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The future of work: By 2025, 36 million Americans will be remote workers

TechRepublic logo TechRepublic 12/15/2020 N.F. Mendoza
a person sitting at a table using a laptop computer: Image: iStock/simpson33 © Provided by TechRepublic Image: iStock/simpson33

The global coronavirus pandemic has left an indelible effect on businesses and professionals, and disrupted economies worldwide. With the new COVID-19 vaccine an increasing possibility for all Americans, speculation has risen regarding the current state of the US remote workforce, which is currently 41.8% fully remote workers and 56.8% workers who are remote, at least some of the time. 

a woman sitting at a table using a laptop computer © Image: iStock/simpson33

Does this signal a return to the office? Not necessarily. A new report from Upwork predicts that the number of remote workers will almost double in the next five years: 36.2 million Americans will be remote by 2025. For perspective, there were 19.4 million people working remotely, pre-pandemic.

While remote work is expected to continue through 2021, a return to the office by some is anticipated, yet 1,000 hiring managers in the Upwork poll estimate that 26.7% of the workforce will be fully remote in one year. Somewhat unsurprising, as the report also found that 68% of those managers also indicated a big improvement in how well remote work is functioning, compared to when the office made the initial switch nine months ago.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Some of the challenges businesses faced when compelled to switch to remote were a struggle "to maintain company culture and onboard new workers." The latest Upwork report cites its April report as acknowledging those top challenges were temporary.

The report also found that "One factor that appears to contribute to remote work sentiment is related to how hiring managers personally feel about working remotely." Data revealed that all company recruiters consider remote work as "better than worse, those who personally dislike remote work view it more negatively." It also found that managers who "enjoy" or "greatly enjoy" remote work had a 10% to 16% more likelihood of working with freelancers. 

Companies most amenable to remote work are also "most likely to be engaged with independent professionals." The report revealed that pre-pandemic businesses with a more substantial percent of existing remote workers were most likely to hire freelancers.

The key benefits of remote work will only increase when company leaders continue to assess companywide productivity. When the workforce made the switch to remote, it was just disruptive enough to seemingly warrant communication among team members and between managers and reports, and this was—at the time—best addressed in the form of virtual meetings (many virtual meetings). 

Now, while 54% of managers marked the end to a commute as a big plus over time, it soon was revealed that schedule flexibility (60%) and a reduction in nonessential meetings (70%) were important components for productivity and flexibility. Other positive factors were fewer distractions than at the office (44%) and greater autonomy (34%).

The data strongly suggested that "the impact of COVID-19 will have lasting implications for businesses and professionals." But remote work becomes even more appealing when businesses realize they underestimated potential benefits, while they overestimated the cost. 

"Our research shows the long-lasting impact that remote work and COVID-19 are likely to have on how hiring managers think about their organizations," said Adam Ozimek, Upwork chief economist,  "As businesses adapt and learn from this remote work experiment, many are altering their long-term plans to accommodate this way of working."

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