2021 hopes and predictions

Heading out of a historically bad year for much of the Earth, it’s hard not to view 2021 through the lens of uncertainty. After all, the COVID-19 vaccines are only just now rolling out, key metrics are still trending up, and here in California there’s no reason to believe deadly forest fires (and perhaps orange skies) won’t return by the time we ring in 2022.

Are there at least a handful of ways in which some things could be better than before the pandemic? These are the best-case scenarios in three areas where I’m most hopeful.

Hybrid onsite/offsite work norms will become the default for more people.

Looking back at the Medium post on remote work that I wrote in May, conditions have advanced significantly, and corporate leadership has had many months to adjust and adapt their thinking.

In tech, Facebook is very much leaning ahead into a future of normalized remote work, with company currently expecting its employees to stay away from offices until July 2021. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg is confident that half of his employees will work remotely a decade from now. Twitter has gone a step further, letting its employees work from home with no expiration date.

Apple and Google, however, remain more cautious. Apple expects employees to be back onsite no earlier than June 2021, while Google is eyeing September. Both companies’ CEOs appear to have no interest in long-term fully remote work as a norm, though.

Personally, I’m all for hybrid approaches. With the type of work I do, I crave social, in-person collaboration, but heads-down work time in uninterruptible private conditions is also a necessity for closing issues, fine-tuning media files with Adobe apps, and hitting deadlines. Flexibility between those two states is a cocktail that I can get behind.

Commutes and public transportation will face a reckoning.

Public transportation faces pressure on multiple fronts right now. Systems have seen ridership crash into single-digit percentages of their former daily numbers. In the meantime, hundred-million-dollar drops in revenue have pushed balance sheets into such precarious places that emergency funding will likely be needed to sustain any kind of transition back to regular service. If that fails to happen, it’s the people who don’t have the option of working remotely who will be hit the hardest.

Just getting that funding to flow will be the first challenge, but easing passenger concerns about virus exposures will be important as well. Vaccinations will be a positive step, but there’s another remedy that would be great to see as well — and that’s staggered arrival times for employees who commute on these trains and buses to alleviate packed rush-hour conditions. In cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York, packed trains were awful experiences before the pandemic. Using the post-pandemic transition as an opportunity to imagine new possibilities on this front could turn commuting into a much more pleasant endeavor.

Renewable energy use will continue to rise.

Wind and solar use may not be rising at a necessary pace to avert climate catastrophe yet, but the good news from partial 2020 numbers is that the momentum is still going in the right direction, with reliance on coal continuing to drop.

At the same time, I’m hopeful that support for environmentally friendly policy will continue to rise and open new opportunities to address the dangers we still face. In fact, 64% of adults in the U.S. view protecting the environment something that should be a major concern for the government, according to Pew Research. That’s a percentage that continues to rise over time. So I hope we see some dividends in the form of action in 2021.