What Remote Work Trends Mean For Your Career


Wondering if you’ll be running your career remotely in 2021?

Although nearly 42% of companies are currently working remotely at least part of the time, recent research by Upwork suggests that many companies are planning on a return to the office. Managers believe only 26.7% of the workforce will be fully remote in one year. 

However, remote work seems to be here to stay for many people for the time being, with nearly 57% of Americans working remotely at present and the number of remote workers expected to double in the next five years, according to the latest findings from freelance platform Upwork’s Future Work Report. The report predicts that 36.2 million Americans will be remote five years from now, up from 16.8 million before the pandemic. 

“Remote work is not going to work for every office, every company, every person,” says Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. “But a lot of managers are finding it works for them. Most are finding it works better than they thought. Whether or not that crosses the threshold to working well enough, that’s going to vary. But when you look out a year from now, a lot of people still will be remote.”

It isn’t lost on business leaders how much they can save on real estate costs by having at least part of their teams work remotely, Ozimek notes. “Businesses in the highest-cost cities are finding that not only are individuals leaving their cities but asking, ‘Do I need this expensive office space?’” he explains. “Typically, if you want to hire people, each new person comes with square footage requirements. Being able to hire remotely lets you grow without incurring real estate costs.”

That’s good news for both traditional workers and freelancers who like working at home—or need to do so to manage family responsibilities. It also means that workers who choose to live in lower-cost areas outside of major cities will have more career options.

One reason remote work seems to have staying power is that many of us have adjusted to it. Among managers, 68% said it’s going more smoothly now than at the start of the pandemic. “It’s better than they expected and getting better,” says Ozimek.

Remote work has also freed people from some of the aspects of work they don’t like. For instance, 70% of hiring managers pointed to the reduction of non-essential meetings. There have also been improvements in how people work, with 60% citing more flexible schedules and 54% noting the reduction in workers’ commutes. 

“Even beyond the pandemic, they’ve discovered there’s a value to working this way,” says Ozimek. 

However, there’s still some resistance. When managers report that remote work is not going well, it’s often because they don’t like remote work in general. Those who personally dislike remote work were more likely to describe it negatively in the survey.

The flip side of this is that managers who personally like remote work tend to be more open to working with freelancers, who tend to be remote workers. They are 10-16% more likely to work with freelancers, even when controlling for the firm and other factors, than those who don’t like it.

One trend that’s picked up steam during the pandemic and is likely to grow is the use of hybrid teams, the report found. These are made up of a combination of traditional employees and freelancers. Both traditional employees and free agents who know how to get things done when some people on a team are full-timers and others are running businesses with multiple clients will thrive in this new environment.

No doubt as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, companies will be revising their positions on remote work to reflect the latest developments. But even if most workers go back to the office, no one who is working today will ever look at remote work the same way after the pandemic. It’s here to stay, and knowing how to work successfully with other people who are working remotely—whether they are fellow employees or freelancers—is going to be an increasingly important career skill going forward.

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