6 Predictions for Remote Work in the Next Decade

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Remote work was not created due to COVID, but the world embraced it like never before when the virus made it unsafe to be out in public. What comes next, though? Thankfully, many COVID treatments are looking promising and vaccine trials are well underway, there is a tiny sliver of room for future predictions about the world of work. Of course, nothing is for certain. However, if COVID’s impact on remote work was acceleration, not a fundamental shift in how remote work is done or adopted, then it stands to reason we can have a prediction or two. 

I’ve been running my business remotely since 2017 and I’ve been focusing on the remote ecosystem since late 2019 when I began to plan what would become Remotely Inclined. From there, I’ve interviewed over 20 remote entrepreneurs, ranging from leaders who founded their remote business at the turn of the 21st century all the way to businesses founded this year

Based on my observations, research, and conversations, here’s what I see coming for the next decade of remote work.

1 – One billion permanent remote workers by 2025

It’s easy to see what’s going on with COVID and say remote work is a temporary solution. Even with major companies announcing permanent remote arrangements, they represent a small portion of the overall labor market. 

However, here are some facts to consider: 

  • A study by Citi found that 113 professions could be remote – amounting to 52% of the US workforce. That’s around 80 million Americans that could perform all their duties remotely. These professions globally amount to hundreds of millions of people. 
  • In a Gartner study, 82% of companies are opting for either all-remote or hybrid remote arrangements. 
  • There are over 57 million freelancers in the United States alone and freelancers are set to top 80 million by 2027, according to Upwork. Globally, there are well over 100 million freelancers right now and growing. Not only is freelancing one of the fastest growing professions, freelancers disproportionately work remotely. 

Given how many professions can be done remotely, how many large and influential employers are already announcing permanent remote arrangements, and the growth of the freelancer economy, there is solid evidence to suggest we could see over 1 billion permanent remote workers by 2025. 

2 – Hybrid remote will be the new normal

The benefits of remote work simply cannot be ignored. However, not everyone wants to be all-remote, all the time. Further, not all types of work or company cultures will fit with an all-remote vibe. As such, hybrid remote work will become the norm. 

Based on what I’ve seen so far and heard from entrepreneurs, here are the two kinds of remote work I think will be the most common: 

  • Flex remote: Where you’re in the office on set days but flexible otherwise.
  • “Core hours” remote: Where you have to be available within certain limited time boundaries but otherwise flexible.

3 – “Remote washing” will continue

“Remote washing,” the practice of marketing products and services as ‘built for remote teams,’ unfortunately isn’t going away. Just as food companies advertised “Gluten free mustard” during the height of the no-gluten craze (mustard was never made with gluten), the accelerated awareness of remote work means that people will use remote-friendliness as a sales talking point for years to come.

Where I get hopeful, though, is that many companies will see through the crap more easily. This is something Silicon Valley investor Joe Blair talked about with me in our Remotely Inclined Chats interview.

4 – Get ready for “never-remote” companies

It’s sexy to be an all-remote company right now in a way it hadn’t been until COVID hit. However, being “remote pre-COVID” will be old hat in fairly short order from the PR perspective. The media, in its never-ending quest for clicks and eyeballs, will start to highlight a soon-to-be-rising vocal minority of “never-remote” companies. 

These companies, usually with a dogmatic but charismatic PR team or leader, will talk about their choice to never go remote as a form of nostalgia. They’ll focus on talking points around “humanity over tech” and comment about how they truly listened to people who didn’t like remote work and thus provided a comfy office environment for every employee. 

On my most cynical note: never-remote companies will villainize hybrid remote companies as being unwilling to provide “equal” experiences and will come for all-remote companies by saying they were too cheap to provide a comfortable working space, instead opting to “download” office costs onto employees. In both of these statements, they’ll likely conveniently forget that hybrid remote arrangements provide office space for employees that want them and all-remote companies usually spend would-be office money on retreats, remote office stipends, and other perks, but I digress.

5 – All-remote companies over 250 employees will continue to be rare

Virtual Possibility put out a list of over 400 all-remote companies. Only a handful have more than 250 employees. My guess: it will stay this way. 

The logistical challenge of managing over 250 people without some sort of physical space is enormous. The reality is most companies won’t want to deal with it. I see all-remote companies either staying purposefully lean (a la Basecamp’s model) or opting for a hybrid remote operation, either maintaining a small office footprint or leveraging semi-permanent coworking offices. 

6 – Small towns will get coworking spaces and innovation hubs

Coworking spaces and innovation hubs will become far more common around the world, as small towns that want to attract remote workers build these micro-hubs. My guess is that they will be connected to larger hubs (like how the innovation hub in Innisfil, Ontario is linked to the Ryerson DMZ in Toronto) so that small towns can advertise both the physical infrastructure and big city connections.

These hubs will provide great opportunities for local entrepreneurship and community building with remote workers. If done well (that is: integrated into the local community), then local, homegrown cafes and restaurants will also have opportunities to grow.

This article was originally published on Remotely Inclined.