Working from home is the new black.
Plenty of forces have lined up over the past several years to make working from home increasingly easy. As jobs have transitioned from filing cabinets and conference rooms and onto computers, an increasing number of people can do their jobs from anywhere they can get a terminal and an internet connection.
At the same time, many jobs have trended away from the traditional supervisor looking out over the bullpen and more toward actual performance standards. In an age when anyone at her desk could be just as easily surfing the web or checking Facebook, employers increasingly care less about face time and more about projects completed. All of which is great news for workers who'd like to get out of the office more.
Remote working might mean picking up some hours from home or it might mean checking in from somewhere else on the planet. Whatever your version, it's largely fueled by technology, and technology is the reason it's going to look very different in the coming years. In fact, here are 11 trends to watch for in remote working.
Editors' pick: Originally published June 2.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a quarter of all employed people do some or all of their work remotely. This is a statistic that's only going to grow as remote work becomes increasingly frictionless.
"Technology has created a major shift in the marketplace," said David Edri, the CEO of emaze, an online presentation and web-creation platform. "Once we were given access to work e-mail directly to our smart phones everything else followed."
The official work from home market is huge, when measured just by people who stay home from the office during the workday. The unofficial population is absolutely enormous once you consider everyone who answers an email after hours. Both populations will only get bigger.
"There's no arguing that brainstorming and face to face meetings are best ways for people to ensure they are meeting deadlines and staying on task," said Edri. "Working remotely is all about time management, and complete autonomy."
One of the great challenges of working from home is the combination of ease and inconvenience it presents. From a purely functional point of view, it's true that most office workers can do their jobs without ever seeing each other (whether they're in the office or not). At the same time, collaboration still needs that personal touch.
The solution? Expect video chatting to increasingly define the remote working space. It may not be quite as good as sitting down in the room together, but it will probably get people most of the way there, and it's a far sight better than email.
Yes, we do live in the era of "can you just send me an e-mail?" but that doesn't mean phone numbers are obsolete. In fact to a very large degree, people still judge your professionalism on how accessible you are by telephone if need be.
Put more simply, there are few better ways to frustrate a customer or boss than by not picking up the phone. There are few worse ways to make a first impression than having them find a full inbox.
While workers who have just stayed home for the afternoon can forward their calls, it's voice over IP services that will increasingly allow people to wander a little farther off the map. By letting people take calls from anywhere they have wifi, services such as Google Voice will increasingly enable a new generation of workers to unplug from the office.
It's possible to work from home occasionally if you're just catching up on meaningless paperwork, but that has a hard upper limit. To do more than that workers will need confidence that they can securely access sensitive documents and restricted materials.
"The most important technology remote workers can have is access to collaboration tools and data security software" Edri said. "Obviously, the highest risk for employers having people work from home is a secured network. By investing in security software for each employee remote working is possible from any location, anytime."
The question is, in which direction will this trend move? These days companies are sinking more and more money into data storage and encryption, but every week seems to bring the news of some new high-profile hack. How employers see the balance between risk and security will decide a lot of the future of the remote worker.
It's a staple of board-room set dressing, the big whiteboard with the project plan written out in boxes and arrows and colorful ink. While nobody would be dumb enough (we hope) to risk his deadline on an overzealous maintenance team and some Windex, this does touch on one of the biggest challenges in any large organization: keeping track of who's doing what.
Remote working only exacerbates that problem by putting people physically out of reach, but project management software and data storage is solving that a little more every day.
"If you work for a Fortune 500 or large organization, a provided VPN may be the required way to access and store any company files," said Cory Jones, vice president of global marketing for Skyroam. "If you're a consultant or work at a startup, file management tools like Box, Dropbox and Google Drive For Business are a necessity for storing and sharing files over the cloud with clients, your team or colleagues."
As managers can more easily track what their employees are working on and responsible for, they'll have more flexibility on where those employees get that work done.
People envision themselves working from home in their pajamas, lounging in front of the TV with a smartphone in one hand and a stick of cookie dough in the other. Or maybe they've bellied up to a far off bar, surrounded by fascinating expats and a Komodo dragon. The truth, though, is that if you ever expect to actually get anything done you'll need a professional space. Yes, you can bring your laptop to happy hour, but don't expect to hold your job long after that.
"A productive workspace is must-have to minimize distractions from getting what you need done to be successful," said Jones. "From the rapid globalization of co-working spaces like RocketSpace and WeWork to the sharing economy of offices spaces like DesksNearMe and NomadPass, tons of options are available anywhere in the world to help you achieve office zen."
The result? Expect a lot more shared spaces dedicated to folks who just want an unironic break from the office.
Coffee shops sort of have the wolf by the ears when it comes to wifi.
A coffee shop essentially rents its tables to customers who want someplace out of the house to be. We pay for that square footage by buying food and drinks and cups of coffee, so eventually a few (notoriously Starbucks) went the extra mile and let people alternatively rent space by paying for wifi. Pretty soon competitors seized on the popularity of bringing work to the café and installed their wifi for free, driving out the practice of for-rent signal and establishing today's era of customers entitled to their internet.
Well, now they have a problem. As more and more of us work from home, people increasingly set up camp for entire afternoons. They block out precious table space more or less permanently and spend $3 to do it. This is only going to get more common, so expect coffee shops to start figuring out a way to get their tables back.
Until recently, working from home was pretty much the province of writers and madmen. Almost any other job required you to show up on time and put your hands on the projects, files and other shared assets that work requires.
Then computer programmers jumped on the bandwagon, realizing that there's no reason they can't email in or simply upload their finished code. Now, well… most office workers do nearly all of their work on a computer, and there's just no reason that computer needs to be any specific machine.
"With collaboration tools, remote workers are able to work together electronically and no longer need the office to accomplish team projects," said Edri. "Technology is affording employees to act as equal and valued members of a team instead of just 'workers'."
Don't look now, but we're probably not far from the day when virtually anyone with an office job can work from anywhere. Given the infrastructure savings on office space, we're also probably not that far from the day when they'll be encouraged to.
On that subject, here's one more unexpected job that might make the jump out of office: sales.
One of the chief issues with any point-of-sale job is access to the business. You need to be able to take and process the customer's payment and then ensure delivery of the product. Maybe you're working at Best Buy and need to be able to put hands on a device. Maybe you work for Dunder Mifflin and need access to billing and shipping.
Either way that used to require a lot of infrastructure, but not so much anymore. Today with the rise of mobile payment services like Square and astonishing leaps in just-in-time delivery services, it's possible for a company to more effectively mobilize its sales force than ever before. Maybe you're rediscovering the door-to-door salesman, or maybe you're using it as a way to explore new territory. Either way, a whole new category of job just became mobile.
With mobility comes risk.
Whether you take your work around the world or just around the block, as soon as you unplug the laptop anything can happen to it. Well, as people increasingly provide their own devices, they're about to get sick of replacing them.
"BYOD ("bring-your-own-device") programs are expected to grow 45% by 2020, according to according to a 2017 report by Gartner," said Jones. "Not only do these program keep employees happy by letting they choose their preferred devices to conduct work, they also enable productivity and reduce overhead hardware management costs."
Expect things like shock-resistant laptops and waterproof phones to only get more common as workers take them out into the world. After all, that's a lot of investment for someone who doesn't have a corporate budget.
Smartphones kicked off the remote working revolution and they're still leading the charge.
Increasingly sophisticated apps have allowed more and more work to take place on these devices, including project management, data review and even some computer coding. All of this isn't even to mention email.
Accessing email was the original use of smartphones and is still one of their chief functions. As workers spend more and more of their day managing their inboxes, the related apps have only gotten more sophisticated. Expect that to continue. Throw in waterproofing, and we're about two years away from workers who get a full day in from the tub.
Who'd have thought we could someday have a rubber duckie for an officemate?