What is the Future of Remote Work?


You may be asking yourself “What is the future of remote working?”.  Today, I want to give you some ideas about that exact topic.  I’ll give some examples of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we could end up.

In the future, government will offer incentives for companies to use remote workers.  In addition, many jobs considered “blue collar” will become remote jobs.  Finally, physical presence will no longer be necessary, thanks to virtual and augmented reality.

This is just the beginning, so if you want to learn more, read on!

When We Will Work Remotely

In the future, there will be a great deal of freedom in when people work.  Results will be more important than time spent on a task.  People and companies are more likely to pay based on completion of work, rather than on an hourly basis.  There will be less of the boss standing over your shoulder, making sure you are work.  This is great for self-motivated people, but the lack of structure could hurt those who need it.

When I suggest that this will happen in the future, I mean much sooner than 50 years!  The shift we will see in the next 5 to 10 years will be staggering, to say the least.

Time Zones No Longer Matter

Let’s say you are a retail clerk who works a 9AM to 5PM shift in Boston.  If you are on the West Coast, you can work 6AM to 2PM Pacific Time.  You can also avoid a commute!  How?  Using technology that already exists, or that will be available soon.

Thanks to technology, you can record your voice on the Pacific Coast.  I can then you on the Atlantic Coast instantaneously.  With virtual reality programs, I can see an image of the person who is helping me in the store.  I can ask my questions in real time.  The system can send the audio right back to the retail clerk on the West Coast.  He can then respond to my inquiries.

This example might be extreme, but think about the possibilities for people who want to travel to see family.  They can still work and earn an income, even from thousands of miles away.  When they return to their local area, they can go back to working “in person”.

Many companies and consumers will resist this trend.  However, that will be about as effective as Luddites destroying machinery in the Industrial Age.  Companies that offer this freedom and flexibility in work schedules will attract and retain the best workers.  Companies that do not offer remote work must hire any leftover employees.

Results Are More Important Than Face Time

Rewards accrue to those who have skills, take risks, and manage their businesses prudently.  This trend will continue as companies look to achieve the same or better results with fewer workers.  Simply showing up to work will not guarantee success, and it will not guarantee a place at a company.

In the future, companies will be able to easily measure the results that an employee or contractor delivers.  Most companies will not care whether a person ever shows up to an office.  All they will care about is producing a result.  Companies stuck on “having people in seats” or “face time” will lose out to more flexible companies.

Think about the case of Kodak.  They thought that their company would be around forever, reasoning that people would always need film for cameras.  However, with the advent of digital cameras, the need for film slowly evaporated.  Shares of Kodak stock traded at $94.75 at the company’s peak.  As of this writing (August 3, 2018), they are trading at $3.25.

Companies stuck on old and outdated ideas will lose to companies that embrace and leverage technology.  It is true, now more than ever, that “what got you here won’t get you there”.

Requiring employees to show up to work may have worked in the past.  It may even work now, in some cases.  Increasingly, though, companies that require face time will have to face off with companies that allow remote work.

The Future is Sooner Than You Think

The changes I have been discussing in this article sound like they could be decades away.  However, don’t become too comfortable with the way things are.  Let me give you some examples of how quickly things can change in our world:

  • 12,000 years ago, human beings were still running around chasing animals with spears.
  • 1,200 years ago, people still thought the Sun revolved around the Earth.
  • 120 years ago, nobody knew the Wright Brothers.  People would think you were crazy to believe that an airplane could actually work.
  • 12 years ago, the iPhone did not exist.  I know it is difficult to believe, but it’s true.  We did not have people walking into oncoming traffic whilst staring at a smartphone.
  • 12 months ago, a digital currency called Bitcoin was soaring towards a new peak in its price.

Younger generations are quickly adopting new technologies, and they are not afraid of new ones.  In fact, they embrace them.  If companies, governments, and peers tell them that they should work remotely, then they will do it.  Many would love to work using only a smartphone, a laptop, and their own skills.

Who Will Work Remotely

Normally, we instantly think of a computer programmer, software engineer, or web developer as the stereotypical remote worker.  However, there are many professionals that can, and do, perform their work remotely.

There are many jobs in healthcare, law, art, and customer service that are already remote.  In addition, many employees could work remotely, if their companies would allow them to do so.  As time goes on, incentives will appear to accelerate the adoption of remote work.

Office Workers

Currently, many office workers are able to work remotely.  As mentioned earlier, many software engineers and others in the tech industry already work remotely.  Employees working in finance, accounting, and customer service can also do their work from home.  Even if they commute two days a week, the time and cost savings would be enormous.

Managers who work in an office can manage their teams remotely.  This assumes that have the proper training on how to attract, retain, and motivate remote workers.

Creative Workers

Many creative workers can produce their work remotely. This includes web designers, graphic designers, and artists.  Those who produce pictures and video can do most of the editing and touching up remotely.  They might even be able to send out drones to take the pictures while they control them from home!

Artists can also produce physical products and ship them to whoever needs them.  Many people produce crafts at home and sell them on Etsy, eBay, Amazon, craigslist, or their own websites.

Retail Staff

As mentioned earlier, man companies need retail staff members who are knowledgeable about the product or service.  There is no reason that these employees cannot work from home to share their knowledge with customers.  Virtual and augmented reality solutions can allow remote workers to assist customers in store.

These solutions could also help to connect retail staff and customers, when both are at home!  If it sounds crazy, think again.  People used to think computers were just a fad.  Then, they thought the same thing about the internet.  Many people probably believed the same thing about smartphones.  Believe me that this trend is on the way.  Be in front of it, not behind it!

Skilled Tradesmen

You may not believe this one, but I think it is plausible.  Think about what a carpenter, plumber, electrician, or HVAC professional does.  They have specialized knowledge about tools, procedures, and systems.  They build from scratch, or maintain and repair these systems.  It is difficult to train robots or machines for these jobs.  Part of the reason is that every project is different, and every job can present different problems.

However, what if we create a remote control robot that can move just like a person?  Instead, we can use some type of remote virtual or augmented reality system.  For instance, a carpenter can see what the robot sees.  He can then direct the robot remotely.  The robot can move items, drive in a nail, or take a measurement.

The carpenter could do all of this from home.  The carpenter still has the opportunity to build and exercise his skill in his chosen occupation.  However, he no longer needs to deal with a long commute.  Why should only software engineers enjoy that perk?

Further, plumbers and electricians often go back and forth between multiple job sites in one day.  Imagine if they could take a break at home while a robot moves between job sites.  This would further reduce traffic and stress, and give these workers more free time.

Benefits to Society

There are many benefits to society due to increased remote work.  Individuals would benefit from less stress, reduced commuting costs, and more free time.  Companies would benefit from reduced office overhead, improved productivity, and higher employee morale.  Governments would benefit from reduced environmental impacts, less natural resource consumption, and economic stimulus.

Even those who still need to commute will benefit from reduced traffic on the roads.  This will reduce traffic accidents and fatalities, which will reduce insurance costs.  Again, this money will go back into the economy.  The reason is that people will have more to spend once they stop paying so much for auto insurance.

Reduced Stress

Many employees must deal with a tremendous amount of stress when commuting.  Even the thought of the commute can give some people anxiety, for good reason.  In 2016, there were 37, 461 motor vehicle deaths in the United States, according to Wikipedia.  This doesn’t even get into injuries, both major and minor.  In addition to the stress, there is also the cost of injuries.  I will discuss this in depth later.

In addition to risking injury and death, commuters must deal with rude and aggressive drivers.  If this isn’t bad enough, remember that they need to do this twice per day, five days per week.  Pile on work and family stress, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Many people will suffer ill health as a result of this much stress.  Some of them will be unable to work, which means others need to pick up the slack.  This further increases the chance of overwork for those left behind.

When workers can ditch the commute, they can ditch the stress that goes along with it.  This will improve their health, and it will also improve their productivity at work.

Lower Commuting Costs

Another benefit of remote work for individuals is lower commuting costs.  If you work from home instead of commuting every day, you will be saving on multiple fronts.  First, you will spend a lot less money on gasoline.  You will also put less wear and tear on your vehicle, reducing maintenance and repair costs.  In addition, less driving means fewer accidents, which means lower auto insurance rates.

You might be able to save even more if  you completely ditch your car!  There would be no more payments and depreciation.  You would also pay zero for the insurance, excise tax, and sales tax on vehicles.  Repairs and maintenance would cost nothing.

In addition, you can have groceries and other necessities delivered.  You can also rent a car once in a while.  This would cost only a small fraction of the money you would save with no car.

In short, people would stop spending so much on gasoline, insurance, and other car costs.  They would have more money in their pockets, which would stimulate the economy.  Whether people spend the money on investment or consumption, it would produce jobs and make everyone wealthier.

If you want to learn more, check out my post on how much money you can save by telecommuting.

You can also read more about my thoughts on the pros (and cons) of telecommuting here.

Companies

Companies would also benefit in numerous ways due to a rise in remote work.  First of all, their employees would have less stress, as mentioned earlier.  This would improve worker productivity, which improves the bottom line for the company.

Offering remote work as a perk would also make it easier for companies to attract and retain the best workers.  Many employees love the option of remote work, and so this would improve morale of employees as well.

If most of a company’s workers are remote, then there is less need for physical office space.  This reduces costs, including rent for office space, utilities, and equipment.  When a company goes completely remote, it eliminates these costs completely!  This allows the company to improve its profitability.  As a result, publicly traded companies that embrace remote work would be more attractive to investors.

You can find out more about benefits of remote work for employers here.  If you are sold on remote work, check out my article on how to run a remote business.

Governments

When a country embraces remote work, governments will see benefits as well.  First, more remote work means less driving, which reduces environmental impacts from burning fossil fuels.  It would also mean less air pollution, which would increase air quality.  This would help to reduce the incidence of asthma and other lung ailments.

In addition, we can take parking lots and use them for other purposes, such as housing or retail.  Increasing the housing supply will reduce prices for those who have trouble finding affordable housing.  Increasing retail space will reduce rents for commercial tenants, which will in turn reduce prices for consumers.

Governments would also benefit from a decrease in natural resource consumption.  Think of everything that goes into building and using cars: oil, gasoline, plastic, metal, and glass.  In addition to reducing consumption of resources, we would eliminate junkyards full of obsolete vehicles.  We can then use these resources for other productive purposes.

As hinted at earlier, remote work would reduce costs for individuals and companies.  With extra money in their pockets, everyone would spend and invest more.  This would reduce unemployment and increase prosperity for all.

How Do We Encourage the Transition?

There are several ways that we can encourage people to adopt remote working arrangements.  Two of the best ways are education and tax incentives.

Educate Individuals and Companies

Many employees will not need to read an article about the benefits of telecommuting.  They will be ready to make the change, if given the chance!  Others may be skeptical, so presenting some of the benefits mentioned above might help.

Employers may be reluctant to embrace remote working, since the concept is still new.  Again, presenting some of the benefits discussed in this article might sway them.  Appealing to the economic benefits of remote work will convince many business owners to consider it.

Offer Tax Incentives

If the economic benefits by themselves are not enough, government can step in and sweeten the deal.  Tax deductions or credits for remote workers would further encourage companies to adopt this trend.  Obviously, there needs to be some oversight.  Also, the government needs to make distinctions between part time, full time, and contract remote workers.  However, this is an idea worth considering.

Conclusion

The future of remote work is exciting!  Soon, we will see many more benefits as the trend accelerates.  There are benefits for individuals, companies, and governments alike.

If you are an employee who is interested in getting ahead of this trend, check out my article on the skills you need to work remotely.

If you have any comments or ideas about the future of remote work, please leave them below.

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