Offices may be opening up but businesses are having trouble luring their employees back in. The workforce went remote in response to the pandemic, but many workers have made it abundantly clear that they prefer the WFH lifestyle.
What’s more, remote work is becoming easier than ever before - people appear to be adjusting more quickly, employers are getting with the program, and more remote-specific tools designed to help teams communicate asynchronously are making it to market.
We’re all still wrapping our heads around what, exactly, this monumental shift means for employees, businesses, and society at large. In this post, we dialog with remote work influencers to think through the workplace trends changing our society - for better and for worse.
Where do you live when you can work from anywhere? Economist, writer, and Forbes-contributor Adam Ozimek was floored by a survey that showed that more than 20% of people are moving out of major cities.
According to the survey, which was completed by Upwork, 14 to 24 million people plan to move. Of those planning to move, 20.6% are currently living in a major city, 41.5% have plans to move more than four hours away from the city, while 13.2% will move two to four hours away.
While some are moving because of the financial hardship caused by the pandemic, many are moving to take advantage of remote work opportunities. If they can live wherever they want while holding on to their high-paying city jobs, why not make the move. For those leaving big, expensive cities, moving often means a cheaper cost of living and higher quality of life.
This is also good news for businesses, which can now hold onto talent even when workers need to move or feel like a change of pace.
Having face-to-face conversations is nice, but is it efficient? According to Chris Herd, founder and CEO of Firstbase, proactive businesses going remote-first need to hammer down a top-notch communication strategy.
Outlining anticipated changes in a viral thread on workplace trends, he mentions that prioritizing remote work means prioritizing written over spoken communication.
When a company goes fully remote, it may have workers spread across different time zones. Thus, it is important that teams keep a paper trail so that everyone, despite their location or time difference, can access the information.
Whether you are starting a new project, giving your team updates on your progress, or asking a question, you’ll need to find new ways of doing so. Project tracking and asynchronous meeting tools are absolutely invaluable for remote teams.
Adjusting to this workplace trend may take some time, but in the end, it should lead to clearer communication, increased alignment, and more effective teamwork.
Some of the most important remote workforce trends have come in the form of digitalization. Businesses with remote workforces cannot afford to use out-of-date technologies. Jean-Yves Gonin, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers France, pointed out that industries have turned to automation in order to smooth disruptions.
According to a McKinsey Study, e-commerce exploded during the pandemic, growing five times faster than it was growing pre-pandemic. Many companies deployed automation and AI in warehouses, stores, and manufacturing plants to cope with these increases in demand. These developments are likely to persist even in a post-pandemic world.
Automation and AI are also being implemented outside the warehouse. Businesses are harnessing new tools for organization, project tracking, and brainstorming. In order to create a workforce that can be productive from anywhere, businesses need to start solving problems with technical solutions.
The pandemic has, famously, had a disproportionately large effect on women. When the pandemic created a childcare crisis, The New York Times reported, “women became the default solution.” This took a toll not only on women’s mental health and sense of self-worth but on their careers, autonomy, and income.
Tsedal Neeley, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, and author of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, mourned this hit on LinkedIn. Moreover, she sees remote work as the ultimate solution.
Flexible work hours, alongside more structural changes such as universal childcare, can go a long way in creating a more equitable workplace in which women can thrive. If parents are able to create their own schedules, they can better work around their responsibilities.
While this is an imperfect solution for a world that still disproportionately assigns unpaid child-rearing labor to women, ideally the flexibility will ultimately help parents.
No one said remote work trends were all sunshine and lollipops. Surveys have shown that remote workers work longer hours and are more productive than their in-office counterparts. Darren Murph, Head of Remote at Gitlab notes that 42% of employees struggle with boundaries.
How can we address this concerning workplace trend? Employers need to make sure that they encourage employees to take advantage of the work-life balance that remote work promises. It will be important, moving forward, for employers to normalizing taking breaks, recharging, and turning off laptops.
This may mean adjusting expectations or implementing more objective tools to measure employee performance. In order to avoid the inevitable employee burnout, this is one trend we’ll need to tackle head-on.
2020 was a landmark year for problematizing longstanding issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The pandemic’s effects on minorities was pronounced, and people of color have seen a disproportionate amount of job loss.
According to DE&I Strategist and consultant, Lily Zheng, ambitious employers have been eager to implement DE&I strategies, without always considering that remote workers are clocking longer hours than ever before.
Remote work may help when it comes to recruiting underrepresented talent. As we already mentioned, flexitime plans accommodate parents and caretakers. Further, because remote workers can work from anywhere, geographical location is no longer a factor in selecting candidates; this means, access to a larger and more inclusive candidate pool.
Working remotely can also provide psychological safety for groups that may feel targeted in a traditional workplace. And, the lack of commute can help make jobs more accessible to those with disabilities.
But is it enough? In one of the most beneficial workplace trends, companies that want to have a truly inclusive atmosphere aren’t just hiring diversely. They are also making time and prioritizing DE&I with the help of consultants, workshops, and more objective tools that leave less space for unconscious bias.
You’ve probably noticed these workplace trends taking place all around you. How else is remote work changing your world? What tools are you using to tackle today’s problems --and tomorrow’s?
Trends may come and go, but remote-first companies are to stay.