Survey: Remote Work Becoming More Common, but Company Policies Lag Behind

Survey: Remote Work Becoming More Common, but Company Policies Lag Behind

The second annual Future Workforce Report from the freelance hiring platform Upwork finds that even though most US managers expect more of their team members to work remotely in the coming years, most also say their organization lacks a specific policy on remote work:

Sixty-four percent of hiring managers feel that their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57 percent) lack a remote work policy. …

Over half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Five times as many hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next ten years than expect less. In the next ten years, hiring managers predict that 38 percent of their full-time, permanent employees will work predominantly remotely.

Among those companies that do have remote work policies, many respondents indicated that these policies are evolving to become more flexible and inclusive, which is helping them attract talent in a tight labor market:

Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company’s work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.

Upwork’s survey is just the latest to find that remote work is becoming more common in the US. A study in late 2016 found that Americans are doing more of their work from home, even if they are not dedicated remote workers or freelancers. An analysis of US Census data last year showed that the prevalence of telecommuting has risen 159 percent since 2000 and that full-time home workers now make up 2.6 percent of the US workforce. Another study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union (which, as a caveat, both have an interest in this finding being true) predicted that freelancers could make up a majority of the workforce within the next decade.

The growing prevalence of remote work, likely an inescapable facet of the digital transformation of the workplace, demands that leaders pay more attention to what effects this transition will have on their organizations and their workforces. Employees who work remotely at least some of the time may be happier, more engaged, and more productive than those who go into an office every day. Remote work is also one of the key forms of flexibility that can enable parents and caregivers to remain at work while they manage greater responsibilities at home. However, a distributed workforce can have downsides when it comes to coordination and collaboration, which is why it’s important for employers of remote workers to have dedicated policies and strategies for managing them.

Managing remote workers means holding them accountable, but it also means ensuring that they don’t succumb to the negative effects of remote work. Employees who work from home sometimes work longer hours than their peers in the office, either out of fear that they will be perceived as less productive or out of an inability to disconnect from their digital workspace. Remote work can also be socially isolating, leading to feelings of loneliness that contribute to burnout, so organizations need effective systems of communication to make sure their employees sitting alone at home still feel like part of a team.