Remote Work: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Remote work has become a big part of today's job world. It's not just a passing trend – it's here to stay and affects both employees and companies.

According to a report by Upwork, by the end of 2021, 41.8% of the American workforce was working remotely, either fully or partially. This represents a significant increase from the pre-pandemic level of 9.4% in 2019

The same report also projected that by 2025, 22% of the workforce will be working remotely, which amounts to 36.2 million Americans. This enduring trend confirms that remote work is not just a temporary solution, but a fundamental shift in the work landscape.

In this guide, we'll explore remote work more. We'll look at how it's used, its benefits and its downsides, to give you a full picture of this important change in the workplace. Let's dive in!

Working Remotely: What Does It Really Mean?

The idea of working remotely, often simply called "remote work," is all about using technology to do your job from somewhere other than a traditional office. This way of working can be really flexible, depending on your job.

Remote work comes in many flavors, each with its unique characteristics and benefits. Let's explore and break down the various types of remote work to see which one fits different working styles and needs:

  1. Smart working is centered around achieving objectives efficiently. It's less about where or when the work is done and more about meeting targets effectively. This model empowers professionals to manage their workloads creatively while ensuring key results are delivered.
  2. Teleworking often mirrors the conventional office setup but from a remote location, usually home. It typically involves a fixed work schedule and the use of company-provided technology, maintaining a traditional structure in a remote setting.
  3. Agile working combines the goal-focused approach of Smart Working with the structured environment of Teleworking. It's about being adaptable in how, when, and where work is done, with a strong emphasis on achieving specific objectives. This approach balances freedom with responsibility, offering a flexible yet goal-oriented work environment.

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How Does Remote Work Actually Work?

At its core, remote work is being able to tap into company resources — tools, data, and information — from any location, using any device, as long as there's an internet connection. This flexible setup works well for both the company and its employees.

But navigating the world of remote work requires more than just a laptop. Here's what you need for effective remote work:

  1. Good Internet Connection: A fast and reliable internet connection is vital for uninterrupted remote work.
  2. Communication Tools: Software for talking and working together, like email, messaging apps, and video call programs, are important to keep up with your team.
  3. Cloud-Based Solutions: Platforms like G Suite, Office 365, or Salesforce are key for storing and letting you work on data, documents, reports, and more.
  4. Secure Remote Access: For handling sensitive data, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to safely connect to your company's network.

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A Quick History of Remote Work

Male remote worker works from his laptop

Remote work started in 1973 when engineer Jack Nilles coined the term "teleworking." It began as a way to reduce city traffic and pollution by setting up smaller offices linked to a main office. In the 1970s, American companies like IBM and NASA tried it out. By the 1980s, thanks to personal computers and better internet, it became more popular.

It was the 1990s, however, that marked a turning point for remote work, largely due to the widespread adoption of the internet. Remote work evolved from just teleworking to more flexible styles, like smart working. But even with these changes, a lot of companies were slow to adopt remote work before the pandemic. They were hesitant about making big changes and didn't fully buy into this new way of working.

Then, the Covid-19 crisis hit. Lockdowns forced many people to work from home for the first time, really pushing remote work into the mainstream.

Decoding Remote Work Terminology

When talking about modern ways of working, you might hear terms like "smart working", "telecommuting", "working from home", and "remote working". They're often used as if they're the same, but each has its own meaning. Let's clarify these terms.

Smart Working

This approach is all about being flexible and focusing on results. Companies set goals, and employees choose where, when, and how to work to meet these goals. There's no strict schedule or time tracking.

Teleworking

Representing a more structured method, teleworking typically involves working from home, but with some rules. For example, you might have fixed working hours or need to use specific equipment provided by your company.

Agile Working

Landing somewhere between smart working and teleworking, agile working offers flexibility in where and when you work, but there are still goals to meet.

Working from Home and Remote Working

These are broader terms that cover any work done outside of an office using technology. "Working from home" means you work from your house, while "remote working" can be from anywhere.

The Benefits of Remote Work

Female remote worker works from home

Remote work is more than a trend; it's a major change that benefits both companies and their employees. Let's look at how:

Benefits for Employees

  • Better Work-Life Balance: A staggering 99% of workers say remote work improves their balance between work and life, according to a survey conducted by Smallbizgenius.
  • Freedom and Flexibility: Half the workers now work full-time from home, with another 28.2% enjoying a mix of office and work from home, according to the same study. This flexibility allows employees to choose their working hours and location, leading to reduced micromanagement and more personal freedom.
  • Economic and Health Benefits: Working remotely saves money and time on commuting, reduces stress, and helps people balance their work and personal life better. It also leads to more career growth opportunities and better feedback through online teamwork.

Benefits for Companies

  • Cost Reduction: According to Global Workplace Analytics, companies can save around $11,000 per employee per year if they allow their employees to work remotely 50% of the time. This is due to lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and increased productivity.
  • Access to More Talent: Remote work allows companies to tap into a global pool of talent, not constrained by geography. According to Forbes, by adapting to remote work, companies can access highly specialized skills and exceptional solutions that would not be available otherwise.
  • Increased Productivity: A study by Stanford University found that remote workers were 13% more productive than their office counterparts. They also reported higher job satisfaction and less turnover intention.

The Challenges of Remote Work

While remote work has its upsides, it's not without its challenges for both employees and employers. Let’s look at some common issues.

Challenges for Employees

  • Work-Life Balance Issues: Mixing home and work life can be tough, especially if you're looking after kids or elderly family members. A survey by WeWork found that 41% of people in Europe struggle with this, leading to stress and tiredness.
  • Bad Work Environment at Home: Many homes aren't set up well for working. Distractions from family and other things can be a problem. According to the same WeWork survey, 30% of people said they didn't have a good place to work at home.
  • Feeling Lonely: Loneliness is a common struggle for remote workers, who miss the social interaction and sense of belonging that comes from working in an office. A survey by Harvard Business Review found that 40% of remote workers felt lonely at least once a week.

Challenges for Companies

  • Communication Issues: Remote work can affect the quality and quantity of communication and collaboration among workers. A study by UC Berkeley and Microsoft found that remote work caused workers to become more siloed in how they communicate, engage in fewer real-time conversations, and spend fewer hours in meetings.
  • Missing Deadlines: Remote work can pose difficulties in managing time and meeting deadlines, especially when workers face distractions and interruptions at home. A survey by FlexJobs found that 32% of remote workers reported missing deadlines or important meetings due to technical issues. 
  • High Tech Costs: Remote work can incur additional costs for setting up and maintaining a secure and efficient work environment. According to Forbes, the average cost of equipping an employee for remote work is about $2,500, including hardware, software, internet, and security costs.

11 of the Best Remote Jobs to Pursue

Male digital nomad works from the beach

Remote work is getting more popular, and some jobs are perfect for it. Let's explore 11 ideal jobs for remote work:

1. Freelance Consultant

Consultants in areas like digital marketing, HR, or business support thrive working remotely. They meet clients online, understand their needs, and provide strategic solutions such as reports and assessments.

2. Online Teacher

Using platforms like Google Meet and Zoom, online teachers deliver lessons in various subjects. They create digital lesson plans, assign and review homework, and provide valuable feedback to students.

3. Translator

Freelance translators handle document translation, including articles and websites, for a variety of languages. They often work with international clients, coordinating via email and using specialized software.

4. Graphic Designer

These designers work on projects like brand identities and social media graphics using tools like Adobe Creative Cloud. They communicate with clients to understand project needs and execute visually appealing designs.

5. Software Developer

Ideal for remote work, developers write and test code for apps and software. They use platforms like GitHub for resource access and collaborate with colleagues through tools like Slack and video calls.

6. SEO Consultant

From a remote setting, SEO consultants work on optimizing websites for better search engine visibility. They analyze, strategize, and offer improvements for both on-page and off-page SEO elements.

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7. Content Creator and Influencer

These professionals produce engaging content in niches like travel, technology, or lifestyle. Influencers focus on building a personal brand, monetizing their following through advertising and partnerships.

8. Freelance Writer

Writers in this role produce a wide array of content, from ebooks to social media posts and podcasts. They leverage various platforms to publish and monetize their work.

9. UX/UI Designer

Working on the user experience and interface of digital products, these designers create wireframes and prototypes using tools like Figma. They often conduct user testing and feedback sessions remotely.

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10. Financial Advisor

Providing advice on financial planning and wealth management, remote financial advisors use software and communication platforms to consult with clients.

11. Affiliate Marketer

Operating from home, affiliate marketers promote products and services on platforms like Amazon or eBay. They create blog posts, videos, and social media content to drive sales and earn commissions from their referrals.

Mastering Remote Work: 7 Practical Tips

Female remote workers works from tropical garden

You’ve learned about remote work, its benefits, challenges, and the jobs best suited for it. To wrap up this guide, let's dive into how to excel at it while sidestepping common pitfalls.

1. Establish a Routine

Creating a daily routine with consistent habits is key for productivity when working remotely. Regular sleep schedules, structured breaks, and consistent work hours boost focus, motivation, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

2. Dedicate a Workspace

If you can, create a specific area for work that helps you enter a ‘deep work’ mode — a state of high concentration without distractions. This space should have an ergonomic setup, the materials you need, and even office-like attire to set the tone for professional engagement.

3. Organize Daily Tasks

Stay organized with a daily list of tasks. Motivate yourself with small rewards for meeting goals, like a coffee break or an episode of your favorite show. This approach keeps you focused and on track.

4. Smart Meeting Scheduling

Limit video calls to when they're essential, opting for brief chat updates for minor issues. Organize meetings with clear agendas and strict timelines to save time and energy. Utilize asynchronous tools like Loom for non-urgent updates, allowing you to record and share progress at your convenience.

5. Stay Connected with Colleagues

Regular communication with your team is vital. Arrange informal calls or virtual coffee breaks to maintain a sense of community and foster collaboration.

6. Embrace Flexibility

Be flexible in your communication and working methods. For instance, quick feedback via chat may be more effective than detailed end-of-day reports. Flexibility and openness to change are crucial skills in today's work environment.

7. Unplug After Hours

It's important to disconnect both physically and mentally at the end of the day. Stepping away from your workstation and shifting your mind off work helps prevent stress and burnout.

Ready to Start Working Remotely?

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