The Corporate world took well over the past century to come up with the quintessential office, and it took a pandemic somewhere less than half a year to unravel the known, tried, and tested.
Remote Work became the sole savior to keep companies up and running. As jarring as this transition has been for the employed and their employers, the new normal of work from home comes with a fair set of realizations, starting with a universally felt sentiment:
I first got to know about Remote work in 2017 when I visited the US for a conference. After reading the Gitlab handbook, Zapier’s guide, and some other resources, I found my conviction in remote work.
Being a newbie developer myself, I realized the gap in opportunities across different ecosystems and firmly believed in the fact that the globalization of opportunities is bound to happen because it just made so much sense! From changing the way workplace interactions take place to achieve new paradigms of work-life balance, remote work is undoubtedly logically sound.
Remote work is poised to become a norm for Millennials and Gen Z, and its benefits are immense. Results from various surveys have confirmed that once you’ve gone remote, there’s no looking back. And, that’s why I’ll talk about the benefits, impact, and challenges of remote working both from the perspective of an employee and an employer, backed with data from the various surveys including the one we conducted in India because World 2.0 is remote!
The New Normal
As the present workforce grapples with the new normal, managing schedules and averting the risk of burnouts, once the system is streamlined to allow for better work-life balance, remote working can prove to be the boon of one’s professional life.
In a survey conducted by Pesto on remote work in India, we found more than 85% of respondents have been working remotely for less than a year, clearly showcasing the switch due to pandemic.
However, remote work had already started gaining popularity in pre-pandemic days, unlocking the true potential of human productivity and addressing the loopholes of the traditional office set up.
Here, I believe the bigger picture that emerged was that of talent being universal. Over a period of time, businesses have also started recognizing the wider talent-pool accessible to them once they go remote and are no longer confined by borders. Some of the companies that were already aboard the remote work bandwagon pre-COVID include Invision, Stack Overview, and Zapier (to name a few). In fact, more than 57% of our respondents were employed by global companies.
As per a report by Flexjobs, the growth in remote work over the past twelve years is whooping 159% with more than 44% growth taking place in the past five years. A growth of over 8% was reported in a span of just one year (2016–2017).
An important point to note here is that this is the data in pre-pandemic days. I believe the new data is going to look insane as the tables have turned. The world will have to work hard to get back to the old ways instead of vice versa. I would expect 60–75% of all tech workforce to work remotely either part-time or in a full-time capacity.
In March 2020, as global restrictions and lockdown ensued as a result of COVID, others quickly hopped onto the wagon. Few months into the pandemic and teams going remote, giants like Facebook, Apple, and Twitter were amongst the first few to extend work from home till the next couple of years.
Though work from home is going to stay and it’s not going away anytime soon, I do believe that remote work can very often be misunderstood. Perhaps, it would help to look at work under the following self-explanatory categories:
- Work from anywhere — co-working spaces, cafes, etc.
- Work from home: office in your house
- Work in a traditional office setup
- Working in a pandemic — No social life, no vacation, no sports, little interactions 😭
It’s critical to understand that currently, we’re all working during a pandemic. So, we might be facing problems that will not exist in the near future. With a lot of things changing around us, the lines often get blurred!
Well, it isn’t hard to guess who the binary beneficiaries are in this situation, so I’ll directly delve into the benefits that remote employers and employees can reap, and as a bonus, we’ll talk about the environmental impact as well.
Benefits for employers
- Job satisfaction: As remote workers tend to be more satisfied from their jobs and likely to stay in their current job for the next five years 13% more than their on-site colleagues (Owl Labs), employers end up saving a lot of money and resources that goes in the hiring process and finding the best-suited candidate for the job.
- Sense of belonging: Not only are remote workers more engaged than office workers by putting in longer hours, they also develop a stronger sense of belonging than their on-site counterparts. As per the latest Gallup State of the American Workplace report, it was found that regardless of the fact that remote workers often communicate with their teams only over the internet, they feel like their opinions matter and their work receives its due acknowledgment.
- Work-life balance: Further, the flexibility of remote working (be it work from home or any other place) allows the majority of workers to take only 2–3 weeks of vacation per year since they have more control over their schedules and therefore, do not require as much time off as their office-going counterparts.
As per Global Workplace Analytics, all the factors together help organizations save an average of $11,000 per year per part-time remote worker leading to 21% higher profitability, and once you take into account the infrastructural costs that are minimized, the figure goes significantly higher. This number of course increases when you look at arbitrage by hiring across different geographies.
Benefits for employees
Now, let’s look at factors other than flexibility that contribute to the satisfaction of remote workers.
- The comfort of home: Working from the comforts of your own home and the option of switching from your workstation to bed to your balcony or whatever is your favorite corner can be particularly appealing in terms of relaxation and breaking the monotony of staying at one spot for multiple hours.
- Not having to commute: Saving time and money and all the hassles of driving and public transport, sure, why not? Time spent in traffic will look as bizarre as sending letters to communicate in 2021. It just adds to human inefficiency.
- Being with Family: Ability to spend time more time with family and be near your loved ones.
- Global jobs: Working with people across the globe on opportunities that excite you.
In our survey, flexibility in schedule and work location were seen as the two major benefits of working remotely, followed by not having to commute.
Benefits for the environment
A few months into the lockdown, we all came across news reports of decreased pollution levels all over the world, thanks to ‘not having to commute’. Employees working from home helps companies in cutting their electricity costs. And, let’s agree to the fact that while working at home, we use less electricity than we would in the office.
The Global Analytics report studied the environmental impact of roughly 4 million people working remotely every year and concluded the following
- Reduction in greenhouse gases: 3 million tons of greenhouse gases can be avoided because of fewer trips
- Reduction in traffic accidents: Up to $500 million can be saved
- Reduction in oil usage: Up to $1 billion can be saved
- Reduction in air pollution: Up to 83 million pounds can be avoided
- Reduction in Carbon emissions: Equivalent to planting 92 million trees!
Given these astonishing figures, maybe remote work is the first step to saving Earth without even going to Mars!
Impact on Productivity
Let’s start with the question of productivity, since it is a key parameter for any business to assess its workforce, a valid question that arises is whether remote work will be able to ensure the same levels of productivity as that of on-site employees. Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion — Remote workers are more productive! Here’s why
Remote workers are less distracted
In this 2012 Stanford study, it was found that remote work leads to increased levels of productivity, up by 13% to be exact, thanks to a less distracting environment. Since organizations are now transitioning to open office space layouts bustling with a myriad of activities, a lot of employees no longer have access to quiet spaces and find it difficult to concentrate on their desks.
Remote workers work more
In Owl Labs’ 2019 State of Remote Work report, it was found that remote workers work 43% more than on-site workers and tend to be more goal-oriented than just focusing on the number of hours.
Remote workers are efficient
The open office distractions vanish when working at home, which comes with its own set of distractions (more on that later). In addition to increased levels of productivity, remote workers also deliver more on performance, thanks to them having more autonomy over their work. Combining results from the various reports mentioned earlier, it was found that remote workers produce results with 40% fewer quality defects.
Impact on Income
Now that you have an idea about the benefits of working remotely, let us find out how remote workers fare against their on-site counterparts. We compared the results of various surveys done over the past few years and these are our takeaways
- Remote workers earn more: The Owllabs report found the fraction of remote workers earning salaries higher than $100,000 per year in the US to be roughly 2.2 times than that of on-site workers.
- Remote workers save more: In the report by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, it was found that remote workers save more, around $4,000 a year, other reports suggest even higher savings
- Experience pays: As per this And Co report, 7% of workers who’ve been remote for under a year earn over 100k, this number jumps to 18% for those who’ve worked remotely for 7 years or more
Among other findings, we learned that the ability to work remotely makes employees happier, feel more trusted, better able to achieve work-life balance, and more inclined to take a pay cut to benefit from added flexibility. In short, remote work is a win-win solution for both employees and employers.
Save for the globe-trotting, “wanderlust” tattoo flaunting cliches of life, the true value of globalization is felt through our regular lives. For a person in India wearing an American brand, eating a European snack, and using a Korean face mask, globalization is doing what it promised to do. When it comes to working, this extends to the concept of value addition.
The next professional can be from any quarter of the world and can bring to the table a different set of skills and background that will help your business truly diversify. Do they need to be physically present to be adding this value? Not anymore.
To put it more clearly for employers: With the help of technological investments, remote work unlocks the globalization of services and brings global talent, diversity, and flexibility. As professional services are delivered remotely, costs will go down.
Here, I’ll talk about three broad points.
More competition, the better
The pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted not just markets but an entire world view. With remote work coming in as the savior of companies, salaries, and of course, economies, the centerpiece for being recognized as a true talent in the market resides in a highly competitive arena. Now while you may think that “As if it was any easier before, now I have to deal with more competition”, let me say this out clearly:
More competition= Better wage.
Sound strange, right? Shouldn’t more competition mean less wages, let me tell you how this scenario changes with remote work.
When companies from developed countries hire remote talent, they compete with local businesses for that talent, which is you. This entails the following: Remote jobs generally pay better than local jobs. So when local companies want to retain their talent pool, they will have to pay higher wages.
What this also means is that the kind of tilt seen in the traditional model when it comes to one’s background or gender will be snubbed to a large extent. In remote work, you matter, no matter what.
Competition is not just with talent
Let us consider the case of computing jobs in the US. From this data released on code.org, we can see that the US has a lot more computing jobs than cs grads. It technically can’t operate without getting talent from outside. The question here is one pertaining to employment and vacant job positions.
These figures are expected to grow exponentially as the world becomes a lot more dependent on software. Now, where will businesses look for this talent?
India has 23% of the world’s developers and it’s very well placed because of cultural and language overlap. Owing to its colonial past and diversity in regional languages, English has emerged as a common language across the country.
On the other hand, the Indian Gen Z and millennials also sleep late. In a poll that I conducted on twitter on people’s sleep timings, more than 65% of respondents said that they sleep after 12 am.
As a result of this, they have also developed a habit of working till late in the night and sometimes even till early morning, which is insane when compared to the work habits of other countries.
All these factors combined together make Indians more aligned to western time zones and a good fit for those markets.
On the countryside
While moving on to a better market is an understandable step towards professional growth, it has often left source nations bereft of their skilled workforce and if nothing else, a very homesick individual. With remote work, all of these changes.
Not only do you get an opportunity to advance in your professional life, without the usual pang for home sweet home, but it also contributes to countries retaining their assets. This in turn ensures economic wellness at multiple levels, from the scale of a citizen to that of a nation!
What are the challenges?
At this point, I would like to highlight a few challenges that remote workers and employees face and then present a few solutions to tackle them. In our survey, we asked remote workers about their struggles with remote work and found that the trends are similar to that of other surveys.
Despite the fact that remote workers tend to be more productive, employee managers do worry about the fact that their employees are finishing the task assigned to them or are staying focused. And, they end up ignoring the issues of loneliness that remote workers face.
- 42% of respondents said that loneliness was one of the biggest struggles to working remotely. Lack of community challenges their happiness and new comers are more likely to experience isolation.
- Roughly 37% of respondents find it difficult to unplug themselves at the end of the day. Having flexible work hours implies that you can allocate a lot more time to your work than in office and end up being overworked, eventually leading to burnout.
- Collaborating over Slack and Zoom calls can definitely get the work done but the human connection that workers get to build in an office takes a toll as they start feeling isolated. In fact, 42% of our respondents said that collaboration and communication was one of their biggest struggles.
- Distractions at home emerged as the biggest struggle to working remotely as many people face more distractions at home than they would at the workplace (especially workers with families and kids).
- Roughly 28% of respondents said that finding a reliable internet connection is difficult for them.
- Our survey found out that most workers are employed by foreign companies, which brings its own set of challenges, read ‘Time Zones’. However, thanks to the weird sleeping patterns of Indians (see above), only 11% of our respondents said that they struggled with different time zones.
How can I tackle them?
Here are a few solutions that I found to be quite effective in the remote working industry
The productivity and the unplugging bit can be solved to a large extent with the help of productivity tools, there are loads of them which help you manage your time and tasks (I’m planning to write about them in the next issue). As a remote worker, you’ll have to define your working hours (depending on the project) and ensure that you don’t cross the time you have allocated yourself.
The Role of HR
The Role of HR has to change! The company HR has the extraordinary job of ensuring a seamless job experience for remote employees.
Move over short excursions and birthday cakes, even though we all agree these little things put a smile on our face, especially the cake. The HR has to work in close tandem with the IT team to make sure that the work being submitted is completed via easy to use, non-complicated, flexible, and highly accountable channels.
Essentially, HR is the reason why your remote work experience will be as professionally sound as that of sitting in an office. So take it with a pinch of salt if you can’t visit your online shopping cart mid-working hours.
This term basically implies a place where one can go to spend some valuable time and de-stress/relax. Even while working at home, it is important to set a designated workplace, so that all the other activities like sleeping and relaxing take place at some place else.
Similarly, you also need to set a place, be it your favorite corner of the house or a quaint balcony, where you can go and spend some time in your breaks. This helps in keeping you focused as well as breaking the monotony of working from one place.
Other highlights of our survey
- Most of our respondents were happy working remotely, with more than 68% of them saying that they would recommend working remotely.
- Almost 43% of the respondents said they were happy with the amount of time they spend working remotely and around 34% of them expressed that they would like to work remotely more often.
- Around 55% of the respondents spend more than 75% of their work time working remotely and almost 20% of respondents said that they allocate 50–75% of their time to remote work.
- When asked about the organization structure of their employers, 44% of them said that they are fully remote, 44% said that they are partially remote and partially on-site. Only 12% of respondents said that they operate mostly on-site.
These trends tell us that the world is not going to look back. Remote is the new default, transition has to happen in reverse. There’s enough friction from talent for us to go back to old ways of working.
Summary: The Long and Short of Things
A word for remote workers
While companies are yet to figure out the non-financial perks, which probably means your company logo merchandise will not be coming in anytime soon, remote work brings you a golden chance to choose your professional life as well as your personal life.
Your talent has the chance of being recognized at the world platform, you will be paid, handsomely, and your personal priorities will be given their due precedence. Traditional workplaces have taught us the tough way: Avoid gossip, know the office politics, work longer hours, and worst of all, hide that burnout while your personal life is up in blazes.
As much as remote work needs you to be accountable, it is also a fair deal to be able to express absolutely any hitches you hit mid-work. You choose to work with the company because its philosophy and work culture genuinely make sense to you. For companies, you become no less than an actual spokesperson.
A word for remote employers
There are some genuine problems that you’ll face as an employer. It’s extremely important to acknowledge these problems openly and be vocal about it.
Remote work, especially during the pandemic, tends to make people feel isolated. They’ll question the work culture, feel the heat of fatigue, and may send in resignations out of feeling antsy. It’s a journey and there are ways to solve these problems.
There’s enough content out there for you to learn things, so I’ll conclude this issue by saying that the walls have fallen.
I’m looking forward to writing more over the weekends, do let me know what you think! I’m at @aayushjaiswal07 😇🙏