First look: Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work
Updated: May 4
By Jen Amrhein and Kristi DePaul
For some people, remote work was the impossible dream, a desirable idea, but one they had accepted would likely never work in their industry. For others, remote work was their way of life, rendering the idea of a commute and an office cubicle as foreign as another country.
That was the last decade.
You know how this story plays out: in March 2020, these worlds collided. COVID-19 upended the working world like nothing else, necessitating sweeping changes across industries—including some that had never foreseen the need for remote capabilities.
Remote life seems to have changed for everyone, though, and not just for those new to it. We’re in a different era now, and it’s affecting remote teams everywhere.
Each year, the Founders team looks forward to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report. And this year, we were fortunate to receive early access to their 2021 State of Remote Work.
We have mined it for insights and have added our own recommendations, below.
Here’s what we uncovered:
❤️ Everybody digs remote work. (Surprised?)
It’s as simple as that. Buffer polled those working remotely before the pandemic—we’ll call them remote work veterans—and those who started working remotely because of it—AKA remote work newbies—if they wanted to stay remote for the rest of their careers.
The results? A whopping 96% of new remote work newbies answered in the affirmative, while 97.6% of remote work veterans said that was their preference.
Founders team insight: The newbie statistic surprised us a little, as so many were thrown into the deep end without orientation to true remote work. We continue to be impressed by the resourcefulness of those who had to suddenly go remote, especially those who did so while balancing parenting and caregiving responsibilities.
⚠️ Danger ahead: HR folks should pay attention.
Seems like a happily-ever-after remote story? Not exactly...only 46% of remote work newbies reported that their company plans to continue to allow remote work. Ouch.
Founders team insight: A misalignment between employees’ wishes and your company’s policy may lead to higher turnover in the months ahead. Our team recommends that people ops professionals and HR leads face this proactively by bringing up future work arrangements with C-level colleagues/teams before a return to the office is required.
Nobody wants talent churn, even in a hiring market, because hiring processes are costly. On average, turnover can cost up to a total of 90-200% of an employee’s annual salary (thanks to our friends at Toggl for this handy stat and the one that follows!)
The average company loses anywhere from 1% to 2.5% of their total revenue
on the time required to bring
a new hire up to speed.
💪 Flexing: the very best part. (No, not that kind.)
No matter how you spin it, people love the flexibility of working remotely. Sometimes that may mean working outside of office hours to suite your own schedule, or even embracing a four day workweek.
The top benefit workers list is the ability to have a flexible schedule, closely followed by the freedom to work from anywhere.
For now, this might be your home office, makeshift ironing board desk, or sofa—watch out for those Mega Bloks!
For those who worked remotely before the pandemic, this benefit has long been a major perk. At Founders, for example, we’re distributed and always have been. Our team spans 10 time zones and employs people from diverse backgrounds. (We’re proud to have a multiracial, multi-faith team that speaks four languages, holds five citizenships, and includes immigrants, military spouses and military veterans.)
Without the flexibility of time and place, the Founders team would not exist as it does today.
Founders team insight: The more flexible your company can operate, the more opportunities you’ll have to attract and retain the very best people. If you can put the processes in place to work well together asynchronously, you’ll have a significant competitive advantage. See GitLab’s epically comprehensive Remote Playbook for more detail on how to do this.
😓 It’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Freeing ourselves from the office has major benefits, it’s true, but it has drawbacks, too. The issue mentioned most in this year’s report was the inability to unplug from work, with 27% of respondents citing this as their biggest hurdle. When work is home and home is work, escaping is hard.
Seventeen percent of workers said loneliness is their biggest struggle, while the same percent cited problems with collaboration and communication.
Founders team insight: The time zone factor almost certainly comes into play here. If your team is new to working remotely and haven’t built in ways to feel connected throughout the workday—and no, we don’t mean by Slacking folks—consider simple and fun routines such as optional end-of-day wrap-up emails (with personal anecdotes welcome), or creating a place where teammates can recommend their favorite new podcasts, TV series and more.
🌜 It’s tricky when some work while others are asleep.
I already mentioned that the Founders team has members in 10 different time zones. And by different, we mean REALLY different. Our CEO is seven hours apart from most of us, so while she is heading for bed, we’re just starting to finalize projects and have afternoon meetings.
Founders team insight: Flexibility is a double-edged sword sometimes, as it may require everyone to compromise. Thankfully, our team does this well; what’s most important for you to consider is how to enable yourself and your colleagues to work within a schedule that (most of the time) truly works for all.
We’re no longer the outliers, though.
In fact, more than half of the remote team members surveyed—59%—work in 2-5 time zones. Almost two of every 10 teams spanned 6-10 zones, and 12% even spanned 16+!
The true outliers in this factor were actually the teams co-located within the same time zone, at just 2%.
Founders team insight: We’d like to see even deeper insights into how far-flung teams communicate, collaborate, and bond, and what lessons might be derived from them for those who are more closely situated. (Buffer team: are you listening? We think this would be a really interesting route to take in future surveys!)
So, how do we stay productive and connected?
The answer is multifold. Yes, we use lots of productivity tools:
Monday.com is our go-to platform for a long-term, big picture perspective. (If we’re wondering how Q1 will end, or who is working on what, that’s where we go.)
Trello acts as a micro-level hub. This is where you can find each of our client projects, and our teammates also each have their own personalized boards. Sometimes you’ll find memes in there, too.
Google Drive is the glue that holds everything together; this is where our deliverables live.
and Buffer* enables us to share our own content and that of our amazing clients—all of whom operate in the future of work and learning spaces.
These are our four indispensable tools/platforms. But our team also sticks to the basics:
Emergency comms are on point. A text or an email with the most urgent items gets things done quickly and with the least potential for oversight.
Aside from tools, we’re flexible (there’s that word again!) Everyone gives a little. Some of our team members plan for meetings earlier in their day than they would prefer to allow our CEO to finish her day before 9 p.m., if not before. We work earlier and she works later.
We also make it a priority to connect. A bi-weekly Zoom meeting is always on the schedule; once we join, it’s not straight to work. We take a little time to discuss what’s going on in the world and in our lives, what makes us laugh and what makes us cry. These small investments in each other pay off in a big way when it’s time to power through a deadline.
Most of all, we’re grateful for advocates of remote work and for leaders in the field like Buffer, which has served and supported the global remote community for over a decade. We hope that our insights from the 2021 State of Remote Work enable you to make smart, compassionate decisions, and our team welcomes your feedback on LinkedIn.
* who didn’t pay us a cent for this blog post or so much as offer us swag, but we love them anyway! 😘