The year 2020 has started poorly with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening, not just our health, but the global economy. In response, governments around the world have instituted massive quarantines, compelling companies to switch to flexible work setups or even remote work. The current business landscape has become a fertile ground for remote work trends.
With many organizations now keeping in touch via the internet, employers finally realize the benefits of working remotely—or at least how it differs from the traditional one. The question remains, however: is remote work a viable long-term strategy for working? These trends may point you in the right direction.
Working remotely isn’t simply convenient because of the 2020 pandemic. In a time where work-life balance is taking a hit, remote work allows an employee’s professional and personal lives find harmony. This is why at least 9 of 10 workers want some form of remote work for as long as they could, citing irreplaceable benefits that onsite working can’t provide.
Spend time with family15%
Ability to travel12%
Work from home9%
Avoid office politics4%
Source: Buffer (State of Remote Work 2018)Designed by
Transitioning to remote work, however, has its challenges. Still, with the right processes, team, and technology, it can be far easier than you would think. Plus, with many companies now switching to remote work—some for the first time—the stigma attached to it is finally dissolving, and many organizations are sharing an effective roadmap of what works for them.
Thankfully, trends in remote work are looking favorably toward companies that adopt early. Global Workplace Analytics, for instance, found out that over a third of all remote employees would rather have a 10% pay cut just to work from home. With Gen Zers about to enter the workforce, expecting flexible work setups they have seen from their millennial predecessors, remote work is increasingly becoming more common and accepted.
Whether you are going to continue your remote work plan after the lockdowns or you’re looking to systematize one today, here are 16 remote work trends to help you capitalize on what’s coming to this industry.
In the years since 2015, remote work setups have increased by 140%—10 times more than all other work arrangements. This dramatic increase in flexible work and trading long-term onsite positions for shorter or flexible ones have been more pronounced as of late, with many companies around the world switching to remote work.
But it’s not just where people work that’s going to change, but also how. A survey found that 63% of people believe that the 8-hour workday will soon disappear, which will give rise to freelancers and short-term employment. This is why a third of all Americans telecommute, a figure that will rise by 43% by 2020, according to Intuit.
The rising flexibility of work will affect the entire company’s HR department and the whole company itself. From hiring and onboarding to corporate policies and communication strategies, flexible work will dictate how an organization deals with the delivery of its services. Leaders need to look at what flexibility can offer them and exploit these advantages wherever they can. They also need to be conversant with the most effective remote team management guide to help their teams along. For example, flexible work options can increase employee retention by up to 10%.
People enablement is an approach to develop and empower employees. It’s based on the idea that organizations can grow much faster if employees can be allowed to explore their potential, learn new things, and gain experience. This emerging trend, in theory, gives them significant decision-making powers on par with C-level executives.
While most people see people enablement as something that’s usually done for an onsite team, people enablement is an even more important factor in remote work.
Because it focuses less on a top-down way of managing things, this is perfect for a team that’s dispersed across geographical regions. By using HR to deliver what remote employees need, the organization taps a department that’s traditionally meant to offer support to the workforce and gives them more tools to do so.
And because 86% of employees feel that remote work alleviates stress, they will be more receptive to a strategy that grants them more freedom and development.
To maximize the use of people enablement, however, HR professionals should use all available technology. One such technology is a chatbot, which can cut customer (internal or external) support costs by 30%. But it won’t stop there. Automation will be more ubiquitous in 2020.
Likely, even more, HR departments will finally see some of their processes completely or partially automated, including hiring, training, and data analysis. For example, modern HR software can automatically filter and sort candidates, while the same can also employ content-rich LMS for onboarding and ongoing education.
In a remote work setup, you can simply modify the parameters when finding applicants or members for your team. This will be even more useful in such an arrangement, so you can process candidates and find culture-fit ones at a fraction of the time that you used to dedicate to these procedures. As a benefit, your HR team can then use the time saved to develop, guide, and align new remote workers to the company’s goals.
Artificial intelligence has allowed companies to make more data-driven decisions. While 2020 will see more of it, expect that AI will do more than just crunch numbers and forecast sales.
AI won’t completely take over HR processes, similar to automation, where it shares an overlap. AI will complement automation in this case, where it can streamline existing processes to make it more efficient and considerably decrease time spent on administrative functions. This frees up the time of an HR professional to be more of a human capital manager instead of a glorified clerk.
Companies will also see AI as more of an employee assistant in the coming years. More people consume AI services without knowing it—Siri and Alexa are prime examples—but some organizations may use in-house AI engines to help remote workers to do their jobs more effectively. And what’s more, employees can use it in concert with other personal assistants for even more productivity and broader benefits.
Predictions linked to customers, business health and machines%
Automation of manual/repetitive tasks%
Monitoring and alerts to provide assessments on the state of your business%
Increase quality of customer communications%
Recommendations related to internal issues/customer facing efforts%
Source: nrbii.comDesigned by
The increased dependence on remote work software strategies and cloud computing means cybersecurity will be an even more significant concern in the future. One issue is that some unscrupulous individuals may piggyback data while it’s on transit from your office server to where you’re working, even hijack it completely. This does rarely happen, but what about more mundane security holes—like logging into a device that’s not secure? Or leaving your passwords known to anyone?
Companies now recognize this and are now beefing up their cybersecurity protocols. Even before the pandemic became the new norm in March 2020, estimates say that the total value of cybersecurity products will exceed US$1 trillion by 2021.
IT security will be more critical to the success of remote work in the following decade. Machine learning will assist security in this sector by learning how attackers can compromise data and using it to proactively protect valuable IT assets. This technique, called predictive security, is such an important part of remote work cybersecurity that the market had an average of 261% ROI for three straight years from its use.
Communication and collaboration are two of the best practices in any kind of work. Now, they’re especially important when you’re managing a remote one. As there are fewer opportunities for teams to physically interact, it’s a prime consideration for companies to recreate a digital version of a water cooler to facilitate discussion, bonding, and collaboration.
Many organizations do this by hosting weekly all-hands meetings, with all team members present. This will usually take the form of a video conference call, using either a business phone system or a web conferencing tool. The goal is to make remote workers feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves and build trust and confidence with one another.
VoIP, which is the core of these technologies, will be at the heart of any remote work arrangement. It’s estimated that in 2021, VoIP users will reach 3 billion, or nearly 40% of the world population. And at the rate this pandemic is going, we may well reach that mark sooner than initially thought.
It’s always been common wisdom that a jack of all trades is a master of none. This is nowhere near as important for remote workers, where people with more general skill sets are less attractive to employers than those with highly specialized skills. As a result, generalists are replaced easily and, even when hired, are paid less.
Contrast this to an onsite position, where research suggests that being a generalist is better than being a specialist.
In a time where 1 in 3 professionals in the US is a freelancer, remote workers can earn far more by being proficient in a specific field. The narrower the field, the better the pay.
As for companies, they can keep this in mind when hiring and trying to retain top freelance talent, as remote workers are wising up to opportunities by taking short-term, independent contracts that make use of their niche skills than committing to a long-term contract with an average salary.
Telecommuters or teleworkers are often called “digital nomads.” This term is used to strictly refer to workers who spend their time working anywhere. The revolution of remote work in the coming years, however, will see this term specify anyone who works outside the confines of a traditional office setting.
New businesses have sprung up in this time of need. Not only do coffee shops with built-in wifi cater to these nomads but other establishments as well. Hotels, Airbnb-style rental units, and coworking spaces have all risen to answer this need.
The proliferation of coworking spaces reflects the trend of a rising remote workforce. GCUC forecasts over 30,000 flexible working spaces by 2022—worldwide. And with more remote workers than ever, it’s safe to say that in two more years these spaces will be more pervasive than cafes that host working areas. Expect digital nomads to hop from coworking space to coffee house, to their hostel while working, all while traveling the world.
Source: Coworking Forecast, 2019
It’s no secret that remote workers work longer hours. Owl Labs recently reported that remote employees are 43% more likely to work more than 40 hours in a week. For most companies, this is a highly valuable benefit; any productivity boost is a welcome mark on their ledgers. For employees themselves, not so much.
This happens mostly because remote workers often can’t draw the line between professional and personal time. An overlap occurs, where they spend their time working or “doing one more” even when they’re supposed to sign off and relax. As a result, burnout happens far earlier and more often to remote workers.
In 2020, as remote work becomes the new norm, employers will realize that valuing their remote employees’ time is just as important as enforcing attendance and punctuality for everything else. Managers and HR departments will soon develop systems to manage work hours. Time tracking software is a step toward across-the-board implementation in this case.
Not all remote work arrangements are full-time. Some companies allow their employees to work from home once or twice a week. On the other hand, some require that they report to the office at least once a week. Others, however, have a full-time remote work setup, but even these companies have at least annual or biannual meetups, often used for team building purposes or company alignment.
There are certain benefits to in-office workdays, however. It keeps workers grounded and reinforces the idea of being part of a bigger team. Managers also use them as part of broad strategies to immerse employees in company values and work culture. All in all, while remote work has a lot of practical benefits, in-office work also reduces isolation.
And just in time—studies show that social isolation can promote inflammation, which is something you’d rather avoid in a pandemic.
Onsite and full-time employees often elect to live or bunk in areas near their workplace. This is often in a city area, where living quarters are often cramped and offer little privacy. By working remotely, however, you unlock a lot of opportunities—including more time, increased savings, and better work-life balance.
This has made areas with little population density, like the suburbs, suddenly skyrocket in demand. More remote workers now choose locations with improved quality of life or at least closer to their families. Some states offer incentives to remote workers who move to their area. An example is Vermont, which will pay workers up to $5,000 a year for two years.
Other rural areas are developing their own initiatives. These areas have all the amenities required for remote work, including high-speed internet and real estate values that are currently a steal. As more towns follow suit, suburbia would become hubs for remote work, developing them further into a kind of a feedback loop.
Cities used to be the center around which white-collar commerce happens. In a future where most people work in the comfort of their homes (or traveling around the world), cities will become less important. It’s a shift in urban planning based around decentralizing business districts in cities and a more balanced, dispersed style of development throughout the city and its outlying environs.
One of the ways to do so is to revise how our cities are laid out. Modern cities still follow an industrial pattern where a central business district (CBD) is “downtown,” where many commercial establishments are located. When remote work becomes more prevalent, CBDs will have less importance as remote workers can work anywhere.
Urban planning in 2020 and beyond will also utilize some tenets of a smart city. A smart city is an extension of IoT. Now it will cover an entire urban area, where every area is connected using a high-speed, low-latency network, like 5G wireless and symmetrical fiber networks. Cloud computing will give way to edge computing, and data will be “open,” allowing citizens to co-create solutions tailored to their personal use.
This means that the entire smart city is a remote worker’s playground and “office,” as opposed to being limited to an office cubicle.
The newest generational cohort is Generation Z, which some people call the “new millennials.” The oldest Gen Zer is around 22–23 years old, which means they’ve already entered the global workforce.
As the generation raised with technology, they are even more tech-savvy than millennials, who are either their parents or their mentors. And while millennials already have a lot of expectations when it comes to work, Gen Zers’ expectations are even more demanding and tech-centered. This means that Gen Zers will take certain things regarding work that older generations would have viewed as a “benefit” as a precondition.
Remote work will be one of them. While other generations would be wondering how to work remotely from home, this generation will not be similarly at a loss about it.
And while 60% of Gen Z employees would rather have regular feedback from their managers, most would rather have work-life balance. If they have to sacrifice feedback for work-life balance, the choice is rather clear.
It’s common knowledge that there is a divide between men and women in the workforce, not to mention the gender pay gap. In a remote workforce, the differences are even starker. Zapier, for example, found that 40% of female workers aren’t allowed to work remotely, compared to only 25% of men.
This clear inequity means companies are missing out on the skills and perspectives that are exclusive to women. As remote work has become necessary in these times, employers may have already seen what female remote workers can bring to the table.
And it’s not just the gender divide that’s worrying. Employers are often practice location bias, where they often discount people with longer commutes. Apart from this, some industries are also prone to hiring based on gender (as described above), ethnicity, and orientation.
Remote work, however, will bring down some of these barriers. Unlike a Silicon Valley tech company—whose employees are overwhelmingly white men—companies with remote work can diversify their employee portfolio. Location bias in a remote work arrangement won’t be a factor, as would ethnicity and orientation; employers only need to know if the candidate can actually work and deliver.
It’s not just the millennials and the Gen Zers who can benefit from an increasingly remote working setup. Baby Boomers and Gen X could, too. By this time, the oldest of the latter would be entering retirement, joining their Boomer parents. And remote work can address the sudden void in their lives that they used to fill with work.
Quality of life and life expectancy has massively increased in the last few decades, from 48 in 1950 to over 72 by 2017. In fact, from 2007 to 2017, the worldwide average lifespan has jumped nearly three years. This has made retirees look for things they can do in their waning years, and remote work can partially be the answer.
Apart from the obvious benefits, like money, studies show that elder people who keep mentally and socially active are less susceptible to cognitive issues.
Plus, with their experience, they can act as consultants and coaches or mentors to those who are still employed. And with remote work, they can simply do so at their own time, wherever they are.
As millennials age, the popularity of remote work will allow them to retire early but still pull their own weight, at least in terms of finances.
It’s not clear yet when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Some workers, however, are anxiously looking forward to the resumption of normal office activities after it all blows over. They may, however, be in for a rude awakening, as numerous think tanks have judged that this worldwide concern has only accelerated the future of work.
Why? Tax Jar put it this way: the ongoing push for remote work due to the pandemic is less of a field trip than what it truly is—the future. And, it adds, if the company decides to revert to an onsite setup, they must be prepared to launch a strong argument as to why.
The reasons are simply practical. It’s estimated that companies can save up to $11,000 a year per employee when they switch to remote work. This is mostly because the actual cost of running a business based in a physical office is quite high. There’s rent, then power and water, alongside things like property insurance, office supplies, and more.
And it’s not just that—remote work is great for the environment too. We’ve all seen clearer water in Venetian canals and clearer skies after people locked themselves in their homes. If work is to be situated in employees’ homes, it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 54 million tons a year.
It’s clear that remote work is going to figure in the future of work in 2020 and beyond. Instead of trying to fight what’s inevitable, companies should modify their policies and enhance their capabilities to take advantage of it.
Looking at the available technology and tools to help you leverage remote work is a good start. You can take stock of what your company can accommodate with its current IT infrastructure and see what you can do with it. Plus, even if doing this doesn’t exactly lead to a full-fledged remote work setup, it can still help you find and address technical issues on your side that may be bogging down your employees’ productivity.
When you’re ready to take the leap, you can look at our list of project management tools to help you find a workflow that works for your team. Just remember: pandemic or not, work will forever be changed, and it’s up to you to prepare your organization for the future.
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