[Updated on June 13, 2020]
Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates. In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, remote work is rapidly on the increase all around the world.
More and more employees are working in remote positions, either full-time or some days of the week, with a large percentage of the workforce looking towards finding job opportunities with flexible schedules.
Companies are also embracing this growing desire, increasingly using flexible work options as a way to entice new employees.
It is a good idea to take a step back and evaluate how the industry is doing, the changes it brings along, how things have evolved in 2019 and its projections for 2020 and beyond.
- The status of remote work
- Hiring stats from companies
- Benefits of remote work
- Challenges facing remote work
- Trends in remote work to expect in 2020
- The impact of Covid-19 / Coronavirus lockdown work from home experience
The status of remote work
From digital marketing, Web development, sales, customer and technical support, to copywriting, translation and many more: Remote work is growing across many sectors for which the location of workers is not relevant anymore, but their knowledge and experience is. Before we peer into how remote work is expected to develop in the future, let’s have a look at where the industry is so far.
Remote work has undergone a lot of changes ever since the first flexible telecommuting companies showed up. New technologies have appeared, and older ones have faded away. Where does remote work stand after the a few years of evolution already?
Remote work is here to stay and is not only about digital nomads
In a study done by Buffer.com about the state of remote work in 2019, 99% of the interviewees reported that they would like, at least once in their career, to be able to work off-site. This enormous figure not only proves that remote work is now immensely popular but also that it is not just a fading trend. Moreover, the respondents are very likely to recommend remote work to their friends and family, solidifying the statistic further.
“I’ve noticed more and more of the projects are realizing a set office does not need to happen in the city where the owner lives.”
Many current employees are willing to change workplaces if it means working remotely. A report by Zapier.com published at the end of 2019 revealed that about 74% of the workforce would prefer to quit a job for one that offers remote positions.
“I work remotely for companies from all over Europe (management/consultancy) and I’d say the corporate structures are becoming a lot more appreciative of all the benefits that remote work offers. There’s no more scoffing at the mere idea of having an entirely remote based team.”
Dusan from LevelUp Marketing
Remote work is also an increasingly desirable trait an employer can offer, with 57% of the workforce saying that the option to work remotely is their most preferable employment perk.
“I finally tell clients I closed my office 5 years ago, and have not been disappointed. I used to feel like I was cheating people, but what I noticed is when I worked at agencies, we never got anything done. Actually my crew is in 4 different locations globally. We’ve been able to do global/national/local work just fine. As a matter of fact, I’ve saved $$$ a month on rent alone!”
Acceptance of remote work has been also seen among consulting companies and freelance professionals working with clients, which could have been perceived as something negative by their clients in the past, has become now seen as “normal”.
“Acceptance has definitely increased. Clients have no issues with our team being fully remote, if anything we get to have more face time with them because of it, so build a much stronger working relationship.”
Remote work is rapidly growing
GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com data shows that regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce. Telecommuting in the US has seen a 115% increase in the past decade. These stats only prove that telework is rising in popularity every year and is likely to continue growing.
This is consistent with the experiences we’ve seen in our Remoters interviews -in which remote based professionals and organizations share their journey- as well as feedback we’ve received from the remote based community.
For example, in a recent interview, Matthew Howells-Barby shared how his team within Hubspot move to a remote work environment in the last year and how well it has worked for them, in a company that has also offices and is an “hybrid”, with both remote based as well as in-office .
“There seems to be a growing acceptance of remote working. All the stats suggest it is on an upward trend, and many jobs are well suited to it. Our team works remote and we love it, though there are some challenges to overcome… but that’s no different to working in an office.”
Freelancers are also on the increase despite having additional challenges
Remote work can be also roughly divided into employed positions and freelance jobs. Although some might think that is easier for freelancers to start working remotely -as they’re their own boss-, it can be harder for them to thrive in a remote based environment, as they lack of a bigger organization support and benefits -like health insurance, which can have a high cost in some countries like the US-, besides a steady salary.
“I work more hours, don’t get health benefits and pay for my computers, internet, certifications, software and more and I’m highly disciplined to work independently. I don’t think most people have any idea what we deal with. I don’t need to commute to an office to do my job well. I still experience closed minds from companies who won’t hire remote employees. They are ignoring serious talent.”
Despite this, investment company Betterment estimates that about 33% of remote workers are freelancers, translating to about 1 in 3 of the remote workforce. The figure is expected to rise in the future, reaching 43% of the American workforce in the coming year.
“I feel like there is a ton more work, and I have to work like that to cover health insurance and the medical bills they don’t pay in the US. I accomplish a ton of work at home – more by far than most people I know working in offices.”
The majority of the workforce already telecommutes part-time
It’s noteworthy that a non-trivial share of what could be considered “traditional office oriented companies” are already offering location flexibility, many of them leaving some days to “work from home” per week as a perk to their employees.
Recent studies by IWG show that about 70% of the entire global workforce telecommutes at least one day in a week already.
“I remote work 4 days out of 5 a week. And I find I am so much more productive as it means meetings are only happening once a week for me. Don’t get me wrong the whole day is a write off with meetings but it makes it easier for me to knuckle down the rest of the days.”
Most of the remote work happens at home
Although some people think about being a digital nomad -traveling while working- as the default setting for remote work, it is certainly not.
Only 24% of the respondents of the “Anywhere Workers” study from And Co and Fiverr described themselves as digital nomads. Remote work is about having the flexibility to choose from where to work from: whether from home, a coffee shop, a coworking space, or from anywhere while traveling.
It also seems that most of remote workers prefer the comforts of their home compared to other workplaces. 84% of those who answered Buffer’s “State of Remote Work” survey shared that they perform their tasks at home, 8% work at coworking spaces, and about 4% at cafes.
Hiring stats from companies
The attractiveness of remote work has been already identified by companies that look to hire “hard to fill roles” and are using it as a perk to attract applications for “location independent” positions, opening themselves to hire from a bigger, more diverse pool of applicants, in some cases also, with lower rates -as higher rates are many times connected to living in a big, expensive city-.
“Remote is becoming less career restrictive. More employers are willing to have conversations with employees and candidates to have remote be an option. More so, companies are adopting remote as part of their company culture vs remote just being a work from home option.”
In a recent interview with Hamlet Batista, CEO of RankSense, he shared how they struggled to hire technical roles when running his company in the Dominican Republic as they couldn’t find professionals with the relevant technical qualifications and experience, and then how when they moved to New York, despite of being based in a big city with one of the biggest pools of potential professionals to hire, they also had a hard time since they needed to compete with some of the biggest brands in the world that are based there and willing to pay more. This changed when they started to hire remotely, as now they can hire the best professionals from anywhere in the world.
This might be one of the reasons why –based on a study by Owl Labs– small companies are 2X more likely to hire full-time remote employees.
“It’s getting more acceptance from companies which is notable from the increase of remote workers I’ve met abroad. And from the other side of the coin there’s also an increase of awareness from workers that this is becoming an option.”
Benefits of remote work
Working remotely has been seen to have a lot of advantages not only to employees but also to the companies employing them and the environment at large.
Remote workers are more productive compared to office workers
Productivity studies have revealed that working from home has helped employees to get more out of their workday. A study done by Stanford showed that remote workers were about 13% more productive than their traditional office colleagues.
Moreover, remote workers took fewer days off on sick leave. Since the majority of the remote workers choose their work schedule, they can organize their work to fit their most productive times and hence produce more quality work.
“Remote is where my new ideas meet life thanks to focus and concentration. Productivity, relax and no stress are the main advantages. On remote I’m more able to switch between different topics and handle it well.”
These statistics also go deeper than just work. Remote employees have reported feeling more productive when working from home in comparison to working in an office, the report by FlexJobs shows.
Only a meager 3% felt less productive off the office, while about 32% felt just the same. Fewer distractions and less stress were among the reasons cited for more productivity when working from home.
Remote workers save more money compared to office workers
A study done by Global Workplace Analytics found that remote workers can save from $2,000 to $7,000 every year. Saving money is definitely one of the biggest motivators to work remotely. Remote workers save on:
Remote workers do not incur the expenses of traveling to and from work, that can be a significant in some locations, depending on the distance and means of transportation -from car fuel and maintenance costs to public transport fare-. The average office worker in America takes about 26 minutes to go to work, time which remote based professionals can use how they want.
Remote workers can work in whatever clothing they choose to without a problem. However, office workers have to wear according to their company’s dress code, which can be formal attire in many cases. Even though some offices are shifting towards more casual wear, the costs incurred by the average remote worker are way less.
“Cities are getting crowded and living there is getting more expensive. Daycare for children is getting more expensive. Transport is taking longer and is getting more expensive. It’s getting harder and harder to justify having people travel to expensive offices for hours on end.”
Group lunches, expensive meals at restaurants, and snacks at the vending machine are not a usual concern of the remote worker who can usually eat at home or have much more flexibility to choose where to eat at.
d) Child care:
Parents can reduce the time their child stays under childcare with the usual more flexible schedule that remote based positions tend to offer.
Less stress and better work-life balance
The flexibility provided by a remote work setting also brings another benefit: A happier, less stressful day-to-day and a better work-life balance. In a study done by Owl Labs, many workers reported alleviated stress levels with even one day of work outside the office. 86% of respondents in the survey believe that working remotely reduces stress levels and improves health.
“I believe it has become much more work life balance. Acceptable to say, I am much more productive from home office and not fear retribution. This makes life much more than work, resulting in happier and more productive employees.”
In fact, in the same study, Owl Labs found that along increase productivity/better focus and avoiding commutes, a better family/work-life balance was mentioned as one of the top reasons that employees had to work remotely.
Flexible work schedule
Not surprisingly, Buffer found that 40% of remote workers reported that flexibility was one of the biggest perks of working remotely. The ability to work during one’s productive hours and to choose the days of the week in which to work is also a big plus for remote workers.
This flexibility allows workers to plan their day better and spend more quality time with their families.
Better Job Opportunities for professionals living in smaller towns and developing countries
Remote work also gives the opportunity to develop the careers of qualified professionals from smaller locations, in many occasions rural towns or developing countries, that can now grow professionally independently of their location and nationality, without the limitation of having to be hired only from local companies, that might not be looking for people with their qualifications.
On the other hand, companies also have a lot to gain from offering remote work positions. These are some of the top benefits:
Higher employee loyalty and retention rate
In the Owl Labs survey, Remote workers also said they are likely to stay in their current job for the next 5 years, which is 13% more than onsite workers. Additionally, 55% of remote workers said that they would be likely look for another job if they were no longer allowed to work remotely, showing how much remote workers value their remote work setting.
Evidently, a flexible work environment has a positive impact on employee satisfaction and, ultimately, their retention.
Not only do the employees save money off when working remotely, but also their employers make significant savings as well. Running a physical workspace can be expensive, especially if you’re in a big city.
Costs like office rent, buying and maintaining office furniture, and monthly utility bills are sure to bring down the profits obtained from running the business at the end of the day. Introducing remote work can drastically decrease the costs incurred to keep the business running, saving up to $10,000 for every remote worker.
“Some perks for companies:
1) Hiring remote workers allows you to hire from a much larger talent pool vs hiring locally.
2) It reduces office space costs.
3) Successful remote workers tend to be self-starters and have good communication skills. Great assets for any company.”
Dani Owens from Pigzilla
A broader pool of professionals to choose from
Remote positions mean that employers no longer have to be restricted to hire local professionals -or having to relocate people to bring them to the company, which can end up being much more difficult- to fit their vacancies.
The global workforce is up for grabs, opening up a vast market to select the best potential professionals from anywhere in the word. This also facilitates company’s workforce to be diverse and balanced.
Improved employee morale
Thanks to the flexibility of remote work, employees become also more motivated and are bound to be more productive at the workplace. High employee morale translates to less turnover, greater enthusiasm for work, and higher job satisfaction rates.
Remote work give us more variety and quality in work from different regions. we have been doing this for last years and we got more productivity and quality vs local.
For the environment: Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
The daily commute to work usually results in millions of oil barrels being spent to run the transportation vehicles. Taking more people off the roads means that less fuel will be consumed to ferry people around, positively impacting the environment.
Challenges facing remote work
Remote work also has some disadvantages that are worthy to mention, as they have become more obvious now that more companies and freelancers have embraced this way of work:
Unplugging from work
Remote workers are more prone to be workaholics, especially when the deadlines are strict and there’s a heavy workload. Since remote workers mostly perform their duties from home, it can also be challenging to shift from the work atmosphere and to enjoy free time available.
This is one of the most significant challenges faced by the industry, with 22% of remote workers reporting some difficulty in switching from work to leisure activities.
Nonetheless, this challenge can be worked around by setting a specific area to work from within the person’s home, by going to nearby coworking spaces or coffee shops to work from and by creating strict work schedules.
“I definitely think these last 12 months as an industry, we’ve put an better emphasis on bringing awareness to the mental health struggles remote workers face and have made positive strides towards implementing better peer support networks.”
Remote work also separate the employees from each other, with minimal interaction between them. Face-to-face interactions, are replaced by online meetings and collaborative online workspaces, however, they tend to be lacking. The net effect of this limited human interaction is that remote workers tend to feel isolated.
The issue may be compounded if the remote worker has few friends, no spouse, or lives alone and works from home. If not dealt with correctly, loneliness may spiral down to other mental health issues.
Remote is becoming more collaborative, whether through co-working days via Hangouts or monthly mastermind meetups IRL. It’s increasingly less isolated.
This can be avoided by going to a coworking space a couple of days per week, doing regular meetups with work colleagues who live nearby, and if there are not many of them, by going to industry meetups or events. Since this is now a more known issue, remote based organizations also organize company retreats once or twice per year, so the team can build a stronger, in-person connection too.
“I’ve been freelance for years and recently moved into a remoter role for an agency. There are 2 places where I think it’s realistic to be cautious.
1) Mental health – being isolated is scary, and can be detrimental – so if you manage a remote team, make sure they’re supported
2) is making your remoters feel part of a team. My current role has a very active slack channel where we talk about work, life, home, watercooler chat – it is like being in an office but not. Providing opportunities to socialize virtually feels important.”
Remote professionals needs to be highly self-disciplined as they can up facing several unique distraction related challenges not faced by their counterparts in the office, especially when working from home, where it can be felt that there are other “non-work related” things to do all the time: from taking care of children to household chores.
If distractions are a challenge, then it’s recommended to set a home office, and if this is not possible, going to a coworking space, along using project management tools with clear deadlines, to-do’s lists per day or following time managements methods, like the Pomodoro technique.
Collaboration and communication
Clearly communicating ideas to other team members or clients, as well as collaborating with them, can be also more challenging when doing it so in a remote environment, highly reliant in written and asynchronous communication, using project management systems or chat like tools, like Slack.
This is why it’s also important to set clear communication protocols, workflows and guidelines within the team, to know when it’s important to have a video call -or recording and sending videos to clearly communicate by showing something- instead of just writing a message, leaving also certain time per week for team video meetings. Thankfully tools like Google Hangouts or Zoom calls are easy (and very cheap) to use.
Trends in remote work to expect in 2020
What can we look to happen in the short term future? Here are a few remote work trends to watch for:
“Biggest change I’ve seen is that remote work is getting spoken about more, but lots of comments are too dogmatic – when anybody who’s been in this long enough knows that needs can vary for each person/company, and change over time. There’s no one right way!”
A rise of “hybrid” in-office and remote based companies
More older and bigger companies will start “testing” remote work in an “hybrid” environment, so instead of switching completely to a remote based environment, they will begin by working a few days per week from home, and progressively tackling the already known remote work isolation or communication challenges -as well as potential concerns with productivity-, while they start to profit from many of the advantages, especially with more motivated and loyal team members.
“…for me what changed was that I went more combo (1 day with client, few days head down remotely), clients seem to like this model more.”
Remote focused tools, services and resources will continue to grow
More “virtual workplaces” tools that are focused on facilitating the collaboration and communication of remote based teams -like PukkaTeam– will be launched.
Although we now have already a few remote friendly communication and collaboration software these aren’t tools that were designed to be used by team members that could be located in very different locations, timezones, connection types, that also require an on-going, “in-person” like experience to mitigate the isolation challenges of remote working individuals.
“I’m currently “remoting” and found that Wi-fi speeds are so much better these days. Never worry about taking a call on Skype / video. Also for many phone networks roaming charges are normally the same as back at home so you don’t have to sim swap constantly”
Also, as more of the workforce moves online, improvements in cyber-security systems, as well as protocols within organizations and development of new, better protection focused on remote working organizations, can be also expected.
Additionally, there will be a more important rise of services targeted to digital nomads and remote working professionals that travel often, such as cheap, pre-paid sim cards or e-sims or mobile hotspots to be able to have a reliable and fast internet connection anywhere in the world, besides the already visible trend of more coffee shops, airports, etc. offering services to easily work on the go.
“In the past year, our distributed marketing org (half remote, half in global offices) has made an attempt to use web cams more. Before, practically no one used webcams. Now its about half, and much improved relationships and empathy w/ those that participate regularly.”
Beyond products and services, remote based professionals and organizations who have already developed experienced working remotely as well as managing remote teams will also share their insights even further, with more guides, handbooks, and references that will also facilitate the transition of those who are just starting.
For example, Matthew-Barby from Hubspot just published The Remote Leader’s Guide to Managing a Team, sharing about what he has found to be useful in his own journey leading a remote team, as Andreas Klinger did in the past with his “Managing Remote Teams – A crash course”. Companies like Zapier, Trello, InVision or HotJar that work remotely, have also shared their own guidelines and manuals in the past.
More Gen-Z employees expected into the market
Loosely defined as the generation born between the late 1990s and early 2000s, they come equipped with digital skills that are on high demand for remote workers, having studied in studied careers or received training completely online, which now even prepares them to also become a remote based professional, like microverse, training students to become a “remote software developer”.
For many of them, remote will be already the default work setting, which will facilitate further remote work popularization among the younger generations of workers.
“I have had almost all concerns about entry level, early career employees being remote. Since we did our interview we hired an entry level remote dev and he has helped us crush these automation projects etc. honestly I think the ‘kids’ get it better then the rest of us.”
A higher focus on mental health: Digital ‘water cooler’ interactions expected to rise
It can be more difficult for remote based teams to “feel important” or as “connected” with the company they work for. Teams rarely interact physically with each other, which may potentially lead to less cohesiveness within the group. This is a common problem that employers have to face as their jobs become more and more remote.
“Seen an increasing emphasis/focus on mental health/wellbeing in remote work, which is just the start; I think it’s paving the way for a shake-up of how we create community/belonging, and find work that’s more meaningful than just an income.”
Beyond the implementation of video conference or in-company chat tools, many will have the need to start reviewing their workflows, communication protocols and collaboration frameworks, to integrate remote work within them and update them to become more easily used in a hybrid or complete remote work environment much more easily, and to incentivize a fluid communication and better engagement among team members, to avoid isolation and potential mental health problems.
“By far the biggest challenge with a remote-first culture is mental health. In the past year we worked hard to create an environment where no one feels anxious and isolated and everyone feels connected and in the loop with all the changes. To do this, we’ve taken several steps:
-Weekly check-ins and video calls with the team
-Monthly company meeting
-Internal Email Newsletter
-Annual company retreat & biyearly team retreats
-Encouraging everyone to take and share photos on Slack
-Encouraging everyone to use coworking spaces
-Creating Internal videos”
The impact of Covid-19 / Coronavirus lockdown work from home experience
The adoption of remote work in 2020 has been further accelerated in a way that I would have never thought at the start of the year by the least expected reason: a global pandemic.
The Coronavirus/Covid-19 global pandemic has made all of us to go through a period of confinement. With companies around the world being forced to work from home due to lockdowns, the biggest remote work shift in history started.
In this article you can read how the Coronavirus Work from Home experience has impacted the adoption of remote work across many companies that hadn’t embrace remote work before, such as Shopify or Facebook that will shift to work remotely after the lockdown.
Remote work has been on a meteoric rise over the past decade, a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Although many companies are still yet to fully embrace it, more are expected to hop on the train in 2020, especially after the Coronavirus Work From Home experience, and existing restrictions at offices until a vaccine is found.
It is, therefore, a good idea for companies to look for ways to integrate remote work into their systems, identifying the best way to benefit from hiring remotely, while avoiding the most common challenges from the start.
For employees looking to work remotely, a quick study into niches that are on high demand can help, as well as using remote focused job boards like the Remoters one, that along a few others and following tips to better highlight “remote friendly” skills in the resume.
As the workplace and the society adapts to more flexible work arrangements, it is undebatable that remote work is here to stay and offers plenty of benefits for the workers, the employers, and society as a whole, while has challenges that can be minimized with relevant and timely team management.
…people who work hard and get work done do so regardless of remote or flex. People who don’t work hard and get work done will not miraculously do so in one situation or the other though they may prefer one over the other. Flex and remote allow for breathing room and LIFE.
If you’re an individual or organization looking to start working remotely or facilitate your remote work journey, take a look at our Website resources:
- Free remote jobs board
- Remote work tools
- Remote how to’s
- Remote Working Guides
- Remote Events
- Interviews with remote based professionals and organizations
Do you want to see how remote work has evolved over time? Check out the previous remote work trends editions:
Remote Work Data Sources:
- Buffer State of Remote Work 2019
- Remote Work Report by Zapier
- Owl Labs State of Remote Work
- And Co & Remote Year “Anywhere Workers” Study
- Global Work Place Analytics Telecommuting Statistics
- Flexjobs State of Telecommuthing in the US
- CNBC 70% of People Globally Work Remotely at least once a week