- By June of this year, 42% of the U.S. workforce was working remotely full-time.
- Remote work has become the norm for millions of workers across the globe.
- In this article, we dig deep into remote work; it’s pros and cons, how to make it work, and how it fits into the future of work.
You might think 2020 was a turning point for the adoption of remote work. But in fact the number of people working remotely has been rising steadily for some time.
Prior to the pandemic there was an estimated 159% increase in remote work over a period of 12 years, between 2005-2017. By the end of that study, the number of people working remotely had reached 4.7 million, or 3.4% of the U.S. working population.
Fast forward to 2020 and that figure has multiplied.
By June 2020 an incredible 42% of the U.S. labor force were working remotely full-time. This of course, was due to the rapid onslaught of COVID-19 and subsequent shutdown measures, during which millions of people were sent to work from home.
In many ways, the health crisis accelerated a working trend that was already happening. Whether or not remote work will continue at this scale in a post-COVID world remains to be seen.
What we do know is that remote work is here, albeit temporarily, and it has quickly become the new norm for millions of people all over the world. Whether you’re new to remote work or you’ve been doing it successfully for many years, in this article we dig deeper into remote working to discover what it really means, the pros and cons, and how it fits into the future of work.
What Is Remote Working?
Remote work can be carried out by permanent employees, contractors, freelance professionals, or anyone who is able to complete their core tasks and responsibilities without attending an office or working onsite.
But what exactly is the meaning of working remotely?
“Remote work is a style of work that is carried out away from the employer or a centralized office, often from home or a third place, using tools such as a mobile device or computer, a WiFi connection, and online tools or software programs that are specific to the nature of work. Communication and collaboration typically takes place using email, video conferencing, live chat and phone.” –Allwork.Space
Other terms commonly associated with remote work include telecommuting, working from home (WFH), mobile working, and flexible work — we’ll dig deeper into these terms later.
In theory, remote work enables people to work independent of location, although the decision over a worker’s base location may depend on other factors (for instance, an employer might require their team to work in a certain time zone).
However for many working people, location independent working is now a reality. Technological advances have enabled workers to become mobile and use portable devices (laptops, tablets, and smartphones) alongside wireless connectivity (WiFi) to conduct their jobs from anywhere.
Sometimes, remote work may be conducted from home even if the central office is within commutable distance. We’ve seen a sharp rise in this type of arrangement during the coronavirus pandemic, as the lockdown and physical distancing rules meant many workers were not permitted to go to their normal place of work.
Why Do People Work Remotely?
Often, people seek remote work opportunities for lifestyle reasons. Advances in technology and wireless connectivity means more jobs than ever before can be done away from a central office, which offers greater flexibility and freedom.
Think about it. The commute is shorter (or non-existent) and therefore less expensive, and time spent otherwise driving or stuck in traffic can be spent with family or enjoying hobbies. By saving time and money, remote workers can make better use of their working day and of daylight hours, enabling them to spend more time doing things they love and ultimately enjoying better work/life balance.
For companies that are open to having a fully or part-time remote workforce, they can often expect a happier, healthier, and more loyal workforce, which typically translates to better engagement and higher levels of productivity.
Pros and Cons of Remote Work
Of course for every advantage there is a disadvantage, and while remote work sounds amazing in theory, it does come with its fair share of challenges. Often, this comes down to how companies manage their remote team, and how well employees transition to this style of work.
Studies suggest that full-time remote work may not be as beneficial to both worker and employer than working remotely on a part-time basis (find out why in the pros and cons below).
What does fully remote mean? Imagine working away from a central office full-time, with the vast majority of communication carried out digitally or electronically, with limited face-to-face time. For even the most seasoned remote worker, it can be a little isolating. Indeed, according to Gallup , the workers who feel most engaged are those who spend three to four days working remotely.
Why is too much of a good thing actually a bad thing? Here’s an overview of the most common pros and cons of remote work, and what you can do about it:
Remote Work Benefits for Workers
- Choice and flexibility: Having a say over where, when, or how you work is incredibly empowering. In turn, people are more likely to feel fulfilled at work and more loyal to their employer. Having choice over where you work, even in stressful jobs, can also promote better mental health.
- More free time: Reducing the commute or working at or closer to home saves a huge amount of time and money. Those extra few hours per week can be spent with friends and family, enjoying hobbies, exercising, or even pursuing a sideline business; in other words, it creates better work/life balance.
- Better wellbeing: According to the CIPD, flexible working can reduce absence rates and help support employees’ mental health and stress.
Remote Work Challenges for Workers
- Loneliness and isolation: Working away from your team or at home can be incredibly isolating, even for those who cherish quiet work environments. This can lead to lack of motivation and a tendency to get easily distracted. Want to know how to work from home? Set up certain measures to help you become more accountable: for instance, schedule time with your manager and colleagues, and practice self-care by taking regular breaks throughout the day.
- Working overtime: When your home becomes your place of work, it’s surprisingly easy to let work boundaries slip. Working late or overtime isn’t healthy — it can lead to fatigue, stress, and even burnout. Try to set boundaries and build more structure into your working day, for instance by setting appointments in your calendar and reminders to take breaks.
- Feeling disconnected from your team: You may feel like you’re left out of office chat or team decisions when you’re not there in person. Consider requesting a team or company chat tool like Slack so you’re constantly in the loop, and digitally ‘visible’.
Remote Work Benefits for Employers
- Engagement: According to Gallup, employees who spend at least some (but not all) of their time working remotely have higher engagement than those who don’t ever work remotely. This ultimately leads to better performance and productivity.
- Talent magnet: When you’re not restricted by geography, your talent pool becomes much larger. Employers can select candidates based on talent or skill rather than location; it also attracts workers who value companies that offer remote work and flexibility.
- Cost savings: Real estate is a huge overhead — but when you have fewer people in the office, the amount of space you need shrinks and with it, your costs.
Remote Work Challenges for Employers
- Tech trouble: From security concerns to wobbly home WiFi, remote work can open up a number of new tech challenges. You’ll need to invest in appropriate hardware and software for your team, and consider training or tech support to ensure security best practice.
- Accountability: Do you trust your team to get the job done? Some managers struggle to shift to remote work arrangements and feel the need to check up constantly; this is frustrating for all concerned and requires a change of approach. Practice positive leadership and build trust by letting your team set their own goals. Schedule regular checkups such as daily standups, and use collaboration tools such as live chat and online project management software to check in on tasks or goals.
- Lack of facetime: Nothing quite replaces face-to-face time, but when you can’t meet in person, a video call is the next best thing. DON’T rely on email, but DO use the right communication tool for the job — for instance, use live chat for quick check-ins and a video call for more private or urgent communication.
Different Types Of Remote Work
Remote work doesn’t just mean working from home. It might mean working from a cafe, a client’s office, a coworking space, or even from a campervan.
Here are some terms associated with remote work and an insight into how different types of remote work are carried out:
- Work from home (WFH): It’s common for people who work remotely to use their home as their primary ‘off site’ base. It’s convenient and at least part of the infrastructure is already there, like WiFi, charging points, and space to work.
- Digital nomad: This is the name given to people who combine work with travel. Digital nomads typically work on the move, staying in different places and using mobile devices and wireless technology to keep working and earning.
- Telecommuting: A term often used interchangeably with remote work. It’s defined as “working for a company but staying at home and communicating with an office by computer and telephone”, which more commonly applies to permanent employees.
- Telework: Not to be confused with telecommuting. As Global Workplace Analytics puts it: “Though often used interchangeably, ‘telework’ is defined as the substitution of technology for travel, while ‘telecommuting’ is more narrowly defined as the substitution of technology for commuter travel. Thus if someone takes work home after being at the office, it’s considered telework but not telecommuting. If someone works at home instead of driving to an office they are telecommuting but not necessarily teleworking.”
- Camper van work: Similar to the digital nomad lifestyle, van life and remote work often go hand in hand. Instead of staying in hotels, camper van workers can live and work from their van, providing they can access the necessities such as an Internet connection, power to charge their devices, and space to work.
- Mobile working: This phrase has been in use for some years and commonly refers to people who work and ‘touchdown’ in various ‘third place’ locations. This could be in client offices, coworking spaces, cafes, business lounges, and even train stations or airports.
Remote Work: The Future of Work?
Even before COVID-19, remote work was a growing trend. More people wanted it, and more companies recognised the benefits in offering it.
However, we know that full-time remote work may not be beneficial long-term. It can be isolating, distracting, and depending on the individual, it can incur stress and even lead to burnout. As remote work has matured, we have moved out of the honeymoon period and discovered that we need to hit the right balance. We need the ‘sweet spot’ — a hybrid approach of both remote and in-office time. That way, we can reconnect with our company culture, learn from our peers, and enjoy quality face-time with other people.
What does this mean for the future of work? Long-term, remote work is not the complete solution. But when managed correctly, it is part of our future of work, and a very significant part at that.