If we turn back the clock just 10 or 15 years, we’d be in a time when remote work was pretty rare. Employers were still locked into the idea that people had to be in the office for them to be at their productive best, and the benefits of letting people telecommute really weren’t all that apparent.
However, fast forward to today and find ourselves in a time where remote work is more prevalent than ever. The number of people working remotely seems to be growing by the second, and there is really no reason to suspect this will slow down. Of course there will always be a place for the traditional office setting, but remote work is most certainly the future.
This will bring about lots of changes. Managers will have to adapt their management style so that they can work with remote teams, and nearly all businesses will need to get help—in the form of a professional employer organization (PEO)—managing the HR nightmare that comes with having employees from all over the world.
But before going too far into what people will need to do to adapt to a remote workforce, let’s look at some of drivers of this radical change in how we work.
The Gig Economy is on the Rise
More and more people are freelancing than ever before, with most projections indicating that by 2027, the American workforce will be 50 percent freelancers. This is a huge shift in the structure of the economy. But to understand why remote work will be included in this trend, we must consider who is freelancing and why.
Most freelancers work in one of four fields: IT/computer services, accounting and finance, HR and recruiting, and writing/content development. And as you’ll notice, all of these jobs can be done with nothing more than a computer and an internet connection. It’s what allows these freelancers to charge such competitive rates, which in turn makes them attractive options to companies.
So as the number of freelancers increases, so will the prominence of remote work. And even when companies decide to keep these common functions inside the business, they’ll be able to let people work more flexibly, also contributing to growth in the number of people working remotely.
E-commerce is Booming
Another big driver of remote work growth is the rapid expansion of eCommerce. More and more people are shopping online every year, and this trend will not slow down. This is good news for those currently running an eCommerce business or who have plans to start one. And it’s also good news for the proponents of remote work.
Why? Well because eCommerce is nearly entirely digital. The main draw to opening one of these businesses is that they can be managed almost entirely from a laptop, keeping overhead down and profits high. So as eCommerce continues to grow, remote work will too, helping to make it an integral part of our global economy.
Remote Workers Tend to Be More Engaged
Yes, you read that right. It goes against what we think makes sense. The lack of supervision, structure and connection to the job that comes with working remotely leads us to believe remote workers disengage more easily. But a study by the Harvard Business Review has found exactly the opposite to be true, suggesting that engagement is higher for remote workers than for those in the office.
The logic behind this is that remote work allows people to use their time better. Instead of being stuck in an office for a set number of hours, they can instead work on their tasks and then use their free time as they wish. This type of flexibility is hard to find, and it’s something people come to cherish. Working remotely becomes a major job perk people really want to preserve, pushing them to invest more energy into their work, boosting engagement and productivity.
Of course, this is not to suggest that working remotely automatically makes people more productive. You need to have a good amount of self-discipline and the ability to work autonomously. But this evidence that remote work is good for productivity will likely lead to employers offering this benefit to more and more people.
It’s What People Want
Millennials have officially become the largest segment of both the population and the workforce. And this means the way we work will eventually come to reflect this generation’s values and desires.
Flexibility has rapidly become a top concern for this demographic when they go to search for a job. Salary and room to grow are still important, but they have been getting mixed in are competing with a whole range of other increasingly-important benefits, such as flexible paid time off and the freedom to set one’s own schedule. Remote work is one of the ways employers can offer these desirable benefits to their employees, meaning we can expect to see an increase in its use in the coming years.
The Tools Exist to Make it Happen
The common argument against remote work becoming the norm is that it deprives companies of the person-to-person communication needed to build a strong, innovative culture. And while this is true to some extent, there are ways to work around this problem. Specifically, technology.
Videoconferencing, screen sharing, productivity apps such as FreeConference.com and Callbridge ever-increasing internet speeds means that it’s easier than ever for people to communicate with one another even when they are not in the same location. And while nothing can replace the sensation of sitting down next to someone and talking, these tools get us pretty close. Or they get us close enough to make the benefits of remote work still outweigh the downsides.
Furthermore, we’re still in the infant stages of this trend. More tools will come out to improve the experience of remote work, and this will only make this type of working arrangement more effective and therefore more popular.
The Future is Now
Offices will likely never go away, and people will always prefer face-to-face communication over digital. But trends in the economy plus the ever-expanding range of benefits provided by remote work suggest remote work is here to stay. Employees and job seekers will come to expect this type of arrangement, and employers need to prepare themselves to offer it. We’ve already seen a massive growth in the amount of remote workers, but we can only expect things to heat up, meaning remote work truly is the future of work.
About the Author: Jock Purtle is the CEO of Digital Exits. He has always worked remote and employs an entirely remote workforce. He has seen the benefits for both employees and the business.
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