Don’t all cheer at once but it’s probably fair to say that remote work is the future of work. Well, at least in part and it’s not all good news but for would-be digital nomads, it’s certainly a sign of hope.
So, let’s take a look at remote work in a little more detail and see why it’s going to be good for both employers and employees (and for freelancers too). We’ll also take a look at the downsides of remote work too.
Before We Begin
It’s important to acknowledge that really, remote work is a part of the future of work. It seems unlikely from our viewpoint here in 2019 that remote work will ever be all there is of work.
You’re still going to want to go to restaurants, movie theaters, theme parks, etc. and all of those places will require staff. As will the manufacturing plants that make all the things we need for modern life.
What Is Remote Work?
Remote work is work that doesn’t require the employee to be in a specific location while they do the work. That doesn’t mean that every remote worker is instantly a digital nomad.
Many remote workers work from home, for example, rather than from the office. They’re not traveling and working and thus, they aren’t digital nomads.
It also doesn’t mean that every remote worker can work wherever they like. In fact, many remote work positions insist that employees remain in the same country as the employer, the same state or the same time zone.
Some remote work positions may also have a small (or larger) element of required attendance as part of the contract. This might be a weekly meeting or an annual conference or anything in between.
However, even when you take all of this into account. Remote work offers one of the simplest means for somebody to become a digital nomad. After all, if you can land a job that lets you work almost anywhere (or, indeed, anywhere) then you can travel and work to your heart’s content.
What Are The Advantages Of Remote Work To Employees?
The advantages of remote work to employees are fairly obvious:
- No commuting. This is often the biggest benefit of remote working – you don’t need to waste hours of your life each day getting to and from an office.
- Increased productivity. When you’re not in the office, you don’t have colleagues interrupting you during your working time – you ought to get more done.
- Better work-life balance. Remote workers tend to have more free time. It’s much harder for “presenteeism” to bring any benefits when no-one can see whether you’re around or not.
That’s not to say that there aren’t disadvantages to remote working; we’ve looked at these in the larger context of the disadvantages of being a digital nomad here. But the advantages are pretty straight forward for the worker.
What Are The Advantages of Remote Work To Employers?
While the advantages to the employee are “nice to have”, if remote working offered no advantage to employers, you can be pretty positive that there’d be very few, if any, remote work positions available.
After all, people run businesses to make money, not to shower their employees with perks. So, here are the main advantages to businesses of remote work:
- Huge reduction in overheads. When somebody’s not in the office, you don’t need to allocate them office space, no desk, no heat, no light, no coffee, etc. “On costs” are the iceberg of hidden costs in employing people and they can be seriously reduced through remote working.
- Increased employee engagement. Surveys have shown that employees who have the facility to work remotely tend to be happier in their work and to feel more loyalty to their business. Given that recruitment costs are substantial to businesses this can help keep costs down too.
- Broader access to the right talent. If you don’t need people to be in the office, it doesn’t really matter where they are in the world, either. You can always hire the best person for the job when you offer remote work.
So, a better-developed workforce and lower costs means that there are good reasons for employers to implement remote working.
Current Trends In Remote Work
We’re going to use the U.S.A. as our example here but trends there tend to be reflected in other Western nations. Remote work opportunities in less developed parts of the world tend to be thinner on the ground for the moment.
According to 2018 figures from Upwork, 63% of businesses already have at least one full-time employee that is free to work remotely.
Quartz at Work asserts that 8 million people (5% of the workforce), according to the US Census, worked remotely in the USA in 2017 and that this is a substantial increase from the 3.3% that were doing so in the year 2000.
If these trends continue, it’s reasonable to assume that by 2030 between 1 in 10 and 1 in 5 positions in the workforce will involve remote work.
Problems With Remote Work
It’s fair to say that remote work is not without its problems. When workers and employers were asked about the big issues with remote working, they identified the following:
- A lower level of personal interaction with colleagues. It’s fair to say that there are a ton of remote working tools out there to help people communicate and manage projects together but, in the same vein, typing at someone on Slack simply is not as good as talking to them face-to-face. Video conferencing can help but it is fair to say that we’d expect long-term remote working to require regular meetings in “real life”. This might not be good news for digital nomads.
- An increased level of loneliness. This is not so much the fault of the work and more the fault of the worker. It is true that you’re going to get less personal interaction at work when you work remotely, so it’s up to you to ensure that you get more personal interaction in your free time. Join a club. Go to the gym. Go to the pub. Whatever it is – get out and interact with people.
- A perceived lack of stability. There is definitely something here in that remote working can leave you not just isolated but passed over for a promotion and because your face isn’t familiar – it can put you first on the list for redundancy too. Both employers and remote workers will need to work on communication channels that make this kind of work feel less of a risk and more of a reward.
Most importantly of all: Most issues with remote working can be tackled with a solid remote work policy implemented by the employer. If you’re looking for remote work – you ought to ask about this kind of policy before you sign on the dotted line, it suggests that the employer values remote workers and understands their needs.
What’s Coming With Remote Work In 2020 And Beyond?
When we consult our crystal ball, we see a few things looming on the horizon for remote workers and remote employers.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data will be the biggest areas of technology growth. In the longer term, they may even start to put remote workers out of work but for now, if you’re thinking about getting into the tech side of things, these areas promise the longest career trajectories. Though, things can always change in a moment when it comes to technology.
- Digital marketing will rarely let you down. More and more, almost all sales work is done online. If you can sell products and/or services then there will always be a career for you. It’s worth noting that this can be just as highly paid as coding and development work too. It may be a better grounding for entrepreneurial work too.
- You’ll need a good grasp of the English language. Most remote work opportunities, today and for the foreseeable future, come from English speaking countries. If you want the work, you need to be a first-class communicator in English.
- More remote jobs will allow you to travel than they currently do. A lot of remote work is really home-based working for now, we can see this slowly changing over to offer genuine location freedom. It’s a no brainer for companies because a worker that moves to Thailand to take advantage of cheaper living will often accept a lower salary than a home-based worker in the West.
- Cafes will become co-working spaces. This is already happening. 5 years ago, even, when you went to a café it was all about the coffee experience. Now, they advertise co-working in the window. We’d expect to see smart café businesses starting to offer more specialist facilities (like printing, guaranteed internet, etc.) and start to converge on actual co-working spaces.
- There will be more co-working spaces. However, we expect the costs of using these spaces to rise substantially and for remote workers to start expecting employers to provide some sort of additional allowance for these spaces over and above their salaries.
- More tools will support remote work. We’re not sure that this matters. We think the market is already oversaturated with fairly pointless tools for “project management”. There’s an endless expectation that you will implement 10 different tools for each project rather than just working with one. While there will, for now, be more tools coming out – our prediction is that in the longer-term, there will be a consolidation around one or two platforms for most employers.
Why Does More Remote Work Mean More Digital Nomads?
As we said at the start. Because you can work remotely, doesn’t mean that you’ll work and travel. However, we’re confident that for some people it will and that’s for 2 reasons:
- Some people will do it just because they can. That’s why I travel and work. I don’t have to. I want to. I love my digital nomad life and wouldn’t swap it for the world. The more the opportunity to be a digital nomad opens up – the more people who will freely choose this way of life.
- Some people will do it from economic necessity. They’re more likely to be digital expats than nomads but some will nomad for fear of being caught working illegally too. As employers realize that people will accept reduced pay in exchange for being free to work anywhere, many people are going to end up ditching their New York life and heading to Chiang Mai or Bali where they can spend substantially less and increase the overall quality of their lifestyle. This is a no brainer.
Remote work is the future of work not because its “digital nomad wish fulfillment” but because it makes sense to both workers and employers.
This, in turn, will lead to a growth in the number of digital nomads though not every nomad will be hitting the road from a love of travel, some will need to do so because they can’t afford not to.
That’s not to pretend there aren’t issues with remote work either, there are. But we think that as more and more people work like this, most of the problems with remote work (from an employer’s perspective) will be addressed and that employees will learn to tackle other issues themselves.