Work from home trends over the past decade demonstrate that remote work is becoming more popular every year. Most people work remotely at least some of the time, and a growing number do 100% of their work outside the office. In fact, many new startups are deciding that they will consist of distributed teams right from the beginning. The current trends suggest that more people will start working remotely over the next decade, especially with the advent of 5G connectivity.

The Evolution of Remote Work in the 2010s

Remote work has been on the rise over the past decade. In 2010, the US Census reported that only 9.5% of employees worked from home at least once per week. A more recent survey found that about 36%of employees work from home at least once a week. Many more work remotely some of the time.

Note too that these statistics are only counting employees! There are also many freelancers and entrepreneurs who contract with clients all over the world with the click of a button.

What Caused the Change:

The work from home trends of the past decade have closely followed technology trends. As we have become more connected, it has become easier for workers to communicate with employers and clients in real-time. In addition, technology that was once confined to large, clunky, expensive computers is available in relatively small and affordable phones and tablets.

Consider, for example, the fact that while 80% of Americans owned a cell phone in 2010, only 35% owned a smartphone in 2011 (the first year for which we have data). Today, cell phones are ubiquitous with 96% of Americans having at least one. The percentage of Americans with smartphones,however, has increased much more drastically over 10 short years. A whopping 81%now have at least one smartphone.

We can now use our phones to check email, video conference,digitally “punch in” to a time clock, draft documents, transfer money, and so much more. In addition, wi-fi is also usually pretty easy to come by. Cafes,restaurants, airports, and even grocery stores offer it! This means there are many places where one can sit down with a laptop and get things done. The flexibility to work anywhere saves workers the time and money that would have otherwise been spent on commuting and provides a convenience that works with many people’s personal lives. Companies also like having remote employees and contractors because they don’t have to invest in more office space to accommodate more workers and can utilize talent from anywhere.

Technology has certainly made remote work a much more realistic prospect than it has been in the past, and the convenience is definitely a motivator for many people. Yet, why fix what isn’t broken? Why were people so eager to jump onto the work from home train in the 2010s? The answer can be found a few years earlier, in 2008. When the market crashed, the idea of job security and stability became a wild dream for many. Yet, necessity also drives innovation. Remote work grew in popularity since it was seen as a legitimate way to cut costs and open up new opportunities for both businesses and workers.  

Thus, the right elements, namely technological advances and convenience, mixed with the right catalyst, namely the market crash, helped to create the remote opportunities many of us take advantage of today.

5 Remote Work Trends of 2020

If remote work changed a lot in the 2010s, it is going to change even more in the 2020s! Here are some of the trends to watch for:

1. 5G

Average global mobile network speed went from 6.8 to 17.7 megabytes per second from 2016-2020, increasing by more than 250%in just 5 years. Now, 5G is available in many places, and it’s going to change the way we live and work. In fact, it has the capacity to work 100 times as quickly as 4G!
5G is going to make “the internet of things,” that is, the connectedness of everyday objects, possible. Your car will be connected to your phone, which will be connected to your printer, which will be connected to your doorbell,which will be connected to your lamp. 5G has the power to support this kind of connectivity at a high speed.
Freelancers and remote teams will be able to use this to make interactions as simple as they would be in a regular office. It will allow them to utilize things like VR across a wide distance to do training or pitch a concept. We are still just in the beginning phases of understanding what the adoption of 5G will mean for society.

2. More Independent Contracting Gigs

Even traditional workers are taking on part time freelancing gigs, and it seems like that trend is only going to continue. In fact, many people end up liking the freedom so much that they enter into it full time. More companies are also expected to start taking advantage of this new workforce. After all, it makes it easy to hire a specialist for a short-term project instead of investing training time into an employee who can try to do everything.

3. Distributed Teams

Gone are the days when every company needed a storefront! Now you just need internet access to start a business and put together a team. Many companies are beginning in homes, public spaces, and coworking spaces like Alley (or a combination). As the newer generation starts businesses, they are going to be more likely to adopt this model. The very face of business will change with this trend.

4. Increasing Cyber Security

Alas, with new technology comes new crimes. If people are working remotely,especially on public wi-fi, there is a risk of data compromise. Innovation like blockchain technology can help to decrease that risk. Companies are going to need to pay more attention to this very real threat, and remote workers may need to take extra steps such as installing firewalls or setting up a VPN to ensure security.

5. Community Building/“digital water coolers”

Despite its great successes, the remote workers have had to face their own unique problems. Most noticeably, many feel disconnected and want to be part of a community. Teams can address this problem by being intentional in creating a company culture that transcends location. For example, they can meet with team members on video chat or send them gear with the company logo.
One survey found that most remote workings currently do the majority of their work at home. This will also likely change as more people do a larger percentage of their work remotely. Options like coworking spaces that provide that sense of community that people crave. The 2020s are going to include more efforts on the part of freelancers and businesses to provide actual connectedness in a world that seems to sometimes only be connected on a superficial level.

Emerging Skills to Know:

So, what do you need to know to successfully navigate these upcoming work from home trends? The most important step is to figure out where you are most productive and make sure you are able to manage your work-life balance. Make sure you feel like a part of a team or larger community. Otherwise,you’re a prime candidate for burnout, and your remote working experiences are not going to be successful. Likewise, learn about cyber security and 5G networks. Chances are you will need to be utilizing both sooner than you think.

Remote work is here to stay, and it is going to continue to change over the next decade. Four times as many people work from home at least once a week now than in 2010, and that number will continue to climb.Technology will increasingly make collaborating from anywhere more possible,and the freedom and cost-savings will draw more employees, employers,freelancers, and clients to the remote field. Make sure you are ready for the ride as more changes continue to take place over the next decade!