Where does the workplace go from here?
The past year has shown us that remote working, in some form, is here to stay. During the pandemic, many companies around the world have proven that a high number of professional jobs can be successful — and securely — done fully outside of the office setting.
Remote jobs have become popular with many workers. In fact, according to a recent survey, 74% of professionals expect remote work to become the standard and 53% of US employees currently working remotely due to the pandemic say they wish their jobs could stay remote instead of returning to an office-based environment.
While many companies around the world are making moves to bring their employees back into the office as we move past the Covid-19 pandemic, there are some roles that are likely to stay remote. These include roles that had already organically evolved to be done remotely, even prior to the pandemic.
Given both the increase in the demand for remote working roles by employees and the greater number of employers willing to offer such roles, it appears that we can look to a sort of ‘remote revolution’ taking shape in the future. But do the types of remote roles offered stack up with the types of remote roles desired?
Using our platform’s anonymised internal data, we uncovered both the top roles that candidates seek to do remotely, and a list of the top roles that employers are likely to offer remotely moving forward. The similarities and differences are interesting to consider:
Top 5 remote roles candidates look for:
1. Web Designer
2. Graphic Designer
3. UX Designer
4. UI Designer
5. Web Developer
Top 5 remote roles offered by employers:
1. Full Stack Developer
2. Front-End Developer
3. IT Project Manager
4. Sales Specialist
5. Back-End Developer
It is evident that a few of these roles overlap in the nature of their work, particularly those in digital design fields. Yet, it’s worth noting that many of the roles that employees desire to do remotely are ones that were already being done remotely prior to the pandemic, whereas the remote roles offered by employers today may not have been remote in the past.
We spoke to top remote working innovator Rowena Hennigan, Lecturer at Technological University Dublin, to find out more about the remote revolution. A knowledgeable expert on the competencies and skills needed to successfully facilitate remote working, Hennigan helped us understand the difference between employers and candidates when it comes to remote roles.
With regards to the types of design roles that candidates seek to do remotely, Hennigan has a theory around why this might be, and it coincides with how these roles have been chopped up and commoditised by the gig economy, even prior to the remote working revolution spurred on by Covid.
Hennigan comments: “Many of these remote roles are in the design field. I think a reason for this is that platforms like Fiverr have potentially undervalued design because design work can be broken down into tasks and uploaded to a platform, whereas a full-stack developer role normally involves more of a long process of coding. As a consequence, there are a lot of designers that don’t have work due to the globalisation of the marketplace and because of platforms like Fiverr, which enable this. Such platforms are filled with design tasks and have seen monumental growth in recent years.”
Due to the fact that such design jobs are more short-term, this can explain why so many design jobs are remote. But as for the full-stack developer roles we now see in the Top 5 remote roles offered by employers? This is due to companies’ broader changing strategies as they tackle the important task of reimagining work in a post-Covid world.
According to Hennigan, remote work is a purposeful organisational strategy, whereas remote work as a reaction to Covid was an emergency measure undertaken by companies during the pandemic because they had no other choice. What companies were doing in this emergency was to implement working from home (WFH) policies. This is different from implementing a fully pre-planned, purposeful remote working strategy.
And these are important distinctions to make because companies who were fully remote prior to the pandemic had implemented careful strategy around remote working — as opposed to remote working being a response within an emergency situation.
Although working from home is much different from remote working, the two have unfortunately become confused with one another in the past year. But they are fundamentally very different from one another.
In an emergency-inspired work from home situation, employees may not have a proper home office setup, they may be burdened with children at home, and there is little strategy from the company — essentially, WFH is a situation borne of a stopgap measure. It’s driven by necessity rather than strategic planning.
Whereas remote working is much different from WFH. It is a purposeful company strategy that is reflected in the company’s leadership and ethos. A company employing remote working has thought through its implications and parameters carefully before rolling it out; it has created a strategy around it, one which depends on trusting employees to work outside of the office. A remote working strategy is a purposeful step away from old-fashioned models of micromanagement, which are not compatible with this type of work.
As Henningan points out, “What we’ve all been doing for the past 13-14 months is not remote work. It lacks proper IT infrastructure and proper strategy. People are sick with anxiety and grief in an emergency situation.” With home workers lacking a proper working set-up and having to juggle conflicting responsibilities, companies must understand this distinction in order to create an ecosystem of true remote working roles.
Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, also makes this important distinction in his popular 2020 blog post, “Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.” In the blog, Mullenweg explains how his already-distributed workforce at Automattic was designed to work remotely — but not in isolation: “Even at a remote-friendly company like Automattic, we rely on in-person team meetups and conferences to strengthen our connections and get work done. For now, we’ve canceled all work-related travel.”
The distinction Mullenweg gets at is that pandemic-inspired remote working was less strategic and more a matter of necessity, and therefore not a true representation of remote working. So as companies look to implement what work will look like moving forward, even if the work does remain ‘remote’ (that is, ‘distributed’), it doesn’t mean more of the same. Rather, they must have a strategy around how to manage remote working.
Hennigan agrees that the ‘strategy versus reaction’ approach will be something that companies will have to contend with as they carefully craft their next steps. “Everyone is in a transition at the moment,” says Hennigan. “Remote working currently is a short-to-medium strategy. I don’t know that hybrid or blended remote operations proposed will actually be effective We are still in a transitionary period, but in general the research shows that workers do want more flexibility.”
In fact, there are some private sector organisations, like Remote and Deel, which specialise in facilitating remote working across borders. While the private sector is making strides to enable strategic, productive remote working, Hennigan believes that the public sector, on the other hand, is also crucial to getting remote working right as we move forward.
In many parts of the world, such as in Ireland, the government is already working to legislate around remote-working-related issues such as “the right to disconnect,” which protects remote workers’ working hours. Such public sector frameworks are needed around remote work, particularly around wellness to prevent overworking.
As companies begin to create strategies around what it looks like to return to the office, they must take into account the greater flexibility that employees are crying out for as a result of the benefit of remote work during the pandemic, but these needs should also be balanced with the aforementioned regulations around employment.
There are many things to consider around the implementation of remote working strategies, including looking at issues like gender disparity, for example, with more women requiring flexibility to work around family responsibilities. Additionally, the types of people who value remote working are typically conscientious and very self-aware, which are high-performance traits, according to Hennigan. Therefore, Henningan believes it is likely that more public policy will continue to be enacted in countries around the world to better regulate and protect remote workers. This is the ‘maturity model’ of remote work.
It’s clear that remote work is here to stay, though what form it will take is less clear. We can learn how to make change in the workplace by understanding the perspective of both candidates/employees and employers about the roles that can be done remotely. Once we take on board the wants and needs of both sides, then the industries will hopefully move forward to create exciting new strategies around remote working.