so take the time to optimize your setup—wherever that may be.

Lesson 3: Learn to Keep ‘Office Hours’

Some managers are concerned that their employees who are working from home aren’t really working while they're at home. There are countless memes about lost productivity, Netflix bingeing while on the clock, and general remote-worker laziness.

While those memes are certainly entertaining, they may not actually reflect reality. A working paper published last July by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, compared to pre-pandemic metrics, employees were spending 8.2% more time working, or 48.5 more minutes per day.

What does this mean for 2021?

If you’re working from home, consider keeping “office hours”, even if you’ve been salaried for years. Set timers on your phone for clock-in and clock-out times to make sure you’re actually logging off, and tell your co-workers when you’re “in the office” and when you’re not. Set boundaries for your co-workers AND for yourself.

Lesson 4: Battle Burnout

That extra 45 minutes a day spent working may seem like a good thing, especially to employers —but there is a downside to it. A poll from July 2020 by Monster.com found that 69% of workers were experiencing burnout symptoms, a trend that was already on the rise before the pandemic.

So, how do we fight it? First things first: hosting a Zoom Happy Hour, or directing employees to a yoga YouTube channel does not count as being “mental-health conscious”.

To make meaningful strides toward a better work-life balance, leaders should walk the walk by taking time off and maintaining real boundaries when it comes to working hours.

What does this mean for 2021?

As an employer or manager, do what you can to make it clear to your employees that taking care of themselves will not be seen as a flaw. Counter “hustle culture” that teaches people that showing up early and leaving late is a badge of honor. As an employee, try not to feel guilty for taking care of yourself.

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