The remote work evolution: Work from home versus work from anywhere

How did companies and employees adapt to remote work? We’ll share our insights into what has changed, what hasn’t, and what’s next in the remote work evolution.

June 2, 2021

What comes to mind when you hear ‘remote work’?

Before 2020, most people imagined digital nomads working from their laptops in exotic, sunny places. Then most of us got to try remote work for ourselves, whether voluntary or compulsory, and realized the reality is a little different. 

Without anywhere to go, ‘remote work’ became predominantly ‘working from home’—including all imaginable temporary home office solutions (kitchen tables, beds, and even iron boards served as desks). We also all faced the challenge of trying to stay sane while being cooped up at home.

But that’s not how the idea of ‘remote work’ was originally intended. 

We started allowing remote work seven years ago because we wanted to give people more freedom to plan their workdays. Our employees should have the freedom to decide where to work from—every single day.

This remote-first approach also meant that we could hire from a worldwide talent pool and build a sustainable global business with 24/7 customer support. Remote work shaped our business (that’s why we’re called The Remote Company).

In this article, we’ll explain how companies and employees experienced and adapted to remote work. And then we’ll share our insights into what has changed, what hasn’t, and what’s next.


What changed: People relocate because #WFH FTW

Sometimes, the longer you stare at something, the more interesting it becomes. Sadly, that’s not quite the case when it comes to the four walls of your home. Especially when your home is small and expensive (hello New Yorkers!).

For these reasons, many people started to seriously consider relocating to a more quarantine-friendly environment. According to the 2020 PWC report, 30 million Americans changed their postal address. NYC and San Francisco were most affected—people happily left these cities for more affordable locations. 

The PWC report also found that 43% stated that since they started to work remotely, they made plans to move to a new location. Now that people around the world can work from home in any location, new possibilities come to light.

For example, many would love to grow old in Italy. The idea of eating pizza every day and taking evening strolls through picturesque streets was once only a dream. Remote work makes it possible to work under the Tuscan sun or anywhere else with a Wifi signal.

Cities around the world with struggling economies can now attract remote workers with incentives and revive their region.

This is exactly what’s happening on the Portuguese island, Madeira. In this beautiful location, a digital nomad village has opened that offers free workspaces for global remote workers to come and stay for a month (or more). 

Also, Georgia (the country, not the American state) offers one-year visas to remote workers from the USA. Our designer Cody took this opportunity, and now lives there with his girlfriend.

While this all sounds great for the employee, how do businesses feel about remote work? Was it just a temporary solution or can we expect this to be the new normal?

Many known companies, like Twitter, Square, and Salesforce decided to remain remote for good. 

With one tiny catch…

People can work remotely, as long as they’re in the town or country mentioned in the job ad. Current employees are also expected to stay in-country. So if you’re American, you can work anywhere in the US. Or, Hawaii. 😄  (which is why some people call #WFH ‘work from Hawaii’ instead of ‘work from home’)


What hasn’t changed: Work from anywhere remains niche

When the world shifted to remote work, we wanted to stay competitive and top of mind with people searching for remote jobs.

Hiring globally was our secret sauce to attracting the most talented people, and we were expecting a lot of new companies to start using this superpower as well. If more companies learned to work remotely, communicate asynchronously, and develop strong remote company cultures, the competition for talent would become fierce.

Surprisingly (and for us, luckily), that didn’t happen.

While many companies saw how remote work could benefit them, only a few decided to open up their business to the world and hire globally. 

We identified the companies that allow #workfromanywhere in this list (add any you know in the comments!).


What’s next: Office-first approach

Though it’s hard to truly predict how the workforce will change when the world goes back to normal, these statistics give us an insight into how the workforce has adapted to remote work.

Sounds like employees and employers are on the same page, right? 

Not quite. The report also revealed that only 5% of the executives believe that company culture can be built remotely. The image below perfectly illustrates the current work environment.

Source: commitstrip.com

A lot of companies invested too much effort and resources into their office environment. They might not be able to see how a team can thrive without daily communication, in-person meetings, and after-work events. 

Yet what we discovered is that teams thrive in companies that encourage a trusting culture, an inclusive work environment, and purposeful communication. Many of our employees prefer written communication over talking, especially when contributing ideas or talking about sensitive topics (like work issues or promotions).

Sorry! We’re off on a tangent. Let’s circle back to companies that love their office.

Take Google, with its huge playground-like offices. Google announced that its employees will return to their offices. If people want to work remotely for more than 14 days per year, they have to submit a formal application. 

This hybrid model with an office-first approach is expected to be seen in many companies. Employees can work away from the office, but not all the time. 

For those that do choose to work remotely, this can be challenging. As most executives prefer working from the office, remote employees can feel left out and have fewer career opportunities. People, therefore, may consider leaving their jobs if there’s no option to work remotely.


The future of remote work

There’s no doubt that our views on remote work, both from an employee and employer standpoint, have changed during this last year.

When I gave a presentation about remote work at the beginning of 2020, people thought it was a foreign topic—far removed from their own work situation. During this year’s presentation on the same topic, the audience resonated with the challenges and findings I talked about.

2020 was a breakthrough year for remote work. Employees were presented with a different way of working. Some realized that they loved pursuing their careers from the comfort of their homes, or elsewhere. Others longed for things to go back to the way they were.

Workplaces will have to adapt to this shift and take both types of employees into account—offering both in-office and work-from-home options. 

The genie is now out of the bottle. Companies that hire globally and let people work from anywhere will continue to have a major advantage. The demand for remote work is bigger than ever, and having the world to choose from will surely help to attract the best people for the job. 

What do you think about remote work? Do you prefer working from the office, home or from anywhere you want?

Ilma

I’m Ilma, COO at The Remote Company. I love seeing our customers succeed. When they win, we win.

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