The rise of remote jobs has been one of the biggest trends in the workforce over the last decade. More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home, and an increasing number of workers are choosing to freelance or start their own businesses remotely.
There are many reasons for this trend, including the increased flexibility and independence that comes with working from home, as well as the advances in technology that have made it easier to stay connected and productive when working remotely.
The impact of Covid-19 has surely expedited the trend of working remotely, but it is not the only factor. Before the pandemic, there were already several companies that were embracing remote work. For example, Amazon has had a remote work program in place for years, and other tech giants like Google and Facebook have also been increasingly allowing employees to work from home.
There are a number of reasons why companies are increasingly embracing remote work. For one, it can help to attract and retain top talent. Working remotely allows employees to have a better work-life balance, which is increasingly important to workers, especially millennials. In addition, remote work can also help companies save money on office space and other overhead costs.
While there are many benefits of working remotely, there are also some challenges. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that employees are productive when they are not in a traditional office setting. It can be easy for employees to get distracted at home, and it can be difficult to create a sense of team cohesion when everyone is working in different locations. In addition, there are also security concerns that come with remote work, as sensitive company data can be more vulnerable to cyber-attacks when it is not stored on a secure network.
Despite this, many are still left to wonder what the future holds in store. Just about everyone seems to be wondering: Are remote jobs the new normal? Or yet another temporary trend?
Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: the way we work is changing.
A Quick History of Smart Working
Usually, “remote job” is often connected to the term “smart working” and while the term “remote job” is relatively new, the concept of “smart working” has been around for centuries, dating back to the days when workers were first able to trade their labor for money.
The idea was simple: by working smarter, not harder, workers could increase their earnings while also freeing up time for leisure and other pursuits.
The industrial revolution was a major turning point in the history of work, as new machines and production methods dramatically increased efficiency. Since then, there has been a continuous process of refinement and improvement, with each new generation finding new ways to work smarter.
With the advent of technology, the definition of smart working has changed somewhat, but the basic principle remains the same. By using technology to automate repetitive tasks and connect with clients and colleagues remotely, workers can be more productive and efficient. In many ways, modern technology has made smart working easier and more accessible than ever before. However, it is important to remember that the goal of smart working is still to improve one’s quality of life, not simply to increase productivity.
What are the Benefits of Working From Home?
For many people, working from home offers several benefits, including increased flexibility, improved work-life balance, and reduced stress levels. One of the major advantages of working from home is that it allows employees to take care of personal errands and responsibilities during the workday. In addition, working from home often allows people to structure their day in a way that works best for them. For example, some people may prefer to start working early in the morning, while others may find that working later at night suits their schedule better. Overall, working from home can provide a number of benefits for both employees and employers.
The Benefits of Working From Home For Employees
- Freedom and flexibility. When employees work remotely, they can plan their day by themselves. This allows employees to complete both professional and personal tasks on their own time. Furthermore, granting employees this kind of freedom and flexibility can increase trust in the company they work for and strengthen job satisfaction.
- Lower expenses. Remote jobs eliminate additional expenses such as parking, travel costs, lunch, work attire, and even childcare. As a result, employees have more disposable income.
- It saves time. remote jobs also save time, as employees no longer have to take the time to commute to and from work. Furthermore, it allows employees to create their own schedules and work when they know they are most productive. Overall, it allows for a more balanced work/life division.
- It allows you to work from any location. Whether it be at home or elsewhere, employees get to choose where to work from. This gives the employees more power over environmental factors they may not have been able to control in the office. For example, they may choose a location that is quiet, peaceful, and comfortable. This also allows employees to personalize their workspaces in ways that may not be possible in an office.
- It may increase mental and physical health and well-being. Commuting to work is not always the healthiest option, and working from home can decrease sensations of anxiety or stress. This is beneficial as employees who are happy and healthy are more likely to produce quality work.
The Benefits of Working From Home For Employers
- It saves money. By working from home, employers may be able to save some of the typical expenses associated with an office. These may include rent, utilities, building maintenance, cleaning, coffee/snacks, work equipment, furniture, and more.
- It increases positivity. Working together remotely can promote feelings of positivity and increase motivation. This, in turn, can lead employees to be more willing to go the extra mile when needed, whether it be working late or producing top-quality work. Remote employees have also been found to be happier than office workers.
- It allows employers to select employees from a larger pool of applicants. Employers are no longer constricted to hiring locally. Instead, employees can potentially be located anywhere in the world. This provides a greater opportunity to find staff with specialized skills, therefore saving on training and relocation costs.
- It reduces absences. If an employee is feeling a little sick, they are more likely to be willing to work from home than make the commute to the office. This is especially true for those with a lengthy commute. Similar reasoning, furthermore, may also apply when employees need time off for appointments or events. Even if they must take part of the day off for such occurrences, they may still be able to restructure their day and complete their work without having to take any time off.
- It fosters loyalty. As stated in the previous section, giving employees freedom and flexibility build loyalty. Loyalty leads to employee retention, as employees will not seek other opportunities if they are satisfied with their current position. This, in the long run, saves the company expenses such as finding new employees and training them.
- It saves time. More time than one may realize is wasted in the office that could be saved if employees worked from home. Consider ‘office gossip’ and lengthy commutes. In addition to this, virtual meetings seem more effective than asking everyone to walk to the designated meeting room and wait for the meeting to start.
- It increases communication. Communication software such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace allows for quick and smooth communication. Employees may also use these applications to get to know their colleagues better, thus prompting clearer communication and collaboration.
- It helps prevent office hierarchies/ conflicts. When employees work remotely, it creates less opportunity for unnecessary distractions or conflicts. This, in turn, increases productivity and prevents office politics.
- It increases productivity. Increased productivity leads to increased profits. Thus, if employees can be as productive as they are in the office while working remotely, it’s in the employer’s interest to allow that.
What are the Benefits of Working in the Office?
Working in the office also provides a unique set of benefits that may not be available to those working a remote job. These benefits are valuable to both employers and employees.
- Working in an office provides a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures. We strive for connection and feel fulfilled when we achieve a sense of belonging through our community. Feelings of belonging often arise from engaging in cooperative problem solving and team building, both of which may be limited in remote jobs.
- It builds social identity. Similarly, employees build their social persona through interactions with their colleagues, bosses, clients, etc. Working in the office is, therefore, a good vehicle to achieve this.
- It can increase health and wellbeing. Working in the office provides a different set of health and wellness benefits. Research shows that when we do not have a significant amount of face-to-face interaction, our mental and physical health can suffer. Although remote jobs are not completely isolating, they do not provide the same interactional benefits as in-person interactions do. In addition to this, technology can be faulty, resulting in lags, glitches, delays, or more. This limits our ability to connect with others in both literal and symbolic ways. In addition to this, remote jobs can also be related to issues of stress and anxiety, as employees may feel hypervigilant. Finally, our brain benefits from face-to-face interactions. When interacting with others the brain releases oxytocin, a chemical associated with happiness. It also lowers brain chemicals such as cortisol and adrenocorticotropin which, in excess, are associated with high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease.
- It increases our intelligence and performance. Research has found that when people interact face-to-face they show improved cognitive functions. Thus, working in the office and collaborating with colleagues provides the right environment and tools to produce better work. This is achieved by listening, thinking, empathizing, and responding to others. This interactional praxis is not available to those who work remotely by design.
- It provides opportunities for career development, work relationships, and learning. Employees who choose to work in the office may have access to more career development opportunities than those who hold remote positions. Employers and leaders who wish to expand their team or promote their employees are likely more familiar with those who work in the office (whose faces they see on a regular basis) than those who work remotely. Thus, working in the office is beneficial for one’s professional growth. Furthermore, in-person presence can also aid work relationships, as face-to-face presence is linked with increased trust and acceptance. Working in the office also provides learning opportunities from those who either have seniority at the company or provide a different set of skills you may wish to acquire.
What do Experts Think?
While the question of whether employees should work remotely or from the office remains, preliminary data indicates that remote jobs are becoming a permanent feature of the workforce.
Data provided by 50,000 of the US and Canada’s largest employers indicates that remote jobs are “here for the long haul”.
According to the Q1 2022 Quarterly Remote Work Report by Ladders, one quarter (24%) of all professional jobs in the US and Canada are now permanently remote positions. Such an increase surpassed even the most optimistic predictions made by experts in 2021. This indicates, perhaps, that remote jobs will have a larger role in society than initially anticipated and that they are not simply a temporary pandemic placeholder as many initially anticipated.
According to Google search data, furthermore, the average searches for “fully remote jobs” increased by 24,900% in Q1 2022 vs 2017. This indicates that employees are actively seeking out remote positions at a much greater rate than they were just 5 years ago, thus creating the demand for remote jobs.
Given this, we are likely to see companies adopt more flexible options for those wishing to work remotely. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that more and more jobs are being advertised as remote jobs (or, at least, as hybrid positions). Furthermore, a study by McKinsey shows that at least 29% of employees say they would switch jobs if their employer required them to work exclusively in the office.
Of course, the popularity of remote jobs depends on multiple factors, one of which is the industry. For example, some industries are more remote-work friendly (enterprise technology, technical services, hospitality, and recreation) than others (aerospace and defense, hospitals and medical centers, real estate, construction). Unsurprisingly, one of the industries with the highest rate of remote positions is tech jobs. This includes Software developers, DevOps engineers, data scientists, technical support specialists, and solutions architects.
A Global Perspective
Although the number of global job listings mentioning remote work has nearly tripled since the onset of the pandemic (up from 2.5% in January 2020 to almost 7.5% in September 2021), not all countries have embraced remote positions with open arms.
In Western Europe, the practice of working from home was still quite rare as of the early 2010s. However, while other countries seem to shift toward remote jobs, France remains reluctant. According to an Ifop study, only 29% of French workers say they work remotely once a week. This statistic is low when compared to the 51% of Germans, 50% of Italians, 42% of British, and 36% of Spaniards. Even by other measures, it appears that French workers spend more time in the office than those in other neighboring countries.
This reluctance may stem from their traditional work culture. Furthermore, face-to-face social interaction is critical to daily day-to-day operations in French offices. Such practices may be difficult to replicate on a screen, perhaps accounting for these low percentages.
Another country that has been reluctant to embrace remote jobs is Japan. According to a study by Indeed, there was almost no uptick in remote jobs in Japan between January 2020 and September 2021. Again, several factors may account for the choice to work from the office.
In Japan, much like in France, the workplace is also highly social. This means that Japanese employees may feel the need to work from the office more than employees from other countries do. Furthermore, there are a lot of “unspoken messages” in the Japanese workforce (subtle body cues) that may influence the direction of a meeting. Such “cues” may be impossible to decipher on a screen. Furthermore, Japanese employees tend to work interdependently in teams, making it difficult to divide roles and responsibilities in a remote setting.
Japan also engages in mentorship in the workplace. This means that senior members often teach and monitor younger employees, which may be difficult to achieve in a remote setting. Absenteeism is also an issue, as workers fear that if they don’t spend time in the office, their careers may stall.
What about China?
China was one of the first countries to be heavily impacted by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. After strict stay-at-home measures and social-distancing safety protocols, workers were allowed to return to the office by late Spring 2020. With low covid-19 contagion numbers, China began to open up its offices and resume regular workplace operations. With that being said, China also saw incredible growth in and adaptation to remote works.
In China, the number of people working from home has steadily increased since the beginning of 2020. According to Statista, approximately 199 million employees were working from home at the beginning of 2020. This number skyrocketed to 468 million working remotely by the end of 2021.
This has had several consequences.
First, Chinese companies have had to learn how to design a more efficient work structure so as to maintain regular productivity levels while allowing remote work. At the beginning of 2020, some complained that the typical ‘996’ Chinese work week had turned into a ‘007’. This means that while in the past employees worked from 9 AM to 9 PM six days a week, they now found themselves working all the time from home. Given this, designing an effective work structure that allows employees to complete their regular work from home was high on the priority list.
Companies such as Alibaba, for example, adapted to remote working by designating an individual to keep track of meeting times and allowing members to rate the usefulness of the meeting using a five-star system. They have also increased one-on-one communication with employees on a weekly basis and regularly make use of DingTalk (Ding Ding), a productivity App.
These changes have also been adopted by other companies (evidenced by DingTalk’s 66% increase in users in 2020).
Second, companies realized that a stable internet connection and reliable software were necessary for remote work to succeed. As such, companies expanded access to VPNs and rolled out productivity tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.
Such changes have allowed remote working to not only thrive in times of need but also remain a viable option to this day. That being said, it remains to be seen whether remote work remains a constant in the Chinese workplace. According to a survey conducted by Gensler, less than 1% of the over 3,000 individuals interviewed worked remotely full-time. People cited several reasons behind their prompt return to the office, including face-to-face collaboration, efficiency, and culture of ‘presence’.
Much is still unknown about the future of remote jobs. Whether they are to remain fixed, increase in presence, or disappear completely appears to be dependent on factors such as country, industry, and company policy. On a global scale, the popularity and presence of remote jobs seem to rely on conditions such as culture, societal norms, and economic advantage/disadvantage.
Whatever the future may hold in store, one thing is certain. The increase in popularity of remote jobs, undoubtedly aided by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, has the potential to radically change our day-to-day lives, our relationships with our work, and the entire concept of what the ‘work-life’ should look like.