The House That Remote Work Advocates Built
Remote work has skyrocketed. When stay-at-home orders hit the U.S. in March, within a matter of days — and in some cases, overnight — 63 percent of the U.S. workforce shifted to working from home in some capacity, according to data from Gallup. In contrast, before the orders, only 31 percent of the workforce worked from home occasionally and only 4.9 percent worked from home 100 percent of the time.
The foundation of this remote work surge — the philosophies, trials and errors, best practices, tools, case studies, public policies and vast knowledge supporting this swift change — has been growing and building for more than a decade. Although remote work has just been introduced to millions of people over these past few months, it’s vital to acknowledge that the overall success of this urgent remote work integration is because of the hard work that came before this moment.
I’ve witnessed these efforts and been a part of them as the founder and CEO of two fully remote companies (FlexJobs and Remote.co) and two remote work advocacy groups (1 Million for Work Flexibility and The TRaD* Works Forum). Over the past 13 years, I’ve had the incredible fortune to know and work with many of the leading remote work experts out there, and I’d like to highlight their contributions.
The voices behind remote work's growth
Even before the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment, there were more remote-friendly jobs than at any time in the modern workforce. FlexJobs compiles an annual list of the 100 companies offering the most remote jobs, which regularly includes well-known, major corporations like Dell, UnitedHealth Group, SAP, Salesforce, ADP, American Express and CVS Health. These companies and others like them have consistently been building remote-friendly workforces, providing real world evidence that remote work can work on a large scale even when it’s by choice, not because of a health crisis.
Automattic, the makers of Wordpress, became the first “Frog Unicorn” (a.k.a. a fully remote organization valued at more than $1 billion). And then there are countless smaller, innovative remote-forward companies that integrated remote work into their business models early on, such as GitLab, TeamSnap, Canonical, Help Scout, Skillcrush and Buffer.
Next, researchers, remote work advocates and advocacy groups have paved the way for evidence-based discussion and actions to help companies implement remote work. Professor Nicholas Bloom’s landmark 2013 Stanford University research found that remote work improved productivity, reduced turnover and increased employee satisfaction. Global Workplace Analytics, WorldatWork, the Boston College Center for Work & Family, the World Economic Forum, TelCoa, The Remote Work Association, Brigid Schulte of New America, Cali Williams Yost of the Flex+Strategy Group and many more have created momentum behind the adoption of remote work. And while travel is halted during the pandemic, creative entrepreneurial groups like Remote Year and Running Remote highlight remote work’s expansive reach and exciting possibilities.
The media has played an important role in demonstrating remote work’s growth, evolution and staying power. Despite occasional, hyperbolic headlines about the “end of telecommuting,” journalists like CNN’s Kathryn Vasel and Jeanne Sahadi, CNBC’s Courtney Connley and Barbara Booth, The Wall Street Journal’s Kathryn Dill, AARP’s Kerry Hannon, Fortune’s Anne Fisher, Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman and many more have diligently covered remote work’s steady rise with clear-eyed insights and analysis. Over the years, this coverage has gradually dispelled myths about working from home including only low-level, low-skilled, unprofessional jobs outside the real job market.
Finally, and importantly, public policy at the local, state and national level has codified the right for people to work remotely. In 2010, the Telework Enhancement Act required major federal agencies to implement remote work, leading to dramatic savings in time, money and resources and increases in productivity and federal employee satisfaction. There have been more than 50 related Right to Request laws or acts giving workers the right to request flexible work options or remote work proposed and/or passed around the country, including in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, New Hampshire, Arizona and Oregon. And economic development organizations in Kentucky, Colorado, Maine, Utah and elsewhere have been working to bring remote jobs to rural and economically depressed communities.
I’ve been asked many times where remote work will go next. I firmly believe we are finally at a tipping point where remote and flexible work will become a long-term and important component of any healthy organization, both in emergency preparedness and in regular operations.
So far, nearly one in five chief financial officers surveyed says they plan to keep at least 20 percent of their workforce working remotely beyond the crisis. Companies like Twitter, EY, Facebook and Nationwide Insurance have also announced huge recruiting and operational shifts towards remote work with more and more every day.
While it’s highly unfortunate for the reasons remote work has come grow so dramatically, it is absolutely ready for it. The knowledge, systems, tools and processes leading to its success have been skillfully built, modified, tested and fortified for years.