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Right now, I’m sitting on my couch sipping freshly brewed coffee and enjoying a bowl of oatmeal. My house is warm, my clothes are comfortable and casual, and – oh yeah – I’m working at my full-time job.
A decade ago, this setup was far less common. Most employers would have balked at the idea of employees regularly working from home.
This might still be the case for some companies, but with today’s emerging tech and inclusive culture, we have much more flexibility. Some businesses have fully remote teams, while many others allow their employees to work remotely at least once a week. This arrangement is only expected to grow.
How remote work has evolved
There was a time when working from home as the modern workforce knows it wasn’t even a possibility. If your colleagues and business partners wanted to get in touch with you when you were out of the office, they couldn’t email, text or instant-message you. You would’ve needed to provide an alternate phone number (or pager or fax number) and communicate that way. And full-time “remote” positions were different from what they are today.
“Ten years ago, remote employment basically meant a telemarketing or customer service position at below minimum wage,” said Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at website design company Blue Fountain Media. “It rarely was connected with a full-time career. Now, technology affords us the ability to get the same job done, no matter where in the world we are. [It has] enabled us to be in contact with co-workers or clients at any time.”
One of the most helpful technologies for seamless remote work is videoconferencing. Live video feeds help out-of-office workers see and speak to one another in real time, anywhere they are, which is the next best thing to a face-to-face meeting. But this capability wouldn’t be possible without the widespread broadband internet adoption of the past 10 to 15 years.
Certain companies have even done away with renting a traditional office and instead run their business out of a shared coworking space to accommodate their largely remote workforce.
“Shared office spaces, where remote employees can gather to work, have been created and are more widely available in different cities,” Lambert said. “This in itself represents the growing amount of remote workers in recent years.”
The current state of remote work
Because of these advances in communication technology and internet access, teleworking has become a fairly accepted practice in many offices, both in the U.S. and globally. This type of work isn’t done entirely from home either. Remote workers turn to coffee shops or coworking spaces, and some even travel the world while maintaining their career goals.
“The modern workforce is increasingly mobile, collaborative [and] dynamic, and comprises multi-generations, all with differing communication preferences,” said Stacey Epstein, CEO of Zinc. “These workers span multiple industries … all who represent unique challenges when it comes to staying connected while on the job.”
However, we are still seeing some resistance from companies across the board. Many are unwilling to adapt to this arrangement, while others allow remote work just once or twice a week, or as an exception for a few employees.
Additionally, according to a survey by Buffer on remote work, 78 percent of remote workers said their companies don’t cover internet costs, and 76 percent don’t pay for coworking spaces for their employees.
On the other hand, this saves companies money while allowing workers the freedom to create their own schedules and work from wherever they please. It can be a win-win situation.
What the future holds
FastCompany predicts that, as the workforce becomes more progressive, virtual tools, like mobile remote-working tools and virtual reality conferencing, will become the preferred form of communication – even over face-to-face meetings. AI will also likely play a major role in managing remote staff.
Keeping these advancements in mind might put companies at ease. The transition into managing a remote workforce can seem daunting, but with the right tech and hardworking employees, it can be a seamless process – and fighting the change may do more harm than good.
Many employees now expect remote work opportunities. In fact, according to Buffer, 90 percent of current remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers. Because of this increasingly popular trend, some refuse to accept an onsite position, knowing they can find a more convenient and flexible gig elsewhere.
Current organizations should instead make improvements to their remote work policies and capabilities. If a company is concerned about productivity and performance issues associated with a companywide ability to work from home, Lambert recommends creating standard key performance indicators (KPIs) for both management and employees. This way, she said, remote team members are aware of expectations, and their performance can be monitored.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.