As we enter another year of working from home due to Covid-19, many innovations ahead will acknowledge the shifting ways in which we now live and work. While many people will return to in-office work at some point, the demand for a new, hybrid work-life model will remain. With that said, here are four predictions for work and life in 2021:
1. Technology will become more natural and better integrated.
Video has emerged as a key tool for working from anywhere, but it still has far to go in order to be truly immersive. Whether in-office, at home or elsewhere, video meetings should mimic the feeling of sitting around a table together, including support for a more natural conversation mode. From a technological standpoint, this is a hard but necessary thing to do as we reinvent what meetings will look like moving forward.
In-home office spaces — and homes, in general — are ripe for evolution. Over the past decade, people increasingly left their homes for work, entertainment and more. Now that activities are restricted, there are opportunities to include modern technology in our everyday lived experiences. Cameras and screens no longer need to be relegated to laptops.
For instance, in my office, a camera and screen are mounted so that groups can participate in video calls. Few of us have replicated that experience at home, but imagine how different a virtual Thanksgiving would look if technology were positioned as a seat at the table. The pandemic has helped us connect better from a distance, and now we must keep those connections by building spaces mindful of such advancements.
2. Software development will improve education delivery.
While software development facilitating work-home life needs expansion and refinement, software supporting remote learning needs an overhaul, including more artificial intelligence (AI) support. Things like eye contact and engagement, which software features could track, are essential for making sure teachers can impart their lessons, especially for younger students. More creativity in engaging younger kids in remote learning needs to be fostered, including more research on what works (or doesn’t).
For college students, distance learning can be highly effective and should be ongoing. One positive outcome of the pandemic is the disruption in the cost of higher education. Many campuses no longer need to maintain the massive spaces that were built before technology existed. For colleges that opt to have virtual learning remain beyond its necessity, new avenues will open to students who may not have had an opportunity to pursue higher education before.
For much of rural America, this is a hopeful and far more accessible new world, especially if costs decrease. Lectures will look different when there is no need to rush to class and may even be asynchronous so that students can attend anytime, which facilitates degree attainment for those who must work to pay for school as they go. Software accommodates transcription, which can be tagged and searched so students can focus and participate in class without needing to catch every detail. For all in the education arena, collaboration software will become increasingly important to the flow of work.
3. In-home fitness opportunities will improve our self-care.
Self-care has enjoyed a revolution, too — especially group fitness classes. Companies like Peloton and Mirror disrupted and gamified the world of at-home exercise classes. For an even lower cost, workout programs like Supernatural VR, used on virtual reality devices like Oculus, serve as both fitness and entertainment.
Not only will this save people money on gym memberships, but it also saves time commuting to gyms. And a busy work-home day no longer means health sacrifices due to time constraints. Personally, I enjoy being able to see people in my exercise classes in this new way. The fact that I can work out with friends without leaving home has enabled connection during a time of great disconnect.
4. Medical costs will begin to reduce across the board.
On the medical front, lower costs of medical visits and prescription drugs are on the horizon. Drug development and testing during the pandemic have shown how these processes can be sped up with assistance from AI and machine learning and used to experiment with modifying drugs for new applications.
Faster, cheaper drug development is needed around the globe. Coupled with the opportunity to visit doctors virtually via telehealth, healthcare costs should decrease due to more intelligent AI-based diagnostics. More affordable medical care and prescription drugs will save more lives.
It would be remiss not to note some key opportunities for improvement that 2020 exposed, including the deep challenges of working from home and the adverse impact on women. How can companies rethink work-life balance for employees who are being pulled in multiple directions? Before the pandemic, employees didn’t have to be schoolteachers and day care providers atop their work. Covid-19 changed that, and companies must be sensitive to it.
One of my professors in business school used to ask, “What’s the bicycle of the future?” The answer is a custom bicycle. The future of work — and of work-home life — needs to be customizable, too. With mobile, flexible communications and collaboration tools available on any smart device, customized work is possible. We need to be increasingly sensitive to the flexibility aspect for the duration of the pandemic and for those who choose to make a lifestyle of flexible work.
Imagine: If we didn’t have the internet, not only would a lot more people be sick, but we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation about the shifting demands of work and life that were overdue long before necessity brought it to the forefront. Technology saved us this time around, and it can save us again — not only due to medical advances, but also by bringing to the forefront just how essential connection is in all facets of life, even from a distance. 2021 will do much more in that arena, forever changing how we live and work for the better.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.