4 Predictions for the Future of Remote Work
As businesses open back up, what does the future of remote work hold? Here are four predictions backed by research and data.
For many people, remote work used to feel like a faraway pipe dream – an untouchable reality reserved for entrepreneurs or employees of trendy startups.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and the move to remote working for many around the world happened seemingly overnight. Companies and their workers had to adjust to a new way of collaborating on the fly and more people were working from home than ever before.
Before the pandemic, 17% of US employees worked remotely or from home five or more days per week. During the pandemic? That number skyrocketed to 44% (keep in mind that there are still plenty of workers – from healthcare providers to warehouse employees – who never had the option to work remotely).
But, now that so many people have adjusted to working away from their colleagues, office space and cubicles (and of course, in their favorite sweatpants), many people are left with this question: What happens next? What is the future of remote working?
But first...what is remote work?
First things first, it’s important to understand the definition of remote work. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward: a remote worker is someone who works outside of their employer’s office.
That could mean that they log on from a beachside cottage or the kitchen table in their apartment (or even a combination of both). Regardless of the specifics, they aren’t permanently working at their company’s physical office location.
Remote work has a lot of synonyms, so you might also hear it referred to as telecommuting, teleworking, mobile working, or working from home.
What does the future of remote work hold?
For companies that were able to let employees do their jobs outside of the office, working remotely wasn’t a choice – it was a mandate when cities across the globe shut down in the wake of the pandemic.
There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel as life resumes and businesses reopen, but it leaves many employees who have gotten used to the remote working lifestyle hanging in the balance.
Are they expected to pack up their laptops and head right back into the office like they were spit out of a timewarp? Or, is the working world forever changed? Let’s cover a few predictions about where remote work is headed.
1. Remote work is here to stay
Here’s the first truth that employers and employees alike need to wrap their heads around: remote work won’t disappear as we move toward a post-pandemic way of life.
While it might not remain at the same level it reached during the peak of shutdowns, it’ll still be a prevalent and popular work arrangement.
Much of that will be driven by workers themselves. As professionals reevaluate what they want out of their careers and search for new jobs, we’re bound to see an increasingly candidate-driven market – where companies have to tout their perks and culture in order to secure top talent. And part of that means promoting a flexible work from home lifestyle and employees working remotely.
In fact, a survey from Prudential found that one in three workers say they wouldn’t want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite in a physical office full-time. And, the same survey found that three quarters of workers factor benefits into their decision about whether to stay or leave a position. Aside from compensation, they care most about:
Flexible work schedules (31%)
Mobility opportunities (25%)
Remote work options (22%)
What’s more, the job search site Indeed reported that searches for remote jobs surged on the platform. So, to put it simply, companies that want to attract and retain high-quality employees will need to emphasize remote work – and then other employers are bound to follow suit in order to stay competitive.
2. Companies will move to a hybrid work model
Does this mean that companies are ditching their office space and committing to exclusively remote teams? Not quite – although several well-known companies have done so.
Instead, it’s likely that employers will adopt a more fluid approach, known as the hybrid model.
Rather than forcing workers to choose whether they want to work remotely or in an office, a hybrid approach gives workers autonomy to decide the work location that suits them best – with the acknowledgement that it could change. They may choose to work in the office every now and then or from their homes a few days per week. It’s not rigid and allows for plenty of flexibility.
For that reason, a hybrid approach is what many employers are working toward, with companies like Ford and Spotify already rolling it out. Research from McKinsey found that nine out of 10 executives envision a hybrid model moving forward and employees seem to be on the same page, with 52% of workers saying they’d prefer companies to adopt a more flexible working model after the pandemic.
3. More people will work as “digital nomads”
Remote work might inspire visions of working from a home office or even the couch, but plenty of professionals have loftier ambitions.
Widespread and long-standing lockdowns have inspired wanderlust, which means we could see an increase in the amount of people who consider themselves “digital nomads” – people who continuously travel and work remotely from various locations.
A whopping 65% of Americans say they plan to travel more in 2021 than they did pre-COVID. And, for many people, these aren’t quick trips and weekend getaways. Airbnb’s May 2021 Report on Travel and Living shared that the number of long-term stays booked through the site almost doubled from 14% of nights booked in 2019 to 24% of nights booked in the first quarter of 2021.
So, as we move into a post-COVID future, you might not video chat with your remote team from your respective homes – one coworker might be joining from a wooded cabin in Vermont while another connects from a coffee shop in Spain.
4. Companies will invest in the right tools and training
Remote working isn’t a passing fad. Companies who might’ve seen it as a temporary hiccup or hurdle are realizing that it’s something they need to permanently embrace.
When 77% of employees say they’re frustrated with outdated technology at work, that all starts with securing the right tools to empower their teams to seamlessly communicate and collaborate – both asynchronously and in real-time.
From project management platforms and goal dashboards to instant messaging tools and virtual meeting solutions (hey, we’ll take this opportunity to recommend Whereby), we’re sure we’ll see companies no longer content to make do with clunky workarounds and inefficient processes and instead set up tech-savvy systems that are remote-first friendly.
On a similar note, companies will also invest in adequate training for managers and people leaders who are heading up distributed teams and departments.
In one Harvard Business Review survey, 40% of managers and supervisors admitted they had low confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely and another 41% said they worried about how they’d keep remote employees motivated. Yet, only 24% of companies teach their managers how to support remote teams.
As remote work becomes the norm, leaders will need to be equipped with the right tools and know-how to handle remote onboarding and then manage, motivate, and monitor their direct reports successfully.
What does the future hold? A focus on flexibility
Unless you have a crystal ball handy, it can be tough to tell what’s coming down the pike. After all, most of us likely didn’t see the major curveballs that the past year or so threw our way.
But, the research and expert predictions seem to point to a future where the focus is on what work is getting done – and not where or when it’s getting done. That’s more than a logistical change. For many organizations, it’s a culture shift that will emphasize results over hours, employee productivity and wins over whereabouts.
That’s the exact future we envision here at Whereby. After all, when employees have that level of control over when and where they have better employee well being, do their best work, they succeed – and as a result, so do their employers.