“Is remote work working?”
“Why the future of remote work is doomed”
“Remote work is failing Gen Z employees”
Dramatic headlines about remote work persist. Sorting through the hype to determine the context of every concern (and any biases that lay behind them) would likely be a full time job.
Our team wondered: What will remote work look like in 2023, and how are experts’ predictions translating into useful practices in today’s workforce?
Owl Labs’ 2022 State of Remote Work reported that only 31% of employers surveyed offer full time remote work, and just 21% offer a work-from-anywhere option. Nearly three years after the pandemic upended our daily routines, there remains no clear indication how the remote work debate will resolve. Some industries cannot have fully virtual teams, of course.
Yet knowing what experts predict may change your current approach (or possibly your entire career).
Who are the experts? When Remote.com released its 2022 Remote Influencer Report earlier this year, we saw many familiar faces and also were introduced to new folks who comprise “the most inspiring and influential thinkers in the remote working world.” The resource is designed to help companies find experts on adapting to remote and hybrid working practices, supporting employees who want to work from anywhere and navigating the evolving future of work.
We reached out to three remote innovators and enablers to understand what they believe to be the biggest roadblocks and opportunities.
The biggest challenges around 'successful' remote work
It starts with how companies define remote work success. Laurel Farrer, CEO and Founder of Distribute Consulting says, “The longer we believe that remote work is just a workplace change, the longer we'll be frustrated with our success as distributed teams.” For her, it’s not about where operations are based; it's how we’re working.
Until leaders, teams and individual professionals update their approach to work by prioritizing skills like leadership transparency, documentation, intrinsic motivation, asynchronous communication, emotional intelligence, and results-based performance measurement, seeing success with remote work will remain a challenge, Farrer added.
The second major obstacle? Cultivating a successful remote company culture. “The reality about creating a positive company culture is that it’s ultimately based on actions, not location,” Sara Sutton, CEO and Founder at FlexJobs told me. Intentional effort and results matter more than where a company is based.
It’s essential for companies to evaluate their current workforce and determine what an effective remote-friendly business model looks like. The question now is how can leaders foster a successful culture? Sutton shared these tips:
Review your onboarding process. Remote team members don’t have the in-person experience of meeting colleagues on an office tour. Remote leaders should consider creative ways to fill in these gaps, immediately introducing newcomers to company culture so they can begin to understand their place within the organization.
Maintain and communicate culture. No matter how small the gesture, letting staff know that they matter to the team and their contributions are important go a long way toward creating a positive culture and strengthening employee engagement.
Manage thoughtfully from afar. Successfully creating and communicating company culture to a remote team requires managers to act with intention. Miscommunication and misunderstandings can otherwise undermine productivity and destroy rapport.
Soumyasanto Sen, Author, Speaker and Analyst at People Conscience, underscored building and maintaining a healthy culture as a major challenge. "This comprises many factors, including the work itself, well-being, motivation, work-life balance, flexibility, inclusion, and more," he said. Sen added that leaders of distributed teams should also care about workspace: remote teams need a shared space (whether physical, virtual or both) "to bring their projects to life by connecting the right people, content, and conversations."
Out of sight doesn't mean out of mind, however. "Engagement and collaboration are the keys to the success of any business today," Sen said. "Companies should consider ways to engage these coworkers by combining digital and human contact."
He cited the importance of various channels for feedback so that leaders can truly listen, learn and adjust accordingly. "Providing multiple ways for people to give feedback is vital for any remote team," he said. "Only some people are comfortable speaking up in a group meeting, so be sure to solicit feedback in the agenda doc or through chat, Q&A, and polls."
In the context of remote work, there remains a critical need to address equity and inclusion across the board. Nataly Kelly, Vice President, International Operations and Strategy at HubSpot, shared her thoughts. “Remote work trends have actually exacerbated many existing inequities during the pandemic because people of color are less likely to be in remote-friendly jobs.”
She advised that whether companies are taking a fully-remote, full-time office, or a hybrid approach to the future of work, leaders must be aware of both the equity-enhancing and equity-reducing aspects of remote and in-office work. For example, Hubspot is reviewing its internal data, including quarterly employee surveys, in order to more deeply understand where biases may occur and figure out how they can create equal development opportunities for employees of all backgrounds.
‘Adapt or die’: Competing in the future of work
Many have benefited from remote work, with 62% of employees reporting that they are more productive working outside of a traditional office. Sutton shared that her company, FlexJobs, saw a 12 percent increase in the number of remote job listings in 2021 over 2020.
“Our latest Work Insight 2022 survey of over 1,200 employed workers found that remote work (77%) is considered the second most important element to compensation and benefit packages, ranked only behind salary (83%).”
For Farrer, workplace flexibility will continue to be a professional standard. In other words, remote work is here to stay. “Employers are starting to realize that allowing remote work isn't a temporary trend, or even an optional benefit—it's now an ‘adapt or die’ scenario in most industries and economies,” she added.
“At the end of the day, people want flexibility in how and where they work,” Kelly said. “So in order for employers to attract and retain top talent, they need to consider long-term changes in how employees work, as opposed to temporary changes because of the pandemic.”
She believes that hybrid work and global mobility go hand in hand. This means that more companies will lean towards remote work. Hubspot, for example, works with teams in Colombia, Germany, France, Ireland, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. “To me, this is what the future of remote work looks like for more and more teams and companies,” she added. “I believe a growing number of companies will see remote work as essential in order to attract the world’s best talent.”
Sen predicts that the future of work will be an evolving hybrid workplace—one that is effective, creative, and enjoyable place to work. "The primary intention should be to enhance productivity and creativity, strengthen connection and belonging, and increase health and well-being," he said. "The most crucial part is that people do not like to feel excluded. Therefore, the future of work should ensure that the essential elements of the company's culture are accessible to both office-based and remote employees. Enabling the right technology and intelligence platforms is also vital to empower the future of work."
To achieve the above, companies must do the work in improving internal strategies and addressing the challenges that come along with a major shift in processes and interactions. Each expert I heard from believes that this is worth the effort, and the results will speak for themselves.
Those hoping to work remotely should also be encouraged, Sutton advised. “In the months and years ahead, we expect jobseekers will continue to have more opportunities than ever before to work remotely.”
At Founders, our team has been fully remote since we launched in late 2015. We believe that remote work continues to pave the way for better and more sustainable opportunities for all. From companies accessing more diverse global talent pools to employees securing the freedom to work flexibly, remote work is enabling stronger teams, more equitable jobs, better mental health and well-being, and reduced carbon footprints.
Are you part of a remote or hybrid team? What would you add to the conversation? Tell us what's top priority in 2023 (and beyond) below.
Editor’s note: This post features four prominent remote work experts named in the 2022 Remote Influencer report as Remote Innovators, Accelerators or Enablers. (Founders' CEO, Kristi DePaul was recognized as one of 50 global Remote Innovators.) You can get more info on all the influencers in the full report.