Engage: A look at remote work in 2019

Engage: A look at remote work in 2019
The V1 Edition

Editor’s note:

In partnership with Engage, V1’s latest offering, which helps businesses to build thriving and profitable remote teams, we are pleased to offer a series of stories that explore key elements in remote work, including problems facing leaders and distributed workers, and solutions for how they could be addressed.

Vermont is looking to get remote workers to move to its state. It’s taking applications starting January 1 this year for new residents, who can get up to $10,000 in grants over two years on a first-come, first-served basis to work remotely there for out-of-state companies. The $500,000 allocated for the program is just one example of the ways telecommuting is expected to make waves in 2019.

Remote work already has a strong foothold in today’s workplace – global freelancing platform Upwork surveyed 1,005 hiring decision makers, with 63 percent of departments run by those decision makers having team members that work out of the office. And 90 percent of people already working remotely plan on doing so for the rest of their careers, according to a “State of Remote Work 2018 Report” published by social media management company Buffer.

Meanwhile, new technologies continue to improve remote work for employers and employees. However, as the rate of telecommuting rises and continues into 2019, new challenges are emerging at the same time to overcome.

New tools for the job

It’s no secret that technology has been one of the major drivers behind the recent rise in remote work. Faster Internet connections, GPS, smartphones and video conferencing have all allowed workers to stay connected with their employers and the rest of their teams from wherever they are.

Even more recently, distributed teams have adopted online tools like Slack, Trello and HipChat to help them streamline communication, manage projects and build team culture at distance.

Organizations that have partial or entirely remote teams can expect even more diverse tools to become available to them in 2019, according to HR Technologist magazine. “This is because, as remote working continues to expand, the entire space will segment into individual, expertise-driven areas of operation, with users demanding more powerful productivity tools,” according to the article.

Virtual reality is one of the technologies set to take center stage in 2019. Though it has yet to meet the dizzying expectations set for it, some say 2019 could be VR’s breakthrough year, which would be big news for remote work. There are plenty of innovative companies, including vSpatial, AltspaceVR and Bigscreen, that are applying VR technology to video conferencing, which would create more immersive, interactive environments for calls between colleagues and with clients.

This type of technology could help to persuade skeptical employers that distributed teams can be just as collaborative as those that meet in a physical office. It could also help the 42 percent of telecommuters that say loneliness or a lack of communication with colleagues are the biggest struggles they face in remote work.      

Tackling new challenges

Telecommuting challenges companies to find the right balance between the comforts of home and the perks of the office. While remote work can lead to cost savings for companies and also provide more satisfaction for an employee base that doesn’t have to report to a physical desk every day, employers have to manage company culture in such a way that employees still feel part of the team. That can be harder than it looks – remote workers in Buffer’s study noted loneliness and a lack of communication and/or collaboration as their two biggest struggles, along with distractions at home, staying motivated, timezone challenges and finding reliable WiFi.

However, some employers dismiss the idea that distributed teams can’t enjoy the same team culture and collaboration as in-office workers. In a recent interview with V1, Ken Weary – vice president of Hotjar, a remote work team that employs over 70 people – stressed that distributed teams could emulate the positives of an office environment by using the right tools and a little imagination.

“Yes, you can [build a work culture with a remote team],” says Weary. “Maybe not directly on Slack, but you look for those opportunities to make sure that you’re giving avenues and promoting the activities that are desired by either the executive team or the company.”

One possible fix? Harvard Business Review recommends that employers establish an “in-the-office” day, where remote employees are encouraged to come in and work side-by-side with their colleagues.

This isn’t always possible, however, especially for companies with teams that are distributed globally. Hotjar’s employees live and work across 19 different countries. They keep in contact on a regular basis using instant messaging and video conferencing. And the team also meets twice a year in person at a full company meetup.   

Hotjar isn’t alone in thinking up new ways to tackle remote employees’ isolation. Online billing software Chargify also organizes full company meetings, and encourages team members that live nearby to get together at local conferences and events.

Not going anywhere soon

Industries that enable distributed teams have risen to meet the new wave of remote workers. The number of coworking spaces in the US has skyrocketed in recent years, climbing to 4,528 in 2018, from just 14 in 2008. And that number is set to rise still, according to projections by the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC). The group estimates that there will be 6,219 coworking spaces through the US by 2022.

That’s no surprise, given that already 43 percent of Americans work from home at least some of the time, and that “remote/work from home” was the fourth most popular job search term in 2017. Hiring managers, meanwhile, predict that more than one-third of their employees will work remotely in the next ten years.  

That’s at companies big as well as small. In recent years, Amazon, Cigna, Salesforce, Philips and Nielsen have added remote employees to their workforces. And Dell plans to have 50 percent of its labor force working remotely by 2020.

As more organizations of all sizes continue to explore remote work opportunities, 2019 is bound to offer up plenty of changes to how – and where – people in the US and all over the world work.