What It’s Like to Be a Remote Worker in 2018
What comes to mind when you think of remote work?
In our experience, it’s not only one image. Remote work comes in many different shapes and sizes. We are a fully distributed team at Buffer, meaning that we have no office and everyone chooses to work from where they’re happiest: both geographically (we have teammates across the world) and functionally (we have teammates who use coworking spaces, coffee shops, home offices — even an RV).
We’re grateful to be part of this movement along with many other companies and individuals who are embracing remote work. In the U.S. alone, 43% of the workforce has spent at least some time working remotely, and that number has steadily increased throughout recent years.
With the goal to better understand the remote work landscape and to see where remote work is headed next, we teamed up with Workfrom and Hubstaff to collect data from over 1,900 remote workers around the world and create the first State of Remote Work report for 2018. This report offers insight into:
- How satisfied remote workers are
- The struggles and benefits of remote work
- Where remote workers are working
- How companies are thinking about remote work
- And lots more!
Let’s get started!
We wanted to dig deep and ask remote workers how they really feel about being remote and learn a little bit more about how satisfied they are with their current work style.
The first thing we learned is that it seems like once people go remote, they aren’t likely to want to work any other way — 90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers. This may be because remote work means people are able to customize their workspace and style, adding their personal preference to where and how they work.
While 70% of our respondents are full-time remote workers, that leaves 30% who have incorporated remote work into their schedules in some way but not fully. We were curious to know how many of these folks were wishing for more remote work time; turns out, a majority of 60% are interested in increasing the amount of time they work remotely in 2018 (while 34% are happy with the way things are).
The year of 2018 might be the year we see increasing numbers of employees asking their employers for more time spent working remotely. There’s quite a bit of support for these folks, as a whopping 94% of the remote workers we surveyed said that they encourage others to work remotely.
As much as remote workers have some pretty awesome benefits, they have their fair share of struggles as well.
The biggest benefit to working remotely is the ability to have a flexible schedule — 43% of remote workers were in agreement about this. The second biggest benefit? Being able to spend time with family (15%).
“We can support the work-life balance that is desperately lacking in so many industries, where people regularly spend two hours commuting every day or live in expensive and polluted cities.”
Even without the commute, remote workers have some unique struggles to work through. Loneliness (21%), collaborating and/or communicating (21%) anddistractions at home (16%) are the biggest struggles of remote workers.
Pairing up remote workers to help combat loneliness
As remote workers ourselves, we know that remote work can feel lonely at times. The greatest solution we’ve found to this struggle is to get involved with a community and build new relationships, and we want to help you do this.
We’d love to pair you up with other awesome people around the world in the Buffer community to meet for virtual coffee!
Here’s how to get involved:
– First, join the Buffer community on Slack and fill out the quick application.
– Include the phrase: “state of remote work” somewhere in your application.
– We’ll invite you to the Slack community, and to the #virtual-coffee channel!
– We’ll pair you with someone to meet (on March 5), and you can schedule time to have virtual coffee together.
Make sure to join the community this week so you’ll be included in the automatic pairings next Monday!
Amir recognizes that collaborating and communicating is a problem that remote organizations have yet to solve.
“By 2020, over half of the employees will work remotely, but we still have not figured everything out to make this work. For example, many entirely remote teams still use real-time chat such as Slack for communication — in the process removing all the good parts of being a remote company.”
While not explicitly mentioned by remote workers, our survey also showed that vacation time may be a struggle for remote workers.
According to our data, 55% of remote workers take fewer than 15 days of vacation per year. The smallest range of vacation days in our survey — 0 to 5 days — is the norm for 16% of remote workers. The largest amount of vacation days — over 30 days — is standard for 11% of remote workers.
Vacation practices vastly vary by organization, by country, and by culture. Here at Buffer, we’ve experimented with many vacation practices, finally landing on a minimum vacation recommendation of at least 15 days per year for our teammates.
Across the world, paid vacation time varies quite a bit but generally is around 20 days a year. And although the U.S. is the only developed country with no minimum protected vacation time, the average U.S. worker in the private sector receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays.
Taking vacation can be a particular challenge for remote workers because there is no office to leave behind. Often times, laptops and cell phones comprise the offices of remote workers and those can be difficult to stay away from during vacation.
In terms of work location, most remote workers stick with what’s right in front of them — their home.
Our survey showed that the home was far and away the top work location: 78% ofremote workers use their home as their primary place of work. Often times at Buffer, working from home means that either kids or pets are a welcome addition to our video calls.
The office came in as the runner-up work location at 9%, coworking spaces came in at 7%, and cafes at 5%. It’s especially interesting to see coworking space come in at 7% for remote workers despite their recent rise in popularity.
“While it’s true that many remote workers can and do work from anywhere, it’s also the case that the majority of people working remotely today do so from their own homes. It’s simply a matter of convenience and reliability.”
When remote workers are not working from their primary work spot, they are pretty well dispersed among a variety of locations: 33% prefer to work from cafés, 25% are at home, 12% head to a coworking space, and 11% are at an office.
Cafés coming out ahead of coworking spaces might seem surprising, but it all depends on how far both are from home, according to Darren. “At Workfrom, we’ve been able to determine a home range — or distance — a typical remote worker will comfortably travel when choosing spaces to get work done.” That distance, Darren says, is a max of 5.5 miles from their home. He told us that “the frequency of visits to a space drops almost predictably with every mile after the 2-mile mark,” adding that “location still matters when it comes to working remotely.”
Thanks to the flexibility of remote work, it’s also possible to get work done when you’re nowhere near home. We found that 81% of respondents have traveled outside of their home city and spent time working during those travels.
Digital nomading — when remote workers travel and work at the same time — is clearly something that has piqued the curiosity of many remote workers, but long-term nomading hasn’t seemed to fully catch on. A total of 43% of respondents said they spend 10% or less of their time traveling while working remotely.
Since so much of the workforce is employed by a company and not self-employed, companies can and will play a key role in the future of remote work. Even one organization starting to make strides in this area can greatly impact the future.
We were lucky to hear from many entrepreneurs and business owners in our State of Remote Work survey, and it was interesting to see how these leaders saw remote work fitting into their company vision. For many, remote work was a central part from day one.
Among survey respondents who run their own companies, 88% had always intended to support remote work.
Hubstaff, a company that helps others hire remote talent, is an excellent example of this. CEO Dave Nevogt says: “Since the very beginning I knew that working remotely made sense for me. I was more productive and creative because of it, and I wanted to build a team that operated in the same way.”
Remote work also has many benefits to offer organizations. Dave mentions the cost and balance that remote work affords both businesses and employees.
“The reason we were able to build a bootstrapped software company is because we could hire the best global talent available at the rates we could afford to pay, allowing us to grow the business with the revenue. We were also able to build a business without sacrificing work/life balance. I am able to spend time with my family and friends, enjoy hobbies, and travel all while running a remote team of 30+ people.”
There are also benefits for employee retention. “It’s clear to me that remote employees stay longer, work harder, and offer better ROI over co-located employees. The freedom to work from when and where you want is one of the most desired benefits employees have — it helps us keep our attrition rates low. We’re just six years old and the majority of the original team we hired continues to work with Hubstaff.” This is something we’ve seen at Buffer as well with a retention rate of 91%.
When it comes to ways to build a remote team, there are several different approaches. From our survey data, we noticed two ends of a spectrum: a fully remote team where 90% or more work remotely and a team just dipping its toes into remote work where only 1–10% of the workforce is remote. The majority of survey respondents fell on one side or the other of this spectrum.
The size of a business that supports remote work also varies greatly. Of the companies with remote workers, 22% have fewer than 10 employees, 17% have 11–25 employees, and 15% have over 1,000 employees. One interesting thought sparked from this: with 39% of remote companies having fewer than 25 employees, we could infer that it’s becoming more common for small businesses to start out with remote work in their work culture.
While working remotely generally means a reduced cost of commuting, there are still costs associated with remote work. To start, let’s take a look at the average salary for a remote worker.
According to the data in our State of Remote survey:
- 28% of remote workers make less than $25,000 USD per year
- 18% make $25,001 — $50,000
- 18% make $50,001 — $75,000
In terms of the costs associated with remote work, these can vary greatly. One of the main factors is where you work. For example, there are few costs associated with working from home; there are many more for renting a desk at a coworking space.
Either way, the costs of remote work typically fall primarily to the remote workers themselves. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said their company didn’t pay for their Internet (the average monthly cost for internet in the U.S. is $60) and 76% said that their company doesn’t pay for a coworking space (the average monthly cost of a coworking space in the U.S. is $195).
When it comes to coworking spaces, 71% of remote workers said they spent less than $100 per month on a space. Coffee shops are also popular spaces for remote workers to spend some time in. Of those who work from cafés, 19% spend $6 — $10 per week, 13% spend $11 — $15 per week and only 12% spend more than $20 per week.
For this report, we surveyed 1,900 people who work remotely around the globe.
We had respondents from 90 countries contribute to this report. Almost half of our respondents (48%) live in the United States, 6% live in the United Kingdom, 6% live in India, and the remaining 40% are from 87 different countries.
Most of the folks we surveyed work in the software industry (26%) followed by IT and Services (20%) and Marketing (19%). Only 5% of respondents work in Education and 8% in Media and Publishing.
Respondents primarily work on marketing (25%) and engineering (22%) teams. Other types of work include design (10%), customer support (9%), and operations (8%).
In terms of career level, 38% of respondents are at a professional level in their career, 23% are a senior level, 18% are in management, 12% are executives, and 9% are entry level.
Team vs Freelance
The majority of respondents (58%) work remotely for a company while 28% work as freelancers and 14% run their own companies. Interestingly, 45% of the respondents told us they freelance in addition to working their regular job.
Time spent working remotely
The newest remote workers, those who have worked remotely for less than a year, comprised 26% of our survey responses. Twenty-three percent have worked remotely for more than 5 years, and 21% have worked remotely for 1–2 years.
Thank you so much for reading our first-ever State of Remote Work! This report would not have been possible without the help of our partners: Workfrom, Hubstaff, Doist, and Trello.
- What did you think of the results? Are there any that speak to you personally or that you disagree with?
- What questions should we ask remote workers in next year’s State of Remote Work?
Culture Marketer at Buffer. Obsessed with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, podcasts, and drinking tea.