How many millions of Americans are working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? We might not know the answer to that question, but we can say that the rise of remote work is not as new as it seems. The number of employees working remotely has been steadily increasing for years. The only thing different now is that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the issue for some employers.
Remote work is made possible largely by internet technology. With that in mind, it is easy to understand the trajectory remote work numbers have exhibited over the years. As technology improves, more workers have the opportunity to work from remote locations.
A Steady Growth Trajectory
Working remotely was in its infancy 25 years ago. Early technologies were available, but they were not widely utilized across the entire employee spectrum. Then, a little more than a decade ago, things started taking off.
The data shows that remote work has grown by 159% over the last 12 years. The rate of increase over the last 10 years is 91%. Since 2015, the number of remote workers has grown by 44%.
While it is true the rate of growth has slowed in recent years, the total number of employees working remotely has continued to steadily increase. But here is the real kicker: if we included COVID-19-influenced numbers from the last eight weeks, the normally steady rate of growth would spike sharply higher.
More workers are working remotely today because they have to. Will they continue after COVID-19 subsides? That is the million-dollar question.
Why It Seems to Work
It makes sense that remote work would not continue to grow if employers were dissatisfied with it. Thus, continued growth suggest that the model is working. Employers are discovering that some types of workers can operate remotely without negatively impacting business goals. And in some cases, goals are met more easily.
According to Simplifie contributor Fareeha Afghan, data from a variety of sources explains why remote work seems to work for many employers:
- Increased Productivity – Some studies suggest that certain kinds of workers actually find remote work more productive. They are not bothered by office interruptions or the stress of office politics. They get more done in a remote environment they find more comfortable.
- Larger Talent Pools – Offering workers the option to work remotely opens up the talent pool by attracting those who would otherwise not apply for jobs. For example, there are incredibly talented people more than capable of working who cannot leave home due to physical disabilities.
- Reduce Costs – Allowing large numbers of employees to work remotely reduces cost across the board. Just the costs of maintaining an office alone – i.e. utilities, office furniture, etc. – can be greatly reduced, thus improving a company's financial position.
- Employee Satisfaction – The ever-elusive work-life balance seems to be more attainable when employees work remotely. Eliminate the commute and you eliminate some of the time spent away from home. And of course, working from home encourages spending more time with family.
There is no telling how many people now working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic will return to the office once it is all over. It is reasonable to assume that more than one employer will at least take a look at the possibility of keeping the work from home model intact.
Remote work is obviously not the right solution for every company. But growth in the number of employees working remotely demonstrates that it is a good solution for some. Is it workable for your company?