remote work

What Is Remote Work? A Guide to Understanding the Future of Work

Work that takes place outside a traditional office setting is called remote work. But what is remote work’s role in shaping our future?

Jemima Owen-Jones
Written by Jemima Owen-Jones
May 9, 2022
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Key Takeaways

  1. For remote work to be successful, there needs to be the shared assumption that a person or team can and will work off-site as they would in the workplace. Trust, transparency, communication, and empowerment are key.
  2. Remote working means businesses are no longer restricted to hiring in their local area. They can attract global talent to fill positions.
  3. Remote working improves work-life balance, increases productivity, and reduces employee turnover
What is remote work beyond a new trend? Remote work is:
  • A survival tool during a pandemic
  • A key to a healthy and empowered workforce
  • A sustainable solution to some of the world’s major environmental issues
While many believed the return to the office was inevitable following the pandemic, experts say remote working is here to stay. We’ve put together this guide to help you understand the benefits, challenges, and opportunities. 

Are there different levels of remote work?

There are several levels of remote work depending on the nature of the job, personal preference, and any commitments employees have with employers or clients.
Fully remote: These companies are 100% remote and allow you to work from home or anywhere you choose.

Temporarily remote: Thee companies are 100% remote, but only for a period of time. For example, many people were temporarily remote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Partially remote: Also called hybrid, these companies have setups where workers are remote for some time but physically present at a specific location for certain activities.

Remote-friendly: These companies permit a hybrid working arrangement. Hybrid is when employees can work from home occasionally but must come into the office at least some of the time, depending on company policy.

Remote-first: These companies treat remote work as the default. With a remote-first approach, the company may have centralized office space or encourage coworking spaces. But they do not expect employees to work in person with any regularity.


Remote work terminology

There are different terms used to describe remote work. Here is a short terminology round-up:

Remote work vs. work from home (work from home)

The difference between remote work and working from home is that remote workers can work anywhere. However, those with work-from-home jobs must treat their home as their workspace.

Remote work vs. telecommuting

The difference between remote work and telecommuting is the tools involved in performing the job.
Both remote workers and telecommuters can perform their job functions outside a traditional workplace. However, remote workers can use any tools or equipment required to get the job done, whereas telecommuters specifically use telecommunications tools. These tools include email, phone, chat, and video apps.
Are you interested in the benefits of teleworking? Read this article to get more info.

Remote work vs. distributed work

The difference between remote work and distributed work is that remote work refers to the location, while distributed work refers to how an organization chooses to function.
A business that adopts a distributed work model typically does not have offices and has a remote workforce dispersed geographically over a wide area, domestically or internationally.

Remote work vs. flex jobs

The difference between remote work and flex jobs is that flex jobs refer to working hours rather than the location.
Flex jobs aren’t necessarily remote and may take place in an office but with flexible work hours or shifts.
Most remote workers have flexible work arrangements that enable them to take control of their working schedules. However, some remote workers must clock in and out at certain times—these remote workers do not have flex jobs.

Remote work vs. hybrid work

The difference between remote work and hybrid work is that remote work is a general term for jobs performed anywhere. Hybrid work refers to jobs requiring workers to spend part of their time at a workplace and part of their time remotely.
Employers that adopt a hybrid working model can decide to use a fixed or flexible policy. A fixed hybrid work policy may require employees to come into the central workplace a certain number of days a week. In contrast, a flexible hybrid work schedule may allow employees to choose when they go into the workplace.
Learn more about hybrid teams.

Benefits of remote work for workers

98% of 3,500 participants in a 2020 remote work survey said they would choose to work remotely for the rest of their life, even if it was just part-time. Below are some of the most significant benefits of remote work for workers.

Better work-life balance

Improved work-life balance is the main reason why people choose to work remotely.
Remote working gives people more flexibility and control over their daily schedule. Remote workers can cut the long commutes and fit working hours around important commitments, like childcare. This flexibility results in extra sleep and more time with friends and loved ones, reducing stress and positively impacting mental health and well-being.

Reduced expenses

Workers save additional money, too. A recent FlexJobs survey shows the average remote worker saves $4,000 annually by not spending money on gas, public transport, coffee, lunches, and work attire.

Fewer distractions

75% of survey participants say they work remotely because of fewer distractions, such as interruptions from colleagues, office chit-chat, and the general noise of an open office environment.

Benefits of remote work for businesses

Businesses also enjoy the perks of remote work: 83% of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company. Below are some of the most significant benefits of remote work for businesses.

Access to a wider talent pool

Remote working means that businesses are no longer restricted to hiring in their local area. They can post remote job listings to attract global talent to fill a niche or key position.

Retain talent and reduce employee turnover by 25%

Companies allowing remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than those that don’t. Workers are happier with their more convenient working routines. They feel that the agreement to work remotely is a sign of trust from their employer, which improves work relationships and morale.

Scale back businesses expenses by up to 50%

Across industries, remote working can deliver an average of 32% in real estate cost savings—up to 43% in some cases.
According to Zippia’s research, the average North American employee needs between 150 and 175 square feet of office space. And if employers want to draw from the deepest pool of talent, they’ll have to rent space in cities with a high cost of real estate.
CommercialEdge’s National Office Report from April 2021 shows Manhattan office space was the priciest in the nation, with an average listing rate of $85.82 per square foot, per year. That’s $12,750-14,875 per employee per year–on top of their salary, benefits, and other expenses.
In-office companies must also cover utility and maintenance costs and purchase equipment, furniture, and office supplies.

Increased productivity and profits

A study in the Harvard Business Review revealed that remote employees completed nearly an extra day’s worth of work every week compared to their in-office colleagues.
Remote work enables workers to prioritize their work over commuting and spend on-the-clock hours completing it. They also feel more liberated to take breaks whenever needed and design their schedule however they see fit, which boosts productivity.

Challenges of remote work

While remote work has many advantages, it also presents some challenges:

Employee burnout from overwork

69% of employees working from home report burnout symptoms. These symptoms include feeling tired or drained, helpless, defeated, and overwhelmed.
Burnout often occurs when the line between a worker’s personal life and work life becomes blurred, preventing the worker from “switching off.”
Companies can combat burnout by adopting remote work policies that outline everyone’s work hours and encourage time off and work-life balance.

Employee loneliness and isolation

In an APA survey, nearly two-thirds of people working from home reported feeling isolated or lonely sometimes, and 17% said they do all the time.
This data can be attributed to remote workers’ inability to form relationships organically and engage in face-to-face office chit-chats, potentially lowering the sense of belonging and camaraderie.
The best way to tackle remote work loneliness is to encourage casual communication. Virtual coworking spaces, such as Slack channels, or Google hangout, are great places for remote workers to get together. These environments provide space to discuss non-work-related issues, exchange memes and share interesting links and materials.

Communication breakdown between teams

A study of communication habits of 61,000 Microsoft staff found that when workers switched to remote, they communicated less frequently with people outside their immediate teams. They were also less likely to communicate with colleagues they had “weak ties” with.
Fortunately, technology has made remote work more accessible with collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Companies should clearly define the purpose of each tool and develop communication guidelines that set a standard in online communication etiquette.
Companies should encourage both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods—especially for teams spread across time zones.

Distractions at home

A GitLab report found that 47% of 3,000 respondents said that at-home distractions were a top challenge when working remotely. The top distractions include family members, roommates, pets, and noisy neighbors.
To overcome these distractions, remote workers need to:
Set boundaries by informing those around them of their working hours and routine
Find a quiet space to work, whether a spare room, coffee shop, or coworking space
Schedule breaks that allow time to reply to messages, take care of chores or speak to the family

Technology hiccups

In a US-based survey of 1000 people, more than half of the respondents reported experiencing tech issues while working remotely. The most common included slow internet speeds, slow or broken devices, and computer viruses.
Here are some ways employers can ensure remote workers receive the necessary technical support:

  • Provide access to 24/7 IT support
  • Supply necessary tech equipment such as laptops, work phones, and headsets
  • Provide a work-from-home stipend to cover extra costs like high-speed internet and virus protection software

Physical health issues from sitting inside all-day

A survey of 2,000 remote and hybrid workers in the US found that 50% reported an increase in lower back pain, 48% in shoulder pain, and 52% in eye strain.
Solutions include:

  • Standing desks
  • Posture trainers
  • Ergonomic chairs and desks
  • Scheduling times for walks throughout the day

How does remote work happen?

Remote working happens when an individual or organization decides to adopt the right culture, processes, and technology geared around working from anywhere.

Remote culture

Culturally, for remote work to be successful, there needs to be the shared assumption that a person or team can and will work off-site as they would in the workplace. To cultivate this mentality, companies and remote teams should take time to share and communicate values of trust, transparency, support, and empowerment to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Learn how to develop an inclusive company culture while remote.

Remote tools

Remote workers must work together as if they were all in the same location. This approach requires secure, high-quality applications and platforms that aid chat, videoconferencing, file sharing, remote desktops, and other regular business needs.
Remote tools like Slack, Google Calendar, and Zoom are effective in helping remote team members communicate. While project and task management software like Microsoft Teams can help teams collaborate, stay informed, and organized.

Remote equipment

As discussed above, having the right equipment is a huge part of making remote work happen.
Work-from-home stipends (also called a work-from-home allowance) have become an attractive–and sometimes legally mandatory–benefit for remote employees.
A work-from-home stipend is money an employee receives in addition to their base salary to make remote work productive and comfortable.
Companies can provide one-time stipends or provide them monthly. Some companies offer employees a lump sum they can spend at their discretion. Others cover specific home office setup items like internet and cell phone services, office equipment, or luxury productivity apps.
Employers should look at this practice as a long-term investment in their employees and, by extension, the company itself. Helping employees create comfortable and functional home office spaces can increase employee satisfaction, performance, and retention.

Common myths and misconceptions about remote work

Remote work is still a relatively new concept. And as with all new things, they are often met with caution and speculation, leading to wrong ideas and mistaken beliefs.

Remote employees are less productive

Some business owners still believe remote work leads to time-wasting and a lack of productivity. This old-fashioned stigma has been proven incorrect. Working from home one day a week boosts productivity by 4.8%.
In addition, remote employees work more. The US News & World Report found that remote employees work 6-7 more hours per week than on-site employees.
One reason for this voluntary extra work could be the reduced commute. For example, in the the US, those with full-time jobs spend up to 11 days a year commuting alone.
If you add these hours back to the workweek and factor in less commuting stress, it makes sense that remote workers are willing to work longer.

Communication and collaboration are difficult among remote teams

80% of executives feel that collaboration between remote teams is easier with the latest technologies and transforming how organizations work.
Cloud-based tools such as Slack, Zoom, G Suite, and task management software are designed for real-time interactions. Users can search conversations, integrate and automate applications to enable smooth file sharing, automate workflows, and connect with colleagues.

Remote work stifles creativity and innovation

Spontaneous interactions and brainstorming sessions in office settings are considered primary sources of creation and innovation. However, it’s still possible to foster creativity and innovation from a distance. Autonomy, for many, is the preferred state in which to innovate.

People come up with the best ideas with fewer distractions, greater independence, more time allocated to creative tasks, and greater flexibility to work when they feel inspired. This point is especially true for introverted people who struggle to speak in group scenarios or who need to give creative thought in solitude or more relaxed work environments.

You can’t advance in your career as a remote employee

A Harvard Business School (HBS) online survey of 1,500 professionals who worked remotely in 2020 found exciting results pointing to career growth. The survey results revealed the following:
  • 33% indicated that their performance and professional product improved
  • 35% indicated that they read more about their own professional growth
  • 34% took career development courses online

You can’t foster meaningful connections remotely

37% of employees feel more connected with colleagues while working remotely. These results stem from the extensive use of non-corporate communication services such as private email accounts, private message accounts, and other similar media.

Is remote work here to stay?

Absolutely. According to data scientists, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023. If we look further into the future, analysts predict that 70% of the workforce will work remotely by 2025.
If the global business community continues to embrace the potential of remote work productivity, diversity, and effectiveness. In that case, more of us will be working from our chosen location in the future.

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