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Why remote work has a bright future

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Remote work has arrived and is going to continue to penetrate the world’s labor markets.  Not just for the full-time workforce in traditional employment and telecommuting — but also for those who are location-independent Digital Nomads.  Too, retirees and part-time workers appear destined to join in much greater numbers the ranks of workers utilizing an internet connection as a prime means of generating income.

As Laura Vanderkam detailed in Fast Company: “A 2014 survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34% said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. A full 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020.”

And according to Gallup’s annual Work and Education poll conducted in 2015, “Thirty-seven percent of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted” —  a four-fold increase from 9% in 1995.  The study cited technology and the willingness of employers to allow remote work as the key forces underpinning the change.  They noted, however, that in 2013, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer changed the company’s policy “to require all workers to work in a corporate office”.  But this unique example aside, the study detailed: “An increasing number of employers allow workers the flexibility to do their job remotely”. [emphasis added]

99% of people are already working in some remote fashion

Vanderkam cited Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs who detailed how she believes that “in most white-collar jobs…99% of people are already working remotely in that they take work home. It creeps into our work style already. I think it’s just not formalized by either the employer or employee.”  Indeed, 79% of “knowledge workers in a global survey by PGI said they work from home”, Vanderkam detailed.

And the millennial generation appears poised to make remote work central to modern employment practices.  Adam Kingl, director of learning solutions at the London Business School told Vanderkam that:  “With younger workers being fully aware that you can email or call someone from anywhere, the idea of working differently becomes “a criterion that people are expressly looking for before they’ll sign on the dotted line…it’s not a perk or reward.”  Kingl said those who have grown up with digital technology are now moving into management and “are starting to be the architects of workplace culture,” He told Vanderkam that: ”Once your boss knows that ‘work is fluid—it can happen anywhere, at any time,’ then there is much less value put on ‘being around for its own sake.’”

Efficiency, productivity, lower stress and higher employee retention

“Companies and at-home employees alike say remote work is a boon to productivity”, according to a recent article in by Adrianne Bibby.   “Fewer distractions (for the disciplined remote worker) can lead to higher efficiency,” Bibby detailed.  And in a recent Harvard Business Review articleNicholas Bloom details how remote workforces lead to an increase in productivity.

Vanderkam also cited a report by PGI detailing how 82 percent of telecommuters reported lower stress levels — as well as a Stanford University study showing how offering remote work options reduced employee turnover and reduced job attrition rates by 50%  And companies report “significant decreases in operating costs.”  For example, Aetna saved $78M USD by converting approximately ⅓ of its’ workforce to remote.  And American Express reported savings of between $10M and $15M USD thanks to a remote workforce.

Companies and workers alike are embracing remote work options

Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and Founder of FlexJobs detailed in an article in Entrepreneur how companies have embraced remote work.  She cited in particular Kaplan, which allows 85% of its’ staff to work remotely.  “Kaplan’s expanded remote hiring includes not only teachers and tutors, but also sales, operations, and business development.”  And Intuit is looking for talent on a global basis, without regard to location. “In today’s global economy and with Intuit’s expanding global footprint, we know great talent is everywhere,” Terilyn Monroe, Director of Global Employee and Community Engagement, told Sutton Fell.

Vanderkam also detailed how 50% of current part-time remote workers would like to increase their remote time. And “60 percent of remote workers in the survey said that if they could, they would leave their current job for a full-time remote position at the same pay rate.”

Ultra-remote work:  Digital Nomads

As Tanya Mohn detailed in an article in Forbes, there is a growing number of professionals — called “Digital Nomads” —  “who prefer a location-independent lifestyle that allows them to travel and work anywhere in the world”.

Many Digital Nomads “use…co-working spaces  — which provide desks, Wi-Fi, meeting rooms and other office amenities, as well as camaraderie to independent professionals who prefer to work among peers rather than from the isolation of home or hotel rooms”, as Mohn explains.

Mohn highlighted the experience of Ally Basak Russell, head of international marketing at online work marketplace oDesk (now Upwork) “who said she is able to support a productive and rewarding digital nomad lifestyle due to careful planning and the wealth of tools made possible by modern technology.”  “There’s truly a global community of digital nomads” — “many of whom know and support each other”  — both online and offline, she told Mohn.  

And a recent example of the growing Digital Nomad ecosystem is the 7in7 Digital Nomad Conference — conducted by “ a team of digital nomads, remote workers, and location independent entrepreneurs” who are conducting 7 conferences over 7 years on 7 different continents — the first of which took place in October, 2016 in Bangkok.  

A remote future for many

As the 7in7 conference organizers detailed on the event website: “We believe that location independence isn’t just something you do for a few years in your twenties before “settling down.” It’s one of the pillars of the future of work, not to mention an amazing way to live.”

Trends certainly indicate that 7in7’s prediction of remote working becoming one of the pillars of future work — is in the process of becoming a reality.

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