In 2017 and 2018, about 25% of people worked at home at least occasionally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2017 study by Global Workforce Analytics and FlexJobs showed that the number of remote workers had grown by 115% in the previous decade. By 2019, a joint survey by Slack and market research firm GlobalWebIndex found that 75% of knowledge workers were working remotely in some circumstances.
But even these dramatic increases in the remote work growth rate could not have prepared us for when the pandemic struck the planet in 2020 and for the long-term changes in work that followed. Here’s what you should know about the future of remote working.
How fast is remote work growing now?
In March 2020, offices shut down, seemingly overnight. Amid lockdown orders and widespread uncertainty, nearly every company with the ability to go remote did. So it would be unrealistic to look at a snapshot in time from the early pandemic era and expect it to apply today. Surely things would return to normal as vaccines rolled out and lockdown orders lifted. Or would they?
PwC conducted a survey in June 2020 that yielded some surprising results. Though vaccines weren’t available yet, many states rescinded some of the strictest lockdown measures, leading executives and workers to look toward the future. At the time, 98% of employers said most of their team members worked remotely at least one day a week. And a stunning 89% of employers expected many or most of their workers to continue to work from home after the pandemic. Among employees, 83% wanted to continue to work remotely at least one day per week. Even in those relatively early days, a long-term shift in remote work was brewing.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2021, six months into the vaccine rollout. A FlexJobs survey showed that employees loved remote work and had no plans to give it up. In fact, 58% said they wanted a fully remote position. Another 39% were interested in a hybrid arrangement. While 42% reported that their employers were expecting an eventual return to full-time office work, it meant that 58% of employers had no such plans.
This was right around the Great Resignation, aka the Big Quit. According to Forbes, 4 million workers walked out in April 2021, mostly in lower-paid industries. The trend started expanding to white-collar workers. In May of that year, A Bloomberg study showed that 39% of office workers overall, and 49% of Millennial and Gen Z workers, were willing to resign if their employers didn’t offer long-term remote work options. Clearly, remote work is here to stay.
Why is remote work soaring in popularity?
There are many reasons, but the primary driver is simple: The unprecedented shutdowns caused by Covid-19 gave everyone, including employers, first-hand experience with working remotely. And to many people’s surprise, it was mostly successful. PwC’s December 2021 survey showed that 83% of employers felt that remote work was a success.
For employees, working remotely lets us live more authentic lives. We can fold laundry while on a conference call, pick up sick kids during the school day, or go for a walk after lunch. We don’t have to spend time and money commuting, and we don’t have to risk exposure to Covid (or any other bugs that spread rapid-fire at work).
How employers can keep up
The shift to remote work was not without its challenges. Remember those early video meetings, when technical glitches caused dropouts, kids photobombed at critical moments and more than one of us realized that pajama pants aren’t great if you need to stand up on camera? But we all learned and adapted. Here’s what employers can do to better support remote work:
- Ask for feedback. Remote and hybrid work isn’t one-size-fits-all. Find out what each person wants and look for ways to accommodate multiple needs.
Rethink success. Flexibility is part of the appeal, so focus on outcomes rather than hours worked.
- Create guardrails. You can’t micromanage remote workers. But you can set clear requirements like deadlines and regular progress reports.
- Offer support. Give employees the tools they need for success and answer their questions as soon as possible. Expand the lines of communication and keep them open.
- Focus on collaboration. Remote and hybrid teams need multiple collaborative tools, including video-conferencing software and document-sharing tools.
Bring it all together with Slack
One of the biggest challenges is keeping fully remote or hybrid teams moving in the same direction. This is where Slack shines. You can create separate channels for each project to streamline collaboration, pin critical documents for fast access, and even host a virtual water cooler to keep people engaged. Plus, you can integrate tools you already use, from video conferencing to email, bringing everything together on a single platform. Learn how Slack can keep your teams moving forward, no matter where everyone sits.