Remote work is increasing across the globe, in every industry that can manage it—and it isn’t just the pandemic that’s making it happen.
Sure, the pandemic forced an increase in speed and breadth of adoption, but this snowball has been rolling down the hill for years. Employees expect more flexibility; employers need to prepare for a massive change in the average worker’s schedule, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Whether you’re a team leader, an investor, or a business owner, you have to understand this: Remote work is here to stay. And it can be very effective, too—especially with the use of tools to help you and your workers maximize their morale and production, no matter where they’re logging on from.
Remote Work Was on the Rise Before the Pandemic
It’s easy to understand why remote work might be more popular during a pandemic—especially considering non-voluntary social distancing measures. However, that would be an oversimplification of a complex societal shift. The fact is, remote work was gaining traction long before it was the only way to continue working.
Mix the proliferation of telecommunication technology with an increase in service- and knowledge-based jobs over production jobs in many regions, and you have the perfect recipe for remote work.
Gallup has run several surveys over the years, showing a marked rise in remote work. In 2012, their survey showed that 39% of employees worked remotely to some extent, while four years later, the number had risen to 43%. That’s one percentage point per year, like clockwork.
GitLab, one of the most famous companies in the realm of developers and programmers, hired a full-time “head of remote” in July 2019—months before the pandemic was on anyone’s radar. These kinds of positions and this codification of remote work tools and tactics were on the way long before we were forced to stay at home.
The Pandemic Has Sped Up Remote Work
The novel coronavirus and the subsequent outbreak of COVID-19 put in-person work in a tenuous position. With the status of a vaccine pending and herd immunity not progressing as well as hoped, there’s no telling when close-quarters on-site work will be a safe proposition.
“COVID has accelerated the global embrace of remote by at least 10 years. You can’t just pretend everyone’s going to go back to the office, and no one will ever ask for flexibility in a job interview ever again—it’s never going to happen.” – Darren Murph, head of remote, GitLab
There are plenty of hints that remote work may stick around after the pandemic, in one form or another. A survey of 150 human capital executives found that 77% of those executives believed that remote work would increase to at least three days a week for many workers a year after the pandemic subsides (whenever that may be).
And these aren’t bloggers or pundits—the people putting their chips on an increase in remote work are the same people making those decisions.
If you want to look even further into the future, take a look at the stats for remote learning and education. Searches for terms like “online degree” and “online college” have shot up over 50% in the last twelve months. The future workforce is already primed for online study and work — the transition from virtual college to virtual work could be practically seamless.
Embrace the Benefits of Remote Work
For those out there who aren’t sure about the efficacy of remote work, the idea that it may hang around can be frustrating. However, there are actual benefits to remote work beyond the essential nature of social distancing at this time. Remote work can save money, time, and mental energy for business and employee alike.
It can even help the environment.
If you’re new to the idea of remote work, we can help outline some of the best things about it.
How Remote Work Helps Companies
Remote work helps both sides of the equation: employees and businesses. Though employers and managers sometimes resist the idea, there is some solid math on the side of remote work (when implemented correctly).
Expands your talent pool. If your potential employee pool is a circle 30 miles in diameter from wherever your office happens to be physically located, you’re cutting out most of the planet’s population. Why limit yourself, your company, and your growth to geographical happenstance?
“You’re able to tap into a pool of candidates that’s greater than what the company may have looked at before,” Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half International, told USA Today.
Timezone differences can be managed, so don’t be afraid to embrace the benefits of a more diverse applicant set.
Lowers your overhead. This math speaks for itself. Take a look at your expenses and delete or reduce any of the following bills: office lease, utilities, cleaning services, building repair, and furniture costs.
Do you pay for a water cooler service? Do you deliver food to the office on Fridays? How much do office birthdays and holidays cost to staff, decorate, and cater? How much does your building’s security system cost? Consider the enormous expense of computers and printers, not only in purchase but long-term upkeep as well.
How Remote Work Helps Employees
Remote work benefits employees in, perhaps, more obvious ways: It comes with advantages both monetarily and mentally, and can significantly increase productivity (with a few tweaks).
Eliminates the brutalities of the morning commute. Morning commutes can be rough. Most people have to get up earlier than is natural for their bodies, get ready as quickly as possible, and rush out the door. Maybe they have time to grab a to-go coffee or hit a drive-through for breakfast. Now multiply these difficulties for parents or other caregivers. Then add the stress of traffic, car accidents, bad talk radio, and the constant responsibilities created by wear-and-tear on your car.
If the commute involves public transit, a bus or a train comes with its own unique stressors, like the sometimes unpredictable schedules and even less predictable fellow commuters.
A morning commute ensures that every day starts stressfully and that most people arrive at work already irritated and a bit drained of energy.
Improves the work-life balance. An employee who can take a break from work to walk their dog or help their kid with some math homework is in a better place mentally. While this may seem like a distraction at first blush, this flexibility allows workers to release their stressors in little bursts instead of storing them all up at work and having them explode at home (or vice versa).
A kid is sick? Instead of stressing all day at work or trying to run around in the morning to manage a replacement, working parents can take care of it throughout the day. They can manage juice and medicine at the right intervals, cook up some soup, and turn on a favorite Disney movie while putting their work time in between these intervals.
Now they can focus on work (with the occasional break) instead of worrying all day and being distracted by what could be happening back home or at the babysitter’s.
Boosts productivity. Surprisingly for many, remote work can actually increase productivity. Not everyone is built to sit at a desk and be productive from exactly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some people are more productive in the morning and would love to get up at 6 a.m. to blast through all of their work in the next four hours. For some, their energy level peaks in the evening, and they do their best work when everyone else is winding done.
Some like to chip away at projects throughout the day while taking multiple micro-breaks, while others can do a day’s work in three hours.
Instead of fighting these tendencies and creating a miserable workforce who’d rather be anywhere than at their desks, lean into these differences. Employees will be happier, more productive, and more mentally stable—which benefits everyone.
Avoid the Pitfalls of Remote Work
Like any strategy or human endeavor, remote work isn’t perfect. When done wrong, it can cause plenty of damage to your workflow, your business, and your mental state. We’ll show you a couple of potholes and pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for on your journey of embracing or deploying full or hybrid remote work in the future.
Communication and learning at home can be tricky. Emails go without a response; chats can be left on read. If there’s an urgent matter to discuss, there’s no guarantee that a remote worker will respond right away. It’s not like you can just walk over to their desk.
“You can only steer a ship as fast as you can communicate the new directions to every team member.” Tomasz Tunguz, venture capitalist.
The key to maintaining communication with remote workers is clarity, establishing the “rules” of communication early, and adopting the best tools for the job.
Remote workers are in danger of burnout. When you work from home, you’re never quite at home, and you’re never quite at work. Employees who don’t let off some steam—or learn to create and respect boundaries—are going to burn out fast. Add to that a sense of isolation from their coworkers (especially for extroverts), and it creates a real concern.
Some digital offices have tried to spice up work hours with moments of levity and team bonding. Companies have held Zoom talent shows, where anyone who signs up gets to show off their guitar playing skills, juggling abilities, or whatever they like while everyone gets to watch and enjoy.
Other companies have had success with optional group activities like “coloring breaks” where coworkers hang out on Zoom or Skype and color the same piece of art. “Cocktail hours” or “coffee breaks” have also become popular, allowing employees to recreate water cooler chat or after-work bonding experiences.
Even after-hours activities like Netflix watch parties can let employees connect and share experiences, helping the more social remote workers unwind at the end of a long day.
How to Make Remote Work . . . Work
Here are a few tips you can use to navigate the world of remote work effectively—whether you’re an employee, a manager, or the founder of a business.
- Document all processes, rules, and important communication in an internal wiki.
- Be prepared to be flexible—both with hours and with remote work policies that might need tweaking.
- Use collaborative software. Quip, Slack, Dropbox, Trello, and Guru are all worth your time.
- Plan for digital paperwork like electronic signatures and customizable online forms.
- Check out this guide to the ultimate remote tool stack.
For remote workers:
- Try the Pomodoro method and force yourself to take breaks.
- Try to carve out a space for work only. It can be a home office if you have room, or even just a particular chair at the dinner table. Leave that space when work is over.
- Take communication breaks to focus. Turn off the phone, hit “DND” on Slack, and put your head down and work for at least an hour a day.
- Get some exercise. Go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, or look up a five-minute yoga routine in the middle of the workday.
There are plenty of guides to remote working out there. Take the time to peruse them and make notes about what might work best for you and your team.
The Remote Work Genie Is Out of the Bottle
When it comes to remote work, we may not be able to put this particular cat back in the bag.
Home food delivery stats are up tremendously, and most seem happy with these services. While it may merely be an effect of the pandemic, it’s also an interesting tidbit for examining current and future trends. Do you think the numbers will ever fall back down to where they were before the pandemic? When a service (like food delivery) proves it can work, you’ll always get a portion of people who will keep using it long past necessity.
Remote work can be looked at through the same lens: It won’t work for everyone, but for the people who’ve recently been exposed to it, they may have a hard time going back. You and your business need to prepare for the future wave of interviewees who won’t give up the idea of a flexible work schedule.
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