The remote work revolution is upon us and it’s here to stay. The traditional office-based working culture is dead and we need new solutions to address the challenges that come with this paradigm shift.
1. The rise of remote work
In recent years, remote work has become mainstream, with an increasing number of employers offering remote work options to their employees. Even though some rogue companies were preaching about the many benefits of having remote teams more than a decade ago, the mainstream adoption of it was kicked off only recently due to the worldwide Covid-19 lockdowns.
Now, the calls to “return to the office” are met with fierce resistance and employees are quitting jobs that don’t plan to offer them the same flexibility over their daily schedules they got to enjoy during the pandemic.
2. The benefits of remote work
The benefits of remote work are widespread and well known by now. For remote employers, these benefits include:
- better talent pool to hire from
- higher employee retention rates
- lower overhead costs
- more productive workforce
For remote employees:
- more flexible work hours and more time spent with family
- no need to commute
- flexibility to work from any location
- better work-life balance
- less traffic
- lower carbon footprint
3. The biggest problems with remote work
However, as remote work becomes more mainstream, we’re also starting to see the development of some new problems that come with this paradigm shift. The biggest problem by far is isolation.
The negative effects of isolation on remote workers include:
- they can feel cut off from the rest of the world
- they may feel like they’re not part of a team
- they can get cabin fever
- they may start to feel depressed
Lack of flexible short-term workspaces
Another big problem is the lack of flexible workspaces, especially for solo entrepreneurs and freelancers. There are more and more coworking spaces popping up everywhere, but most of them are already very crowded and they are usually focused on selling monthly subscriptions and not encouraging flexible daily bookings.
Currently, the biggest operator in the global coworking space field is Regus (revenue of 2.228 billion GBP in 2021) and along with the other top four shared office space companies in the world account for only 14% of the overall market coverage. This suggests that a large chunk of coworking spaces remain independently operated.
All this data suggests that the demand for flexible workspaces by the remote/hybrid workforce is very high (and will keep growing). Already, so many independent operators all over the world have witnessed the potential growth of this space and opened up their own shared offices or coworking spaces. It will be interesting to see what happens now, post-pandemic, as the world opens up and we can meet in person again.
Keeping your remote team engaged and connected has proven to be extremely difficult for lots of companies. During the pandemic, lots of companies tried to organize virtual team-building activities but soon realized that spending another hour in front of the computer screen wasn’t something that the remote teams were looking forward to doing.
Compared to traditional office-based companies, remote teams need to put extra effort into facilitating informal communication among team members.
4. How to solve the problems of remote work
Solutions for isolation (for employers):
- Encourage your remote employees to join a remote workers community in their city
- Encourage them to take regular breaks to move their body and get some fresh air every day
- Make sure to schedule some social time every week (a virtual water-cooler chat over Zoom)
- Reimburse their expenses on coworking spaces and encourage them to take advantage of it
- Offer for smaller teams to do mini-meetups during conferences and pay for all of the expenses
Solutions for the lack of flexible short-term workspaces (for real-estate owners and investors):
- redesign traditional office spaces and make them more appealing to remote workers (with a variety of small spaces for different functions: phone booths, private offices, communal spaces, etc).
- offer flexible solutions for workspace rentals and make the booking process as low friction as possible
- map all the public spaces that rent out work desks for remote workers
Solutions for team building (for employers):
- Organize regular in-person team-building retreats (at least twice a year)
- Encourage informal communication among team members and create a recurring virtual event for it (Friday lunch Zoom calls, for example)
- Schedule monthly 1-1 video calls with your team members, and talk about both personal and professional goals and problems.
5. The future of remote work
I’ve been working, hiring, and leading teams remotely for the past 8 years and I feel that it has given me some special insights into the bigger trends that are going to affect our lives when talking about remote work.
The employee will choose their office for the day, not the employer
We used to go and work from an office that our employer had bought or rented out for us and we didn’t have much choice about it. With the huge amount of people now working remotely, the responsibility to find a workspace that allows you to do the best work, now becomes the burden (or opportunity) of the employee.
The first logical choice is the home office, but a year or two into it, most remote workers will become familiar with the many pitfalls of only working from home:
- social isolation that can cause depression
- blurred lines between when work ends and life starts
This is when we start purposefully designing our workdays and -weeks according to what we need – peace and quiet, a social vibe, proximity to a place we need to visit after work, etc.
Flexibility in every sense
Remote work really means flexible work. It doesn’t mean that you’re only working from home and it also doesn’t mean that you would never work from an office. It’s a matter of having the choice.
That choice and freedom to choose your work environment will naturally lead to creating your own work schedule (as much as it’s possible within your company culture). Some people are more productive in the mornings, some in the evenings and if your team is scattered across the globe in different time zones, it really doesn’t matter what your exact work hours are.
The lines between employment and freelancing/contract work are also blurring. If we have the motivation and energy for it, we could work with different companies at the same time.
Results matter, can’t hide behind busy-work
Remote work adoption will reveal a lot of middle-managers and regular employees that kept themselves busy in the office but didn’t actually get much done. When working remotely, you have to have very clear goals and objectives in place and there’s no way to hide if you’re not making any progress.
This change will weed out lots of bad actors and at the same time, empowers the top producers to ask for better compensation and terms from their employer.
A remote work future is one where the best workers will be in high demand and can pick and choose their workplace. The bottom 80% will have to up their game or find a different line of work.
We can’t see the full effects of this big paradigm shift in how we get work done, but it’s clear that the world is changing in front of our eyes. There will be winners and there will be losers. We just have to accept the changes that are happening in society and adapt if we want to survive and thrive.