What does tomorrow have in store for the virtual workplace? The future is remote and the future has already arrived. Remote workforce trends tell us that remote work is the new normal, especially after certain trends accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This isn’t opinion. These remote workforce trends are supported by a plethora of studies and statistics. Data from around the world helps us predict how the workplace will change over the next decade. This data and insight will help you adapt and adjust to the new normal, whether you are an employer or employee.
This insight into remote workforce trends and predictions will help you stay above the curve. Work is changing and you have an opportunity to be a future leader.
Remote Workforce Trends – 12 Reasons the Future is Here
1. In 2019, 61% of Global Companies Allowed Some Sort of Remote Working
This will be a surprising statistic to many, especially anyone who has tried to convince their boss they can work remotely. A MerchantSavvy study collated government data from around the world to report the percentage of businesses with a flexible workspace policy. In Germany the figure is 80%. It’s 71% in Australia, but drops to just 32% in Japan.
Statistics in the same study show that 20% of the US workforce work remotely all the time, and 54% work remotely in some capacity. There are fewer definitive statistics on the differences between working from home and working from anywhere. 61% of global companies allow working from home. Not all will also allow working from the other side of the world, or working from different locations.
2. The Remote Workforce Is Growing 11x Faster Than the Rest of the Workforce
Working from home or working remotely has grown a staggering 159% from 2005 to 2019. That’s 11x faster than the workforce in general (which grew 15%) and suggests that flexible working arrangements were already the new normal, before the Covid-19 pandemic. Four times more people work remotely at least once a week since 2010.
These remote workforce trends are not driven by freelancers and the self-employed workforce. On the contrary, regular remote working has grown 173% since 2005, where as the self-employed workforce grew by only 4%.
Similar studies from Global Workplace Analytics indicate that the remote workforce can still grow further. Over 80% of Americans want to work from home and desks are typically vacant 50 – 60% of the time. 35% of employees will change their job or career so they work remotely full time. The same percentage will take a pay cut so they can at least work remotely for part of the time.
3. Remote Working is More Desirable For Younger People
70% of 18 – 34 year olds take advantage of working from anywhere, if they can. In contrast, only 51% of 45 – 60 year olds do the same (see this MerchantSavvy study). But while it younger people drive the remote workforce trend, evidence suggests we will soon see a more even distribution.
Retirement ages are rising and flexible working from home is a good way for older employees to prolong their carers. Older employees are also most likely to have a choice to take more control of their work-life balance.
For young remote workers, the reality isn’t quite the Instagram picture some suggest. The biggest challenge they report is struggling to unplug from their work. The majority want to step away from the screen and disconnect, rather than share.
4. Remote Working Possibility Varies by Age and Position
Younger people want to work from home more often, but the State of Remote Work 2019 report from Owl Labs states that older people have more opportunity to do so. Why? New employees work more on-site than those who have been with a company for more than a year. If you’re new to a job, you’re most likely to be stuck in the office.
People in senior roles are also more likely to work remotely. They are already trusted to be independent and motivated, while there is still a perception that junior employees won’t do as much work from a remote location.
5. Employees Demand a More Flexible Working Environment
Various studies show how definitions of a good work-life balance have changed over the decades. Older generations prioritised a good salary and career security, so they can support their family and build some legacy. The majority of millennials want a career path that will support their lifestyle.
A recent UK study showed that the vast majority of UK employees are willing to make sacrifices, such as a pay cut, to enjoy more flexible working conditions. 92% of millennials say flexibility is their number one priority when looking for a job. However, there is still a gap between wishes and reality – only 60% of global companies offer the flexibility of remote working.
6. The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Increased Demand for Remote Working
This idea of increased flexibility has been on the rise for three decades. Now it’s suddenly accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly, the vast majority of the global workforce had to work from home. For some it will have been a fraught experience, changing their working habit at a time of crisis. At the same time, a massive number of employees have had their first taste of working from home.
There are no specific statistics to support this remote workforce trend. However, the general feeling among experts is that employees will want to preserve working from home, at least some of the time. So we can expect to see further increase in the demand for flexible working patterns and working from home.
7. Remote Working Increases Productivity and Saves Money
Many studies prove remote work productivity. Results vary but the trend is unanimous – remote employees are more productive. The most widely accepted figure is 13%. That’s how much remote employees do more than other employees over a year, made up of fewer breaks, less sick days, and general day to day productivity.
85% of businesses across 80 nations confirmed that workplace flexibility increases employee productivity (from a IWG study in 2019). Overall productivity increases when a company has a flexible workplace policy. It’s a fact that remote workers perform better when they are left to do their own thing.
A different study translates that 13% into a figure of $4.5 trillion. That’s how much US businesses will save each year by 2030 thanks to remote working. Productivity increases, fixed overheads such as office space are reduced, and increased flexibility helps to drive business growth. $4.5 trillion a year is only for the US – multiply this for a global picture.
8. Employers Value Employee Work-Life Balance More Than Ever
Trends indicate that remote work will be at the core of the modern workplace, predominantly because it is more profitable! Let’s not kids ourselves. Business is driven by the bottom line and economics are the usual foundations of switching to a remote workforce.
However, there is also significant evidence of employers valuing employee work-life balance more than ever. Businesses now use remote work to attract and retain the best talent, increasing the intangible value of their business. See this comprehensive study on work-life balance in the modern workplace for more interesting statistics.
In our modern service-based society, the value of a company is increasingly determined by the value of its people, i.e. its employees. Offering a better work-life balance is considered crucial in retaining talent, something now on par with a better salary, healthcare and career progression. Work-life balance was a buzzword, now it’s the norm. However, it’s estimated that a poor work-life balance is currently responsible for $125 billion a year in US healthcare spending!
9. Employers Increasingly Value Skills Over Qualifications
This shift towards employee value dovetails with a trend towards valuing skills over academic qualifications. Employers in the UK are four times more likely to hire a candidate based on their soft skills over their academic achievements. This is in addition to a general trend for employers to value workplace experience over education.
Soft skills like initiative and a good attitude top a hard skill such as maths or science. Workplace skills are valued above formal qualifications. And there’s an increased remote workforce trend towards specific remote job skills, such as programming, digital marketing, data science. These are skills that require learning but not a university program. They are also skills you can learn remotely.
The Search Remotely skills board offers hundreds of trusted online courses that can train you today, so you can work remotely tomorrow.
10. The Rise of Gen Z
Gen Z make up 36 – 40% of the global workforce (see this SHRM study). This group was born between 1995 – 2010. They are digital natives who grew up with technology. In fact, Gen Z has never known life without technology – on average they use five screens and 96% own a smartphone.
This generation is young, eager and enormous. And this generation is already savvy with tech skills required in a remote workforce. Experts predict a sharp short-term increase in Gen Z unemployment, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But over the long-term, this group will eventually control the workforce.
The remote workplace values tech-savvy employees, especially over those who only know the basics. Going forward, basic digital literacy will not be enough to get you a job. When you grow up as a digital native, basic digital literacy comes as standard. So you will need more advanced technology skills to make an impression.
11. Even More Companies Will Offer Remote Working After Covid-19
We won’t know the exact impact of Covid-19 until the pandemic is completely over. It will also be a challenge to extrapolate workplace trends from the virus’s impact on global economics. Recessions always bring business change and new ways of working.
Yet the general feeling among employers and experts is that Covid-19 will accelerate the remote workforce, based on three key trends.
Managers have a reduced fear of working from home.
The biggest stereotype and holdback to remote working is managers trusting employees to get their work done. Even if remote workers are more productive, many managers do not trust their people to work independently. Now they’ve had some experience of managing remotely, they will have less fear about what it entails. And more opportunity to change their style away from micromanagement.
Remote Working Saves Money
As a global recession takes hold, business owners will be forced to tighten financial strings. Fully remote billion-dollar businesses like Invision and Automattic prove how you can achieve more with less real estate. Employees spend more than half their time away from their desk. Now businesses are realising that office can be a huge waste of money. The Covid-19 pandemic will sharpen this thinking further.
Sustainability and Disaster Preparation
Some of the world’s biggest companies are thriving with the pandemic, especially the big tech companies. While there are many reasons for this, flexibility has been central to their success. Google switched to 100% working from home before any government-imposed lockdown. Twitter is allowing work from home, forever. As the New York Times declared, this “could end the office as we know it.”
Twitter, Google and Facebook have been vocal about why they’ve made this shift. A distributed working model is more sustainable, more adaptable to sudden external change, and more resistant to crisis.
12. Remote Work isn’t the Future – It’s the Present
The biggest remote workforce trend is that this isn’t actually a trend. Remote working has been on the increase for 15 years and it’s here to stay. With recession and pandemic further changing the world, remote working isn’t what is coming next. It’s now the norm.
Here’s a crazy statistic – 99% of correspondents surveyed in the Future of Remote Work study said they want to work remotely for at least some of the time. 99%! And 95% encourage others to work remotely. The statistics are stark. People want to work remotely and businesses now value a remote workforce. Remote working isn’t a trend – it’s the here and now.