12 Remote Work Trends to Achieve (Not Just Predict)

(Post originally appeared as part of Microsoft’s “Your Office, Your Term” remote work campaign)

During his closing remarks for the 2011 Society for Human Resources Management’s Strategy Conference, Don Tapscott, the author of the bestseller Wikinomics, said, “I believe that the future is something that must be achieved and not predicted.”

In that spirit, I’m going the share the top trends related to remote work that I believe we need to achieve, not just predict.  If we make these trends happen, then remote work will become a meaningful and accessible strategy for managing our everyday work+life fit.  It will be a win for all; individuals and employers benefit.  Here are the trends that will get us there:

Top Remote Work Trends for Individuals (e.g. You and Me)

  1. We will learn the “skill” of remote working: Successful remote work requires more than a computer and an internet hookup.  It involves higher level of communication and workflow planning skills, as well as flexibility, trustworthiness and discipline.  These skills will become core performance competencies.
  2. We will negotiate remote work and its associated costs into our compensation packages: Once we’ve demonstrated mastery of remote work competencies, the market will value and pay for them.  They will become part of compensation negotiations.
  3. Video will make remote work more personal: As video technology advances and becomes less costly, it will become a main tool in the remote communication and productivity arsenal.
  4. We will look for a separate home office or convenient co-working space before making the decision where to live.  A space separate from the main living area with pre-wired internet access will become a priority for homeowners and renters.  And for those who already know that they don’t like to work from home, but don’t want to have to commute a long distance every day, local co-working space will be an important feature.
  5. As global teams and client coverage increasingly becomes the norm, remote work will allow the coordination across time zones while limiting burnout. As technology advances across global markets, internal and client teams will coordinate and rotates who calls in to meetings remotely from home after hours.

Top Remote Work Trends for Employers (e.g. Your Boss)

  1. Managers will think of remote work, as well as other types of flexibility in how or when work is done, as strategies to seize opportunities and solve problems in the business. No longer viewed as simply a “nice to have, but not imperative perk or benefit,” managers see all types of flexibility as a tool in their toolkit that they can use to run their business smarter and better.
  2. Remote work will be used to improve productivity when intense concentration is required. When a report must be written or a complicated document needs to be analyzed, managers will encourage employees to work remotely in order to avoid distracting office interruptions.
  3. Periodic remote work will allow businesses to stay open in bad weather or during other unexpected events that would otherwise disrupt operations. Prior to an unexpected event, managers and their teams would practice a remote work protocol that would allow people with jobs that can be completed virtually to stay up and running.
  4. More businesses will use remote work to save on the cost of real estate overhead. As more individuals master the skills required for successful remote work and video technology advances, more businesses will decide to manage an increasing percentage of their workforce remotely.
  5. Seeing the impact on employee wellness, especially in areas with long commutes, and the associated decrease in health-related costs, businesses will encourage one or two days of remote work. The hours spent sitting in the car, bus or train can be used to go to the gym, cook a healthy meal, see a friend, or simply not having to rush.  This translates into increased wellness and lower costs.

In terms of public policy, the trends to push for related to legislation and remote work include:

  1. Updating the tax code so it doesn’t penalize remote workers who also regularly commute to an office in another state. This is particularly important in metropolitan areas like New York City where workers regularly commute from four different states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
  2. Updating the Fair Labor Standards Act which, as it is currently written, makes it very hard for non-exempt, hourly workers to work remotely without creating a large potential liability for their employers.

Those are the top trends that I believe we need to achieve in the way people, the government and law think about and support remote work.  If we make them happen, then remote work, as well as other types of flexibility in how and when we work, will finally become an accepted part of our everyday work+life fit.  What do you see happening?  Are you ready?

For more, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost. And check out Microsoft’s “Your Office, Your Terms” campaign for the month of November.