Lessons learnt from 2020 can help aspiring entrepreneurs in the coming year

The pandemic accelerated the uptick in digitisation and remote working

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When I bid my parents farewell back in February before I travelled, I didn’t know it would a while before we were reunited. I also never imagined I would lose a relative to the virus, and that I would be unable to be there for friends who fell sick from it.

If there is one thing that people would agree on this year, it is that 2020 has been a challenging year. We lost more than 1.7 million people worldwide to the virus, and almost everyone’s life has been affected one way or another by it. Many of us worked, celebrated and mourned in isolation.

And yet, amid all the craziness, it has not all been terrible. Beyond the headlines, curfews and travel embargos, new possibilities and opportunities are arising. That is not only good news for businesses but also for our environment.

Throughout the years, writers and experts encouraged businesses to embrace remote work and help their employees maintain a work-life balance. The restrictions that were imposed earlier this year hastened the process and employers are beginning to realise that not only does it work, it is also cost-efficient.

Businesses that allow employees to work from home half the time, save an average of $11,000 per employee, according to Global Workplace Analytics. On an employee level, remote workers generally save an average $4,000 per year by working from home, according to Flexjobs, a service that helps people find flexible jobs.

Remote work also brought along tremendous opportunities from tapping talent around the world to reducing time spent commuting to and from meetings to cutting out unnecessary costs.

With everything happening in the digital space and more people embracing e-commence, we could witness the rise of more innovative digital start-ups. Dubai's Startup Hub, an initiative by Dubai's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, registered an annual 236 per cent increase in memberships in the first half of 2020.

More start-ups that specialise in e-commerce, supply chain, FinTech, and education have joined the initiative.

As businesses experience the benefits of remote work, and employees of some companies such as Twitter work from home indefinitely, this news could positively impact our environment and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The health crisis temporarily cut carbon dioxide emissions in countries such as China by 25 per cent, according the Carbon Brief.

While some experts believe that this is temporary and the numbers could jump back up once people travel freely, I hope that more people would think twice and incorporate sustainable choices in their lives. If more companies embrace a permanent remote work model, less commuting will mean less traffic and more sustainable lives.

Our limited travel options this year also meant that many of us had a chance to strengthen familial ties, embrace our surroundings and explore the outdoors.

The “World’s Coolest Winter” campaign launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, encourages people to explore the UAE’s hidden gems this season, in line with ambitions to double the domestic tourism industry’s contribution of $11.2 billion to gross domestic product by 2030.

All in all, 2020 has shown us the importance of resilience – in business and in life. It showed us that despite the hardships and challenges, we find ways to pivot, to survive and thrive. The year shook our routines, our lifestyles, and our expectations. It taught us to plan for the future and shed more light on the importance of saving our money and not take anything for granted.

As painful as this year was to many of us, I am hopeful that with the skills we acquired and the experiences we have exchanged with each other, we will be in a better position to reshape our businesses, create new ventures, sustain our environment and support our colleagues in their bid to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi