One Year Remote: Lessons learned

A new Upwork report does a deep dive into the 5 key trends and takeaways for the enterprise from the pandemic shift away from commutes and offices.

woman remote worker

Image: iStock/BartekSzewczyk

Mid-March 2020, the enterprise experienced an unprecedented upheaval, as COVID-19's worldwide spread was identified as a pandemic and tens of millions were quickly sent home to quarantine. Yet many in business were able to work remotely, and despite the inherent challenges, were able to continue operating, many at near capacity. Now, a year later, Upwork introduces data chronicling the phenomenal impact the shift has had on the enterprise. 

Upwork identified five "key learnings" from the year of remote work. 

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

  1. Productivity went up. Employees were definitely on board, with 61% saying they were more productive, and only 12.7% saying they weren't.  They also had the agreement of company leaders—in late April, 32.2% of hiring managers felt that overall productivity had gone up (and 22.5% said it decreased). A survey of 1,000 hiring managers in November found that 68% polled said productivity was better than it was in March. Both company leaders as well as employees are embracing the "remote-first" business, and are confident that with new, emerging technologies, productivity will further increase.
  2. Relocation opportunities. Commutes, the report said decreased significantly in time turning into a "15-step walk." But since employees didn't need to be in close proximity to work, they are afforded the chance to live in an area that is more suitable to their lifestyle. The report estimated that 23 million people were considering relocating because they were now working remotely. Many, Upwork said, would be able to move from densely populated, costly, and office-adjacent, with 20.6% who planned to move from a significant city. More than half (52.5%) planned to move into more affordable dwellings than their current home. Upwork points out that remote work and relocation will help distribute opportunities across the United States. Traditionally, many skilled pros have been forced to move from home towns and small communities to big cities with big costs of living, but remote work will remove that imperative.
  3. Welcome hybrid teams. Remote work has encouraged the collaboration of full-time employees with independent talent (who are usually remote workers). It found 58% of non-freelancing pros new to remote work are now considering freelancing. Companies are also leaning toward being more accepting of hiring more freelancers (10% to 16%). Hybrid teams are an attractive alternative across countries and industries. Upwork saw revenues grow 32% year-to-year in 2020, compared to 19% in 2019. New and existing clients are engaged in the platform. In 2019, 4,000 new core clients were introduced in the fourth quarter, compared to 6,400 in the fourth quarter.
  4. Cost-efficient. Since the 1980s the length of commutes has grown, with the average being 49.6 minutes daily, but the hassle of that commute evaporated when staff went remote. A year working remotely saved people on average, nine days of commuting. The economic value is notable; those who went from car commuting to working from home save approximately $4,350 this year. Organizations will further find an improvement in their environmental footprint and corporate social responsibility are reasons "to lean into remote work as well."
  5. "Regular" remote work and pandemic remote work is different. A tired concern had been that parents who worked from home would have childcare issues, interruptions and distractions, during the pandemic this was caused by students not being able to return to the classroom. But when schools reopen fully, Upwork found that "fewer interruptions is one of the most cited benefits of remote work, according to hiring managers." Remote work was a necessity during the pandemic (at its height, two-thirds of professionals were working remotely) and Upwork's research shows that over the next five years, 20% to 25% of people will be working remotely. The pandemic gave way to the enterprise rethinking hiring.

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