How to Navigate Remote Work and Help Employees Thrive in 2021

When we rang in the New Year, there was a palpable sense of relief that 2020 was behind us. Then came the realization that, from a remote work standpoint at least, not much has changed in early 2021.

In fact, research shows we are working more than ever. A Robert Half study finds more than half (55%) of professionals who transitioned to a remote setup due to the pandemic are working on the weekend, and one-third (34%) of remote employees report regularly putting in more than eight hours a day.

How to Navigate Remote Work and Help Employees Thrive in 2021

The stress of work combined with a pandemic is taking its toll. In a May 2020 study by Leger and Teladoc, half of respondents said their mental health has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index has shown a consistent negative mental health score among Canadians since the start of the pandemic.

So how can employers do things differently in 2021 so that their workforce doesn’t suffer through burnout? Here are three tips.

1. Be flexible.

If there’s one thing we learned in 2020, it’s that flexibility is key. As we deal with a second wave of COVID-19, most of us are still working remotely, and many are struggling to balance work with family and other commitments. Giving employees the flexibility in their schedules to do what they need to do—whether it’s grocery shopping when the stores are less busy, helping a child with their schoolwork or caring for an aging parent—can make a big difference in their mental health.

Trends in Health and Wellness

It’s vital that employers think about how to maintain that flexibility when we return to a more normal work environment. For example, a December 2020 survey of more than 9,000 workers by Future Forum by Slack found that almost half (48%) expect their employer to make permanent policy changes to expand remote working post-pandemic.

2. Be human.

One positive change in 2020 was that some of the walls came down between our personal and our professional lives. For the first time, it was ok if your dog started barking during a presentation or your kid interrupted your Zoom meeting to ask for a glass of juice.

From a leadership standpoint, being human means being genuine and transparent in your employee communications, remembering to thank workers for their efforts and providing personal recognition. Research from HubSpot finds that 69% of employees say they’d work harder if they were better appreciated. Conveying that appreciation is even more important now, many months into the pandemic, when people may find their focus and energy flagging.

3. Be prepared to pivot.

2020 was a transformational year, yet the impact wasn’t all negative. While struggling to adapt in a constantly changing environment, many organizations learned they could move more quickly than they’d ever imagined. In some cases, the pandemic helped push initiatives forward—like digitization and technological innovation—that could otherwise have lagged behind.

Take Rogers Communications, for example. The company was able to roll out several new initiatives—including virtual health care—to its employees in record time.

“The health crisis has been an interrupter for all of us, both in a good and bad way,” says Jason Traetto, Director of Benefits, Wealth and Recognition Programs, with Rogers. “The loss of life, impact on our health care system, limitations with our living and working habits have been terrible. But we’ve also had an opportunity to make changes to outdated manual processes to operate in a more digital environment and accelerate the pace of new initiatives to support the changing needs of our team members, today and for future generations.”

[Upcoming Webcast: COVID-19 Vaccines: Implications for Canadian Employers | February 9, 2021]

Looking Ahead

As we plan for 2021 and beyond, timing is the big unknown. How long will it take to roll out the vaccine in Canada? When will employees feel safe returning to the physical workplace?

With the ongoing uncertainty, it’s likely that even more adjustments will be required in 2021. Your organization will need to have a primary plan and a contingency plan – and a contingency plan for your contingency plan. And you’ll need to be prepared to change it again if circumstances change.

We are all doing our best to navigate these incredibly unusual times. The best thing your organization can do right now is to acknowledge that— and show that you’ll be there to support your workers, no matter what 2021 brings.

Related Reading: 7 Skills You Need to Be a Successful Remote Worker

Alyssa Hodder
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada

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