The year was 2023 — three years after the pandemic started (and came close to an end), yet 75% of global workers were fully convinced remote work was the new normal. But what’s the actual status of remote work, and what perspectives does it have?
The pandemic became a massive sandbox that proved people don’t necessarily need to be nurtured by the office culture to be productive.
Workers argue that flexibility is their right whether they prefer to work in the best countries for remote work, like Germany, Denmark, the US, or any other location of their choice if the job is completed as requested. Management counters with the importance of organizational environment and team bond effectiveness created only by the presence in the office.
Both sides have their points, so what’s next — will we return to an on-site-only setup or transition to fully remote? Will more companies compromise on hybrid work after all? Let’s see where the remote work projections are guiding us.
How new is the ‘new normal’ of remote work?
It would be incorrect to say that remote work didn’t exist before 2020. Freelancers were the pioneers of working online — an adventurous and free-spirited career path. Before the pandemic, 2,9% of ‘teleworkers’ globally were exclusively working remotely. For instance, in the US market, only 6% had never worked in any kind of remote work setup.
The scope of work from home mainly spiked because of a safety measure to prevent virus spread. Even though the alertness settled and life started returning to normal, in 2022, at least occasional remote workers reached 62% globally.
According to Gallup research results, only 2 out of 10 people returned to the old routine — entirely on-site jobs. Meanwhile, the rest of 8 out of 10 employees are split between remote and hybrid work arrangements in the US.
The discussion mainly circles whether employees want to work exclusively remotely (49%) or want to share their time between home and the office (46%). Yet the same research reveals that only 6% of employees see the ideal work environment exclusively on-site.
Remote work tendency: to increase or decrease?
The swing in the longevity of time spent at home before and after the pandemic compares drastically. Let’s fact-check.
According to Statista, remote work in the US before the 2020s was a relatively rare yet existing event, occurring 1-2 times per week. However, 3-4 and 5+ days of work from home per week in the post-pandemic period replaced the then-popular 1-2 days/week work from home.
Talking numbers, the remote workforce reached 53%, and the pool of employees that never worked from home decreased by 13% after COVID-19.
The data of the US-based respondents reflects the increasing trend of staying at home rather than working from the office.
2020 was the rush-hour year, so comparing the difference jump from 2019 to 2021, the number remains increasing as the amount of remote workers has tripled. If we take data from 2018-2021, the fully remote workforce grew four times bigger.
How has remote work escalated in Europe? The growing tendency of remote work in European countries is also significant.
Eurostat data from 2019-2021 illustrates the increasing number of employed people spending more and more time working from home. The average of EU Member States climbed from
14,6% WFH sometimes or usually* in 2019,
20,9% WFH sometimes or usually in 2020 to
24,4% WFH sometimes or usually in 2021.
In 2021, the usually only working individuals made just a little less than sometimes or usually in 2019 — 13% in contrast to 14,6%. Note that ’usually’ refers to at least half of the work days spent working from home in a reference period of 4 weeks.
The shift is evident in both the US and Europe — remotes were quick to adapt to the circumstances and increasingly function between the office and home, identifying as remote workers.
Let’s not forget that the covid-era introduced a new work-life cultural concept, ‘workation,’ that combines working and vacationing simultaneously. Therefore, it’s challenging to believe that trend swing will take the working world back to the close-to-none remote setup.
Remote work perspective
It’s worth defining the happy medium for understanding remote work. There are different opinions — for some, it’s home-only; for others — home-never. A hybrid work setup seems acceptable for most organizations and employees that can apply non-site work arrangements.
The perspective of hybrid model growth should double from 42% in 2021 to 81% in 2024, according to AT&T findings. The forecast predicts almost one in four Americans will work remotely by 2025.
The prediction is supported by the forecast of conferencing software (like Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet) market growth — in 2021, it reached $14.6 billion worth, and in 2026 is expected to reach as high as $27.3 billion worth. The growing demand shows the need to communicate remotely in the future.
Hybrid work influencing factors
What are the influencing factors for hybrid work escalations — is it just the peer pressure of employees? 83% of professionals say they would decline a job offer without offering flexible work options, according to International Working Group.
Expectations are high as almost everyone (97%) expects organizations to be flexible regarding the work environment. FlexJob indicates that more than half (57%) of organization members would change jobs if they weren’t allowed to work hybrid. After all, 77% of employees see flexibility as the second most important factor after salary in their employment.
The reasoning behind it can be based on preference to save time on commuting, make Mondays less anxious without knowing you must show up in the office at 8 AM, or work from a different city or country.
Productivity and engagement in remote work
Hybrid or remote work help achieve a better work-life balance that resolves into a positive chain reaction. Employees and organizations notice that staff is exposed to less stress, leading to workers being more present and engaged despite online environments.
It proves that hybrid work isn’t entirely a one-way road. At first, being unavailable to observe employees’ activity on-site might have needed convincing the management of the hybrid work benefits.
According to Zippia’s Remote Work Statistics report, 32.2% of managers agree that productivity has increased after the 2020 remote work shift. Generally, 68% of organizations say there’s been an improvement in employee productivity since the remote work arrangements.
Return or not to return?
The determination to work remotely is clear for most of the employees. Besides the long list of benefits the workers learned by heart, 20% of the workforce who vouch for flexibility would agree to give up vacation time over office-defined work.
The worth of remote work can be calculated more precisely — a typical organization saves an average of $11,000 per employee yearly if the employee spends half of the working time outside the office.
Saving funds and time open more personal, team, and company opportunities. Organizations have a better chance to scale globally. It brings us to a solution to a raging issue of limited talent pool companies struggle with significantly.
Talent and remote work
Knowledge workers are in high demand to cover the growing need for professionals in all industries. According to Uplers’ research, 69% of companies face a shortage of skilled talent, and geographic limitations are one of the leading factors reserving the reach of the potential talent pool.
According to the Upwork study, companies with remote or hybrid work policies appear to be less negatively impacted by talent shortage — only every third of such organizations see a limited talent pool as a challenge. Half of the knowledge workers who provide computer programing, IT, marketing, and business consulting services to companies are freelancers.
Regarding company size, large companies tend to have a higher demand for talent that turns over with more noticeable talent shortages compared to small or medium-sized companies.
According to Manpower data, 64% of small companies (10-49 employees) struggle to find the right profile workers, while 72% of medium-sized companies (50-249 employees) and 74% of large enterprises (250+ employees) are impacted by a deficiency of skilled professionals.
Remote work by industry
Technological advancements and flexibility allow companies of various industries to adopt hybrid work for its benefit. It’s noticeable that consulting-type services are quicker to move to telecommute. The trend can be justified by the opportunities to unlock markets worldwide, streamline the workload, and better prepare for modern technological setups.
Taking hybrid work through the industry axis, IT is the leading industry to adopt remote work. Finance, customer service, healthcare, marketing, education, and sales industries are primary areas to explore and utilize the benefits of the remote workforce.
Remote work and security
The massive migration to remote work during the pandemic was kick-started for safety reasons. However, home offices opened gaps for cybersecurity vulnerabilities that many companies weren’t exposed to before.
According to Statista, cyberattacks are one of the major risks concerning organizations. Cyber threats increased exponentially with the growing number of unprotected home networks and distributed teams.
The other top risks on the list include human error, cloud computing vulnerabilities, mobile device security, and loss of corporate data and information, as the concerns of organizations in Europe and the US.
Securing hybrid environments
Many organizations proved flexible in times of change — growing cyberattacks and risks were repulsed with security and hybrid work-adapted business solutions. Transitioning to cloud environments allow companies not only to enable remote workers but implement hybrid infrastructure models to support new ways of working.
Circumstances determined businesses’ push to improve network security even though upgrading existing legacy architectures wasn’t in the strategy.
During the later years, evolved Zero Trust security models now define modern remote access and cybersecurity standard. A combination of cloud application security, endpoint protection, and identity management solutions helps protect company assets and users effectively from potential vulnerabilities imposed by remote and hybrid work.