Between 2005 and 2018, the number of people who were not self-employed but working remotely rose by 173%. That rate is almost ten times faster than any other segment of the workforce. Why is this rise in remote work happening, and what does it mean for the future of work and the culture built around it?
Why Go Remote: The Company's Perspective
While many discussions about the benefits of remote work are taken up from the employee's position (and they are meaningful, as will be discussed shortly), it's important to understand that the rise in remote work is the reflection of a mutually beneficial arrangement. In short, companies are moving to remote work because it benefits them as well!
· Employee Satisfaction- Happy employees are usually better employees. Those who are able to have flexibility in their job tend to be more satisfied with their work arrangement, and this cuts down on costly turnover. In addition, 36% of employees say that they would take the opportunity to telecommute more often over a pay raise, meaning that this is a choice that can save the company money directly and indirectly. It's a true win-win.
· Reduced Overhead Expenses- According to Global Workplace Analytics, allowing a single employee to telecommute half of the time can reduce the company's expenses by an average of $11,000 per year. This staggering statistic takes into account all of the expenses that go into keeping an office space functioning for the workforce. Physical space is often one of the most costly investments for a company, and it comes with regular maintenance, repairs, and monthly utility costs. The fewer employees physically in the office, the lower these costs become.
· Increased Productivity- While it may seem counterintuitive, studies have found that employees who work remotely are less likely to call in sick. They are also able to continue to fit in work around family issues and appointments that might otherwise disrupt the workday. This has the added benefit of keeping people who have a common cold or the flu from infecting others, further reducing sick days for the company as a whole.
· Widened Applicant Pool- Companies are looking for top talent, and they are often limited by geography when it comes to finding it. With the increase in remote work, companies can hire people who live anywhere without having to incur costly moving expenses. This can also let companies locate their headquarters in areas that have lower expenses since they don't have to be as concerned about the immediate geographical pool of applicants.
Why Go Remote: The Employee's Perspective
The benefits for the employee are perhaps more apparent than those for the company, but it is still worth exploring the cultural shifts that are driving people to seek out remote work.
· Flexible Schedules- Americans work more than any other industrialized nation. They work longer days, take fewer vacations, and retire later. This means that there is a lot of talk about the need for flexibility and work-life balance. Remote work allows employees the chance to obtain this balance without feeling like they are losing out on their footing in the workplace.
· Increased Productivity- There have been lots of studies into the best physical layout for a workspace. As Business Journals explores, the answer is complicated, as there is no right answer for everyone. Generational divides, personality differences, and the nature of the work being performed all impact what kind of workspace people need. Rather than try to carve out some silence in the middle of a busy open office or whisper uncomfortably while trying to have a collaborative meeting in the middle of a quiet space, those who work remotely can customize their space to fit their needs . . . and change it when the needs change!
How Remote Work Works
What's caused the increase in all of this remote work? Technological advancements. Long gone are the days of gathering around a static-filled speakerphone in the middle of a conference room. Today's technological advancements have given people the tools to work remotely in ways that are just as effective as (and sometimes more effective than) working in the office. Here are some of the top technologies that have influenced the rise in remote work:
· Cloud Storage- It wasn't that long ago that most work files were stored on site. In order to work remotely, an employee would have to know exactly what files they would need and upload them to a flash drive or email themselves. Forgetting something could mean disrupting trips to the office or even a lost day of work. When everything employees need is at their fingertips through the cloud, it's a lot easier to work remotely.
· Collaboration Software- There has been an explosion of collaboration apps. Slack came onto the scene in 2014 and quickly became a major tool used to connect teams. Competitors have popped up in major players like Microsoft's Teams and Google's Hangout Chats. These platforms allow teams to chat via text, voice, and video as well as share documents and assign tasks at the touch of a button.
· Improved Video Conferencing- As more and more people have access to high-quality wifi capable of streaming video, remote work doesn't have to feel remote! Everything from teaching to interviewing to conferences can be conducted via interlinked videos. Modern-day platforms aren't limited to chatting chat, either. There are virtual whiteboards, screen sharing, and file swapping capabilities that make these online platforms more effective than a big conference room because everyone can always see and be heard.
Remote Work is Here to Stay Even though they disrupt some of the most common notions about what "work" looks like, remote options are likely going to keep growing. This means that many companies are going to have to adapt and reinvent their expectations in order to remain attractive to an employee base that is likely going to expect flexible remote work as part of their daily lives. While it may sound daunting, it can actually be better for everyone!
Covid-19 has forced many who would never have considered remote work to give it a try and many businesses, such as Twitter, are making long term changes.