Fire up the DeLorean, because we’re going back to the future. But wait, aren’t we already there? Pants-less work meetings? Kids clamoring for attention during e-learning breaks? Attorneys wearing cat-face filters in virtual hearings? No, gang. That’s not the future. That is an anomaly that we can hopefully learn from as we march into the next era of remote work.
See, we were already looking to the future when the pandemic hit, forcing thousands of Americans into home offices, backyards, bedrooms and Zoom conferences. But remote life in 2020 wasn’t remote life as we knew it; it was a frantic scramble to adapt or die.
Now, a new Remote Work Report from HubSpot details exactly why 2020 was NOT a crystal ball giving us a glimpse of a brilliant digital future ahead, but rather an omen of what could be if we continue to view remote work as merely a long-term effect of COVID. We reviewed the report, compiled from a survey of 1,000 full-time remote workers, and here’s what we learned:
Remote Work Vs. Working Remotely
Remote work is a lifestyle that’s been growing in popularity for years. But when COVID hit, the number of remote workers jumped from 17% to 44% in a matter of months. However, as the HubSpot report says, these aren’t the digital nomads, freelancers and Work-From-Anywhere aficionados who adopted this life by choice; these numbers were made up of thousands of people who found their routines and their lives completely upended by a global health crisis. Why is this distinction important? Because many of these workers just want to return to some semblance of normalcy, and that normalcy includes a familiar office space away from their home, spouses, kids and other distractions. They aren’t planning a future of working on the beach (or working from the kitchen table) – they just want to get back to business as usual.
These aren’t legions of digital superheroes ready to start a remote revolution; these are normal people, adapting to an abnormal situation. But those of us in the remote space can learn a lot from their challenges and their victories throughout 2020, so we can build a stronger future for remote work… for those who choose it.
Challenges of Remote Work in 2020
Beyond the existential dread induced by a worldwide viral villain, there were many everyday obstacles faced by suddenly-remote workers. Some of the biggest challenges noted in the HubSpot report include:
Communication: More than half of survey respondents felt they had to be online constantly during business hours to prove they were working, and the stress of communicating through a digital disconnect was felt across the board, with 43% reporting struggles to participate in virtual meetings, and nearly 30% saying citing difficulties in giving and receiving feedback online.
Career Growth: The shift to remote work put a halt on many workers’ upward mobility, with 42% saying they were passed over for promotions during the pandemic, and a quarter believing their manager doesn’t understand the full scope of their work while they’re operating remotely. Job-seekers said technical difficulties were their biggest challenge in trying to find employment in 2020.
Connection: Inclusion and belonging in the workforce suffered greatly at the height of the pandemic. However, many respondents say they feel their employers are actively working to create a more inclusive environment, with nearly half saying they feel a deeper sense of belonging now that their whole team is remote. Not surprisingly, maintaining a work/life balance was the biggest concern across the board.
Mental Health: One-third of remote workers report that their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic and the shift to remote work. 73% have had to become full-time parents in addition to being full-time employees, and close to 40% have taken less than a week of vacation since March, 2020.
The Good News
It’s not all bad! The shift to working remotely was a shock to many, but there still emerged plenty of silver linings.
Mental health became a key topic of discussion for many employers, starting important and necessary conversations that had previously been ignored in the workplace.
A large percentage of respondents say they do not feel any sense of disconnect from their co-workers or employers since making the switch to remote work.
More than half say they have more opportunities to be involved in their company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
A majority of survey takers say they believe their employer and their managers are organized and communicative with remote workers.
What We Can Learn
The HubSpot report shines a light on the state of remote work after 2020, and gives us some insight on how we can continue to grow. Here are some of the biggest lessons we took from the report, and our own experience with remote work:
Remote Work Isn’t for Everyone. And that’s okay. The future of remote work shouldn’t be forced on those who don’t feel strongly about it. Instead, the future should be influenced by those who truly believe in it as a productive, effective and enjoyable way of doing business.
Fear Shouldn’t Be a Motivator. Many respondents worried about others’ perception of their productivity, and how it would impact their career growth. At First Page, we know that the “butts in seats” mentality just doesn’t work. Remote managers can learn a lot about maximizing efficiency once they loosen the reigns and build trust with their employees.
The Right Remote Workers Are Better Than Any Remote Workers. Hiring is hard during a pandemic, and many job-seekers in the HubSpot report felt that recruiting issues impacted their ability to find work in 2020. Some managers may want to focus on filling seats (see above), but you have to have the right butts in those seats. Our founder, Jeanna, shares some insights on hiring remote employees she developed well before the pandemic.
2020’s Remote Workers Are Not a Threat. Those of us who had adopted the remote lifestyle long before we’d heard of COVID-19 are worried about what this influx of digital workers means for our careers, and reasonably so. However, as we noted earlier, there’s a big difference between remote work and working remotely, and it’s up to us to build a brighter future for those like us.
So, yes, 2020 thrust remote work into the global spotlight, but it didn’t set us on an irreversible course. The future of remote work for digital nomads and work-from-anywhere-ers remains shrouded in mystery, but full of potential. So let’s leave 2020 where it belongs…in the history books…and work on getting back to the future – building a better tomorrow for those who want to embrace the remote work lifestyle.