The Future of Remote Work
Just three years ago, remote working jobs were only really available to people with special circumstances, and a geographically-flexible job role could have been a really big bonus. Fast-forward to 2022, and it’s estimated that 30% of the UK workforce is currently working remotely at least one day a week.
Findings by the global recruitment firm Robert Half also show a staggering 50% of professionals who began working from home would resign if they were forced to return to the office full-time. Research by Buffer shows that 97.6% of people who currently work remotely would like to continue to do so, at least some of the time, for the remainder of their careers.
More companies are urging their workers to return to the office, at least for a couple of days a week, but remote work – meaning from home, from shared spaces, a few days a week or permanently – is still very high on many employees’ lists when it comes to top-ranked company benefits.
We take a look at the future of remote working and the impact it’s having on employers and employees in 2023 and beyond.
Why full-time office work is not for everyone
Just two years ago, then-CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, told employees they could work from home “forever”, making it one of the first companies to formalise a “lasting” remote work policy. Now, with new ownership under Elon Musk, the policy has been summarily scrapped. Twitter employees now have to put in 40 hours (of “hard grind”) a week at the office, or they’ll be out of a job.
Musk did the same at Tesla in May and although some resigned because they wanted more flexible working conditions, most complied out of necessity. Yet, the return-to-office policy has reportedly caused a significant decline in morale among employees. The policy has depleted some of Tesla’s power to recruit and retain top talent, and there are concerns that the company’s closed-mindedness about remote work could damage its diversity goals.
Experts warn that an authoritarian, top-down approach – rooted in mistrust and false assumptions – goes against best practices and creates an illusion of control that could undermine employee productivity, engagement, innovation, retention, and recruitment. Annie Dean, former Head of Remote Work at Meta, says Musk’s mindset is regressive and discounts the successes of the last two years of collaborative, digital-first work.
Groups most suited to remote working jobs
Not all industries are suited to remote work. Those requiring in-person contact or handling of materials and machinery will always require workers to be at their place of work. On the other hand, jobs where employees interact with computers, such as processing and analysing or interpreting data, and others that require creative thinking or learning, are ideally suited to remote work. Here are the groups of people who could remotely service these industries:
Tech industry workers
With the rapid expansion of the internet, mobile technology, and the internet of things (IoT), traditional and digital economies are merging into one. This means the demand for technical skills in fields such as data analytics, product management, UX, cyber security and digital marketing is set to grow significantly across industries – and, along with it, accelerated educational opportunities to accommodate those making a career switch to tech.
Another change emerging a year into The Great Resignation is the power shift from employer to employee. Tech workers, in particular, hold this power and are one of the groups with the greatest ability to work remotely full-time. The fact is, remote working has always been a pretty natural fit for tech work, and we saw this at the start of the pandemic when the tech industry forged ahead, almost unaffected.
Today, employees use remote work possibilities as part of the job negotiation process and also demand access to innovation, upskilling and training. According to a June study by McKinsey, 52% of people in tech and math-related fields said they can work from home five days a week, while a further 37% said they can spend at least part of their week working remotely.
Tech companies that have embraced a remote-first policy include Facebook, GoPro, Reddit and Coinbase. Others, such as Dropbox and Slack, are allowing workers flexible options, like coming into the office for three days a week. FourthRev is proudly 100% remote and scored 95% on Flexa (which employs a strict verification process to see which companies are really flexible). It scores businesses on six key elements of flexibility: location, hours, autonomy, benefits, role modelling and work-life balance.
Underrepresented people and minorities
In its 2022 diversity report, Meta disclosed that most of its US candidates who accepted remote job offers were ethnic minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. Additionally, the report showed that globally, a big chunk of candidates who accepted remote job offers were women.
For women, the ability to work remotely has had a significant impact. It’s easier to integrate work and life activities and allows for autonomy when it comes to day-to-day work responsibilities. Women working in tech and fearing the Zoom ceiling (out of sight, out of mind) can take advantage of professional development opportunities that are essential to staying relevant.
The neurodivergent and those with cognitive differences
Another group that benefits from remote work is the neurodivergent – those with ADHD, dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other atypical neurological conditions. Workers with cognitive differences often struggle with in-person office culture and unpredictable commutes, but they offer traits and strengths such as inventiveness, creativity, strong attention to detail, and sustained focus.
According to the People at Work 2022 report, there is a lot of resistance to returning to the office full-time among younger employees. Almost 71% of 18-24 year-olds would consider looking for another job if their company insisted on a full-time return to the office.
Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012 and graduated between 2019 and 2021) sees working from home as an absolute necessity, more than any other generation. Many have only ever had remote working jobs, and one in five has never worked in an office environment.
A new global workforce
Employees are prioritising personal values, job security, well-being and flexibility over a big salary and a handful of perks. Nearly a quarter of workers said they are actively trying to change their job and/or move to a “future-proof” industry (the tech industry is one) where skills are in higher demand long-term, where they see the strongest earning potential and the best career development prospects.
The great productivity debate of remote work
For employers, flexible work arrangements not only make it easier to hire and retain tech workers, but they also see benefits in delivery. The Gartner 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey showed that 43% of respondents believe flexibility in working hours enabled them to achieve greater productivity, and 30% of respondents said that time saved due to eliminating their commute was spent on being more productive.
Some academics argue that increased productivity is due to companies and employees becoming better at working from home. Their research also suggests that in-office employees tend to work much less than the full eight-hour day and, in reality, only spend around 39% of their time working. The rest is spent on reading news websites, checking social media, chatting with colleagues about non-work topics, going for lunch or coffee, making non-work calls, and even looking for other jobs.
What today’s remote-first generation wants from employers
Resourcing for remote desk job industries, such as financial services, technology, or professional services, is relatively easy and cost-efficient. Here are some steps companies can take to make remote work, work for them:
- Offer learning and upskilling opportunities through courses, mentors and career coaches.
- Provide office-grade furniture, computers, scanners, webcams, subscriptions to software and remuneration for WiFi.
- Provide software and security training for employees to protect their information and devices.
- Establish new roles to exclusively manage remote teams (Head of Team Anywhere, President of Flexible Work, Chief Remote Officer – see more at GitLab) and create a database of commonly used remote-work words and phrases, so everyone’s on the same page.
- Shift to asynchronous work with asynchronous tooling. Async workers have the autonomy to set their own schedules around their objectives, and the tools allow flexible, remote-first to stand on its own.
A positive (and cost-saving) shift
Employers are seeing benefits to the bottom line, which comes from cutting overheads and the reduced cost of renting floor space. For employees, it means they have a better work/life balance and, financially, it’s estimated that the average UK employee is saving a total of £44.78 per week, primarily in travel and food, by working from home full time. With the cost of transport and daunting commutes, this makes remote working jobs in London particularly attractive.
The transition to remote work is well underway and is set to continue into 2023. This shift shows businesses are acknowledging advancements in business culture and technology, as well as addressing employee values. While every business’ pivot to hybrid and remote will look different, attracting and retaining top talent is key to business success, and remote working job opportunities create an atmosphere of trust and future-forward thinking – something Musk may learn too late.
Interested in developing your skills for a remote career? Book a call with an Enrolment Advisor to learn more about our Career Accelerators, a launchpad for those interested in a career in the fast-growing digital economy.