Remote work or telecommuting has been around for decades but has drastically gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing and lockdowns, remote work became the norm, and companies had to adapt quickly to keep their businesses running. According to FlexJobs, the number of remote workers in the US increased by 159% between 2005 and 2017. The pandemic has pushed companies all over the world, to adopt remote working quickly, and in doing so completely shook up traditional work models. Despite initial skepticism about the efficacy of remote work, as companies have adapted, many have discovered that remote workforces can be just as productive, if not more productive, than traditional office-based workforces, and they are now embracing remote work as the future of work.
The benefits of remote work are clear: employees can have more flexible schedules, spend more time with their family, save money on transportation and work clothes, and live anywhere where they have access to the internet. In turn, companies can save money on office space, reduce employee turnover, increase productivity, and attract a larger pool of global talent. However, there are also some downsides that need to be addressed, such as the lack of face-to-face communication, increased isolation, and difficulty in maintaining company culture.
In this long-form blog, we will explore how companies are adapting to this shift towards remote work, what the future of remote work might look like, and the best practices for companies that want to take advantage of this new way of working.
State of Remote Work Today
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 report, 98% of remote workers would like to continue working remotely, at least for some of the time, for the rest of their careers. The vast majority (97%) of remote workers also reported that they would recommend remote work to others. This report shows that remote work is here to stay, and companies that embrace it can benefit from a more motivated and satisfied workforce.
Companies have been forced to adapt quickly to the pandemic by implementing remote work policies, and many businesses reported a productivity increase as a result. Buffer’s State of Remote Work report found that 43% of remote workers reported that they were more productive working remotely than they were in the traditional office setting. Additionally, 22% of remote workers said that they found it easier to focus when working remotely than when working in an office.
However, remote work has not been without its challenges. Some companies reported difficulty managing remote workers, particularly in relation to communication and collaboration. In a remote work setting, something as simple as a discussion around the water cooler can turn into a project email chain with ten people, creating confusion and slowing down decision-making. Moreover, with a dispersed workforce, managers have to find new ways to build teams and cultivate a sense of company culture.
Adapting to Remote Work
To create a successful remote work environment, companies need to adjust their strategies and policies to meet the unique challenges and opportunities of remote work. Here are some of the ways that companies can adapt to remote work:
Communication and Collaboration
Remote work requires a clear communication strategy, which may include daily check-ins, regular team meetings, and the use of collaborative tools such as Slack, Trello, and Google Drive. Companies need to ensure that every member of their team has access to the same information to avoid confusion, and that there is a set of clear expectations regarding project deadlines, communication channels, and expectations around work hours.
With remote work, it can be challenging to separate work life from home life. To prevent burnout, companies should encourage employees to set clear boundaries around work hours and stick to them. This may mean setting up a separate workspace, turning off notifications outside of work hours, and encouraging regular breaks to prevent “Zoom fatigue.”
Investing in Remote Work Infrastructure
Companies that want to develop remote work strategies need to invest in the infrastructure and tools required to support a distributed workforce. This may include providing remote workers with laptops, software, and secure access to company networks. They also need to provide continuous training and support to ensure that remote workers are familiar with the tools and technologies they need to use to do their job.
Creating a Strong Company Culture
Remote work requires companies to take an intentional approach to build a strong company culture. This may include virtual team building activities, regular check-ins with employees, and creating opportunities for social interaction. Companies should encourage team members to share their interests and hobbies and foster a sense of community that can help remote workers feel connected to their colleagues.
Looking to the Future
As remote work gains traction, we can expect to see more companies adopting it as the norm. With technological improvements and changes to work culture, remote work is likely to become more seamless and integrated into our daily lives. Here are some trends we can expect to see in the future of remote work:
Emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are likely to make remote work even more accessible and point remote work in new and exciting directions. For example, virtual reality can create immersive experiences that replicate the office environment, while machine learning and artificial intelligence will enable companies to automate repetitive tasks and create more personalized experiences.
Changes to the Workforce
Remote work will change how companies approach hiring and sourcing talent, as location is no longer a limiting factor. Companies will be able to hire from a talent pool that spans the globe, potentially expanding diversity and inclusion. It is also likely that there will be a shift towards hiring freelancers, contract workers, and part-time employees, rather than traditional full-time employees.
Governmental and Legal Changes
As remote work becomes more prevalent, governments and organizations will need to adapt to ensure remote workers have the same employment protections as traditional workers, such as access to benefits, workers’ compensation, and a fair wage. These changes will require significant policy discussions and potentially new laws.
The shift towards remote work represents a significant change to the way we work, but it also presents exciting opportunities for companies and employees. Remote work has proven to be a workable option that can foster a more satisfied and productive workforce while reducing costs and broadening talent pools. Remote work is likely to become more integrated into our daily lives, with new technologies enabling companies to create personalized experiences and automate tasks. Companies that embrace remote work and adapt their policies and strategies to the needs of remote workers can expect to benefit from a more diversified workforce, wider talent pool, and satisfied employees.