Enforcing a remote workforce has continually been a growing trend despite our current global pandemic. So what does this mean for the future? Let’s dive deeper into this below.
Whether companies are ready for it or not, the world’s remote workforce is growing rapidly. Easy access to a variety of telecommuting tools and collaborative digital suites as well as the continued growth of coworking and the gig economy means that workers and employers around the world are pivoting towards an increasingly dynamic way of working.
Companies are waking up to the benefits of allowing certain parts of their workforce to work remotely, and employees continue to look for remote working opportunities as a serious perk to allow greater flexibility. Among current and future trends, some that stand out include:
- Growing confidence in the remote work model
- Development of better telecommuting tools
- Rising coworking industry
- More interest in flexible work schedules
- Greater opportunities for fulfillment via remote work
Remote Work is Simply More Popular
Some companies are composed nearly completely out of a telecommuting workforce, eliminating the overhead needed to lease and set up a traditional office and giving companies the opportunity to draw from a larger talent pool.
Perhaps the biggest trend is the paradigm shift toward accepting remote work as not only an inevitability of an increasingly digital world, but a serious boon in more than a few different ways. The major obstacle preventing bosses from investing in a remote workforce was always fear – fear in a loss of productivity, fear in a loss of control, and fear in wasting time and energy on a workforce with no oversight.
Over the years, however, research and experience has shattered these fears by pointing towards countless examples of industries and professions where the ability to work from anywhere has led to increased productivity at a lower cost.
And even in cases where productivity has remained largely the same or relatively unchanged, remote work provides a host of other benefits including the need for far less office space, time spent commuting saved, and improvements on a company’s carbon footprint. But this does not mean remote work should occur haphazardly, or without proper prior conversation.
In the Face of a Pandemic
Despite its morbid nature, the most significant current trend affecting the growth of remote work has been the coronavirus. COVID-19 has caused over 200,000 deaths and has left millions unemployed, and to curb its progress, governments have imposed strict lockdowns and social distancing rules.
While nearly the whole world is under lockdown, SMEs and large corporations alike need to continue to find ways to keep the lights on and provide services, essential or otherwise, while minimizing the risk their employees face.
As such, many businesses have turned towards telecommuting through applications like Slack and Zoom to continue to work on projects and fulfill orders while at home, coordinating over the Internet. Not all workers are able to do their work remotely, and many essential services, from medical care to delivery and essential retail, continue to employ workers in-house to help people get access to medicine, food, and emergency care.
Affecting the Remote Workforce
Where remote work has been possible, it has quickly revealed a host of challenges. Poor or overloaded internet connections can make certain meetings and calls unbearable. There are limits to what a camera and microphone can capture. And sometimes, an email or an instant message aren’t expressive enough to bring across a specific point.
Furthermore, many who are unfamiliar with a suite of telecommuting tools may feel overwhelmed by the many options and features currently available through collaborative tools like Google Docs.
Some jobs lend themselves quite easily to remote work, and are perfectly suited to it, from programming and writing to data entry and analysis. Others, however, find remote work to be less than ideal, especially when their jobs rely on interpersonal communication and cooperation. It’s difficult to offer qualitative face-to-face therapeutic care or evaluate an employee’s performance over a broadband connection.
While the pandemic has punched several holes through our everyday status quo, one of those is our general unpreparedness for a complete switch to remote work. That does not make remote work any less valuable – but it reveals that companies need to prepare to implement it effectively, and that it’s more effective for some workers than it is for others.
Remote Work and Coworking Spaces
Another trend contributing to the present and the future of remote work is the continuing growth of coworking. While halted by COVID-19, the coworking industry will continue to play an important role in providing a host of features for small and large businesses alike, including:
- Lowered overhead and continuous costs for smaller businesses
- Networking opportunities for freelancers and small companies alike
- Increased productivity and collaborative opportunities
- Greater cost-benefit for larger companies looking for satellite offices
Coworking and remote work exist in symbiosis. While the benefits of working from home include reduced costs and time saved, the lack of separation between a home and the office, as well as a fluid schedule, can contribute to growing rates of burnout and problems with work-life balance. People begin to spend more time at work, mentally and physically, when they should be spending it on themselves or with their families.
Coworking spaces provide a transition point between a full-fledged office and a home office for those who do not work well from home, but are still seeking an alternative for increased productivity or want a different, more stimulating environment than what their office offers.
A Growing Focus on Proper Work-Life Balance
As the remote workforce will continue to grow, more time and resources will be spent trying to retain the productivity benefits and cost-effectiveness of remote work while minimizing the dangers of a fluid schedule, including a lack of balance between one’s professional life and one’s personal life.
Workers will need to be reminded to set clear boundaries to separate their work from their normal life, from setting specific rituals and cut-off times, to having a designated home office and office attire, versus working from the living room in a set of pajamas.
Businesses need to work on preparing themselves for an increasingly remote workforce by investing in the tools and infrastructure needed to support their remote workers and facilitate seamless communication and collaboration between the remote team and the in-house team, to avoid grinding gears and glaring inefficiencies.
There will be an ongoing trend to promote remote work as the future, but it will be accompanied with convincing businesses to take the steps needed to allow the transition to happen without frustrating setbacks, or else be left behind by the competition.