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The Rise of Remote Workers and Remote Work

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

The Rise of Remote Workers and Remote Work

Debunking myths and facts surrounding remote work are more important now than ever.  So, what is remote work? And what are remote worker jobs

Simply put, it refers to those jobs done by remote workers outside the office from a remote location. Remote work isn't just limited to digital nomads or techies. It is penetrating across various industries at breakneck speed. Flexible schedule, positive work-life balance, and freedom to operate from any location are some of the key benefits.

Though often conflated, remote work isn't the same as work from home. By the end of this article, you will understand this difference. You'll also uncover the benefits as well as limitations of remote work, and what scope it beholds in the future. Before delving deep, let's get our fundamentals right.

1. What Being a Remote Worker Means?

As a remote worker, you have the liberty to work from anywhere.  It can be your living room couch, neighborhood coffee shop, or just any part of this world which has an internet connection. 

Remote work entails carrying out your professional roles and responsibilities outside the confinements of office space. Thanks to supportive technologies like powerful interface devices, fast internet connection, the proliferation of cloud computing, and SaaS solutions, it is fast replacing the cubicle lifestyle. 

Since remote workers complete their duties outside the office and according to their schedules, they tend to have higher engagement and productivity rates. This makes them viable for hiring managers as well. Flexible scheduling is the new norm.  Many companies like Automattic, Gitlab, Zapier, and Buffer are already working remotely in a bid to stay competitive and innovative.

A recent report shows flexibility is the new normal for workers and workplaces across the globe.  Especially for millennials and Generation Z who constitute a major chunk of the present, as well as the future workforce. 

2. When and How Did the Remote Work Concept Evolve?

Despite the recent buzz, remote work is not a new concept.

Here's a bit of trivia for you!

In the pre-Industrial Revolution era, skilled artisans like blacksmiths, potters, leather workers, etc, created and sold goods from their homes. They were the forerunners to today's remote work environment. The advent of the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century triggered the urgency for automation and factory set-up. And that's when people started commuting to work.

The scenario changed drastically after World War II when huge office spaces crammed with aisles of drab cubicles introduced the 8-hour work shift. Soon, the rise of computer technology and the world wide web paved the way for modern-day remote workers. 

People started buying their personal computers. Internet packages and public Wi-Fi changed the future possibility of remote work forever. After the Great Recession hit in 2008, many organizations in the US were forced to downsize offices and encouraged employees to work from home. This measure is borne out of necessity to help the economy to rebound. Since then, widespread adoption of remote work started taking place. 

According to Global Workplace Analytics, remote work has grown a staggering 140% over the last 15 years, with a 22% rise in the last year alone. Metro cities, the hub of the largest pool of knowledge workers, have sky-high living costs.

These workers are choosing to work outside the headquarters in search of an affordable lifestyle. Niche cities, urban peripheries, and low growth rural areas with lower living costs and higher quality of life are attracting remote workers to shift base from the steeper urban core. 

3. Remote Work Vs. Work from Home

Both remote work and work from home are popular workplace trends with real benefits for employers and employees alike. Though often used interchangeably, they don't imply the same approach to work. The growing popularity of hybrid offices that allow employees to work either from office or remotely explains why these trends are on the rise.

As the acronym suggests, work from home (WFH) is an approach to work where employees work from their place of residence instead of commuting to their office. Companies adapting to this trend, usually have a WFH policy, that allows employees to work from their home full-time or whenever most convenient for them. Whether it is for a change of scenery or a canceled meeting, a change of workstation from the office desk to your kitchen counter is like a breath of fresh air. WFH arrangement is something that even full-time employees can opt for as and when required if permitted by the organization. 

Remote work also means not having to commute to a central place of work. The only difference being, a remote worker can work from anywhere as he or she feels comfortable in. It can be their home, a coworking space, coffee shop, library, or even at the airport between changing flights.  Unlike WFH, remote work has greater flexibility of location to work from. 

Having a self-starting attitude, being resourceful, and adroit in time management skills are the prerequisites for remote work. As a remote worker, you have the flexibility to create your work environment and liberty to work at your own pace, contrary to what a non-remote worker does. 

Developers, digital nomads, online tutors, writers, accountants, designers, gig workers are typically remote workers and this approach has forayed into other sectors as well.

4. Benefits of Remote Work

The rising popularity of remote work has undeniably many benefits to boast about. Let us take a look at some:

1) The Flexibility of Time: A flexible schedule is considered the biggest benefit of remote work. Buffer’s ‘The State of Remote Work’ report 32% of remote workers stated flexibility of time as the primary benefit. Flextime allows working outside the conventional 9 to 5 schedule that suits the worker’s bio clock.

Early birds prefer a 7 am to 3 pm schedule and owlers feel more productive between 10 am to 7 pm. Remote workers can create a work schedule that works best for them and has a positive effect on their work-life balance.

2) Work from anywhere: In the same report, 26% of respondents voted for flexibility of location, the second biggest boon of working remotely. They can switch between places or cities without causing disruptions to work. This flexibility allows them to enjoy the other important aspects of life.

As a remote worker, you don't have to give up on that holiday you have been saving up for months. 

3) Saves commuting hassles: Not commuting to work gives you some extra time to indulge in napping, or whipping up a fancy breakfast of avo on toast while sipping triple americano as you scroll up the news ticker.

An average commuter to work takes approximately 59 minutes back and forth. That is a whopping 221 hours a day! Also, remote workers save almost $4523.04 yearly on fuel, which constitutes a big chunk of their expenses.

4) Save costs of employer and employee: It is estimated that remote workers save anywhere between $2000 and $7000 every year thanks to reduced transportation, clothing, food, and childcare expenses. Also, company costs incurred on office utilities and services, food, rent, insurance, etc can save up to $11000 per remote worker annually. 

5) More productivity and less turnover: Are remote workers glued to Netflix and killing time? Au contraire! Statistics reveal that remote workers develop excellent time management skills and are more productive than their in-office counterparts. Lack of flexibility is a major cause for employee turnover, and organizations with remote work flexibility, encounter a significantly reduced turnover. 

6) Better quality of life and reduced stress: Remote work significantly improves the quality of life and reduces stress. Remote workers sleep more, get more time to exercise, and eat healthier. They also have more time for friends and family, can indulge in a hobby, or learn a new skill.  Overall they have a higher positive attitude and reduced stress that boosts job satisfaction.

5. Remote Working Challenges

1) Communication and Collaboration: According to the 2020 Buffer State report, lack of effective communication and collaboration is the biggest challenge for remote workers. This challenge is compounded when some team members are collocated. Consequently, members within a remote team feels left out from meetings and decision making. Also when working with team members from different time zones, collaborating in real-time can be tricky and ambiguous. 

2) Loneliness and disconnection: Lack of workplace knowledge sharing, missed information, inaccessibility to groups, are some major causes that leave a remote worker feeling lonely and disconnected from the rest of the team. Buffer’s report 2020 reveals 20% remote workers felt lonely and disconnected from peers. This social isolation often has a detrimental effect on their well being and of course productivity as such.

3) Unplugging after work: In the same Buffer report, the second biggest struggle remote workers face is unplugging after work and 18% of respondents believed the same. The ability to disconnect from work invigorates brain time and helps you deliver your best. Unplugging is crucial to averting stress, failing which health and productivity are at stake.

6. Future Remote Work Trends

The pros of remote work outweigh the cons. And with the right tools and productivity tips, remote work will continue to grow and soon replace the conventional way of work. It has revolutionized the history of the workplace, and will also be the biggest contributor to a better quality of life in the present and future.

Technology advancements like 4G/5G connectivity, cloud-based storage, virtual-reality conferencing, remote management software, and collaboration tools, and AI, have facilitated a smooth transition to managing a remote workforce with ease.  

According to recent reports by Buffer, 98% of remote workers want to continue working remotely, for the rest of their careers and 97% of them will recommend remote work to others. Remote work looks like a great opportunity to explore given the perceivable rise in employee engagement!  

7. Conclusion

Remote work trend is doing the rounds for decades and will continue to proliferate across businesses worldwide. Some organizations are still resisting the change to find a flexible and convenient gig. However, in the long run, improving remote work policies and capabilities will be worth the shot. In the wake of the corona crisis, businesses are slowly opening doors. And many remote managers and workers are likely to continue off-shore work mode, even after the pandemic ceases.

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