More people, workers, managers and business leaders are asking: “What is remote work?” 

The ways organizations get things done has been evolving with technology for over a decade, with changes speeding up through the pandemic era. Here’s where we are now: Unconventional work structures are no longer so unconventional, and the normal nine-to-five in an office is, in fact, no longer normal. 

We’ll explore the meaning of remote work and take a look at some of the different models for working remotely. We’ll also consider the pros and cons of remote work, as well as some best practices that employers and employees can follow.

With the expanding number of options, you’re sure to find an approach that works for you or for your business and evolves with your changing needs.

What is remote work?

What is remote work?

Remote work is any job or task done from a place other than a traditional work site. When thinking about what remote work is, many people think of working from home and telecommuting. Yet, remote work also includes work done while traveling or working in other off-site environments, like shared workspaces. 

There’s no one style of remote work. In some cases, it means that employees never come into the office. Some companies don’t even have a physical location at all, using a virtual business address instead. 

The meaning of remote work can also include flexible hybrid arrangements that combine off-site and in-person arrangements. In some cases, remote workers are not employees at all, but are 1099 contractors and freelancers — true digital nomads. The key element of any remote work arrangement is flexibility, especially flexible workplace solutions.

What’s the difference between remote work, working from home and hybrid work?

The meaning of remote work is evolving as companies experiment with new models and employees suggest alternative arrangements. In general, all the variations boil down to a few remote work models.

Fully remote work defined

Fully remote work means never coming into a physical location, and in some cases, never meeting in person. Employees, contractors, and freelancers can live and work from anywhere and use technology to connect, communicate, and share work.

Fully remote work isn’t necessarily new. Sales reps, for example, have worked a territory and traveled frequently within it without coming into an office for years.

Work from home defined

Working from home is when you work where you live. You never have to leave your house or apartment to get to your job. Often referred to as WFH, working in your residence has become normal over the past few years.

Hybrid work defined

Hybrid work is when you work off-site some of the time and come into the office some of the time. The typical hybrid vs. remote work style involves working from home two or three days a week and coming to a work site two or three days a week. 

Because of the in-office part of the hybrid work schedule, people need to be within an easy commute distance to the workplace. With truly remote work, employees can live in different states, or even different continents, without ever having to show up in person. 

Different types of remote work

As work styles continue to evolve, companies are pursuing different organizational strategies and cultural approaches. Each work style has implications for corporate culture, employee networking and bonding, and overall productivity. 

Ultimately, there’s no right way to define what remote work is for your company. It may take some experimentation to understand the benefits for remote work for you as a worker and for your organization as an employer, and then to find the right fit.

The different ways of working remotely.

Remote-first organizations

Organizations with a remote-first work style are primarily organized around workers who do not come into a central office. Most staff work from home, from distant locations, or from strategically located coworking spaces. Only a few people may still regularly come to the central office to work in person.

Office-first organizations

The office-first work model requires employees to work in the office full-time or nearly full-time. Some organizations allow for some flexibility with certain workers. However, working in the central office every day of the work week is largely mandatory in this model.

Flexible organizations

Some companies have found a more flexible remote work model. They blend the benefits of remote work with in-person attendance at the office. Some may allow certain kinds of workers to work remotely. Others designate certain weekdays for everyone to work in the office. Others organize in-person work requirements by project phase. And others leave it up to the employee and team leaders to structure a work style that works best for them.

[Industrious offers workplace solutions for remote teams of all types and sizes. Find the perfect private or shared workspace for your team today.]

The rise and fall of remote work

Change rarely follows a straight and steady path. That is true for the remote work revolution. We certainly saw a surge in remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet work styles were already evolving in the decade prior. 

Most experts acknowledge that remote work is a permanent change affecting everything from travel to real estate. The generation that is coming of age now has vastly different attitudes and expectations about work and workplaces. 

Frequency of remote work pre-pandemic

Technology is the great remote work enabler. From the early days of home computing in 1980, to the rise of the world wide web in 1990, remote work increased by 56%. By 2000, more than 4 million people, or 3.2% of the American workforce, worked remotely. 

That number continued to grow throughout the early 2000s, reaching roughly 11 million people, or 7.3% of working Americans, by 2020. Remote work rates then skyrocketed during the pandemic, with 27.6 million people working from home just a year later in 2021. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Even now, years after the end of the pandemic, 59% of workers spend at least one or two days of the week working remotely.

Statistics on remote work in the United States today

Remote work statistics in the United States.

Here are some remote work statistics that help explain the story in more detail.

Just over 7% of people worked remotely before the pandemic. At the height of COVID-19, 55% of employees were working remotely. By 2023, the percentage of remote workers was lower, but is holding steady at 35%.

Certain industries have jobs that are more suited to remote work than others. Information and administrative roles are seeing as much as 42.2% of workers telecommute. Jobs in construction and mining are largely in person, except for 2% of office worker jobs in those industries.

Age, lifestyle, and experience influence how much employees like working from home. For example, only 27% of 18-to-25 year-old workers prefer the WFH model, compared to 41% of workers ages 26-41 and 40% of workers ages 42-57. That said, research also shows that Gen Z and Baby Boomers are the most likely to apply for remote jobs.

Looking to the future, 18-29-year-olds seek flexibility. McKinsey & Company reports that 48% of these Gen Z workers prefer a hybrid work style, with some days in an office and others at home. Flexibility is likely the model of the future, with 52% of all workers preferring that model and 11% more preferring fully remote. Another survey found that when people have flexible options, 87% take advantage of them.

What are the benefits of working remotely?

With a good understanding of what remote work is, let’s now look at the benefits of remote work. We’ve had years of experience now, and are able to better understand the pros and cons of working remotely from the perspectives of both employees and employers. 

Benefits of remote work for employees

Remote work and work from home options provide many great advantages for employees.

  • Enjoy more flexibility. With a remote work model, it’s easier to slip out for a few errands or even go for a run. You might make up the time working at night or on weekends.
  • Balance work and life. With that flexibility, it’s easier to structure your week to account for family responsibilities, hobbies, and seeing friends. 
  • Increase productivity and morale. Many people find that the improved work-life balance allows them to focus and be more productive. You can really enjoy work, be more creative, and waste less time.
  • Reduce time and money spent on commuting. The time you spend in your car, on the train, or even biking, eats into either your work time or your personal time. 
  • Manage time better. Related to having more time is better time management. You aren’t constantly interrupted by coworkers and office events. You have quiet time to think. You can take a break to walk the dog. In sum, you can get the most of your work time. 
  • Communicate effectively. Written communication in email, on Slack, even with texts can make things super-clear. Tools make time-tracking simple. And there’s less of a chance you’ll be micromanaged.
  • Save money. End the cost of commuting. Hang up your expensive workwear. Stop bleeding cash on expensive lunches out. 

Benefits of remote work for employers

Flexible workplace arrangements aren’t one-sided. Employers and managers also benefit.

  • Reduce operating and equipment costs. Without renting so much pricey office space, paying to heat and cool it, stocking the kitchen with snacks or buying and operating expensive equipment, you can slash operating expenses. 
  • Increase the size and diversity of your talent pool. You aren’t limited to hiring local people. Find the best person for the job in the next state over, across the country or overseas. You reach a larger talent pool and access people with diverse backgrounds by hiring remotely.
  • Improve employee satisfaction. Employees report greater job satisfaction when they have flexible work options.
  • Boost productivity. Workers with autonomy find the best ways to get work done. It isn’t uncommon for workers to put in extra time and effort when working remotely. They tend to take fewer sick days, as well. 
  • Enhance resiliency. A workforce that is geographically distributed is not as vulnerable to localized disasters, weather events, or social disruption. 
  • Reduce your environmental impact. Because your staff isn’t driving into work or having to fly off to meetings, your carbon footprint is smaller. 

[Enjoy the benefits of remote work with a flexible workspace from Industrious. Find a private or shared workspace for your team or book a tour today.]

What challenges do remote teams face?

While the benefits of remote work are significant for many, things don’t always go smoothly. The pros and cons of working remotely may vary, yet the challenges of remote work are real. It’ll take some ingenuity, planning and cooperation to get past them.

Challenges of working remotely for employees

You may have had to juggle new challenges of remote work as work styles evolve.

  • Finding a healthy work-life balance. It can be incredibly difficult to turn off the computer at the end of the day. Overwork can become a habit. 
  • Effectively communicating with teammates. Emailing back and forth over project complexities can eat up time when a simple two minute face-to-face conversation can clear things up. Having lots of communication channels doesn’t guarantee smooth, clear and complete understanding.
  • Staying focused and motivated. If you aren’t a self-starter, having no boundaries between work and home can sap your focus. You may find yourself more motivated to do your laundry than to do your work. Distractions at home, especially if you are surrounded by family, are many.
  • Overcoming technology issues. When your internet service goes down, you find yourself locked out of an account, or your apps won’t open, you can waste a ton of time trying to find someone who can help.
  • Staying connected to others. You may find yourself missing the camaraderie of your coworkers. You can’t make work friends as easily when working remotely. There are few opportunities for casual conversations that can help you solve problems, see opportunities in new ways or simply relieve stress. 

Challenges facing employers with remote work 

Employers also have to deal with pros and cons of working remotely and managing remote employees.

  • Managing projects and team collaboration. It becomes more difficult to build team spirit over a Zoom call. Ad hoc conversations for brainstorming, checking on status, and keeping aligned don’t happen as often. 
  • Tracking employee time and productivity. It isn’t always easy to track productivity. You can track work hours, but knowing what is getting done is much harder.
  • Maintaining company culture. Bonding experiences, mentoring relationships and group events are not really effective with remote work. The company softball team can’t play on Zoom. Culture needs a measure of in-person time to develop and thrive.
  • Avoiding miscommunication. In-person communications are 34 times more successful than communications through email. A key point might get lost in Slack, as the non-verbal elements of face-to-face communication are lost.
  • Coordinating schedules across time zones. Instead of a quick conversation in the hallway, you need to schedule a formal Zoom meeting. If some of your team is in Singapore and some is in the U.S., keeping everything aligned is extra tough.

[Find a private or shared workspace for your team or book a tour today.]

Tips for working remotely

These remote work tips will help you get the most from your job.

Tips for working remotely.

1. Develop a daily routine and stick to it

One of the most important tips for working remotely is to organize yourself. Set up a regular schedule that gives your day, your week, and your tasks structure. A routine will also help you set boundaries between home and work so that your job doesn’t take over your home life. 

Some people resist structure, thinking that keeping things open gives them flexibility. The opposite is true. A well-ordered work routine and planning gives you the stability to stay in balance when you have to quickly adapt to changing circumstances or an emergency.

2. Designate a comfortable, focused workspace

In talking about boundaries between work-from-home and home, consider space as well as time. A place dedicated to work will help you focus and mentally disconnect from the job when the day is done. Many companies realize that certain projects and building culture mean that exclusively remote work isn’t ideal. They are adding flexible workspace solutions to bring remote teams together as needed. 

For people that want to work remotely, but not at home, or for team members that need space when traveling, private office spaces are an effective option. For projects that require in-person coordination, office suites for large teams give you a dedicated and ready-to-go workplace.

3. Set boundaries with your schedule and hours

Determine when your workday ends and stick to it. Making a habit of returning to the home office to work nights and weekends can lead to burn out. Set up regular breaks for lunch. Get up from your desk for walks and workouts. If you know when you are most productive, schedule focus work for those hours. If that means working at night after the kids are asleep, give yourself those hours back during the day. Time management tools can help you with scheduling and tracking. 

4. Nurture your in-person and online connections

Pay extra attention to relationships. The effortless connections that happen in the office don’t happen in a WFH situation. Make an effort to get out and see friends. Join an in-person networking group. Attend conferences and keep up with people you meet there. 

Joining work friends for Zoom cocktails (and mocktails) is an innovation from COVID days that still works in building connections. Schedule some fun get-togethers with co-workers and actively look for online ways to bond with people at work

While working remotely is great for some people, having a place to get away from home for work, even if it’s not the central office, is beneficial. If your company has designated coworking sites, you may want to shift your remote work there.

Tips for successfully managing remote workers

Tips for successfully managing remote workers.

These tips for working remotely will help you and your company manage a geographically dispersed staff. 

1. Establish expectations during onboarding and provide plenty of training for your remote team

Starting strong sets up remote workers for success. Make employees feel valued and welcome. Show them that your company is organized to make the most of hybrid and remote work styles. 

Your onboarding and training materials introduce employees to the processes and tools they need to manage their tasks. Pay special attention to preferences and standards for communication among team members and management. The same goes for communicating about HR issues such as requesting PTO, time tracking, purchasing, or getting tech support.

While leaders can nurture culture, what happens when leaders are not around is the true test. Establish a culture that is strong enough to span the time and space inherent in remote work. 

2. Leverage digital and collaboration tools effectively

As remote and hybrid work styles proliferate, collaborative tools are quickly evolving to serve the needs of these new ways of doing business. A variety of cloud-based tools now facilitate document sharing, collaboration, version control and storage. New ways to communicate beyond phone calls and email seek to recreate the easy and casual communication that happens in offices.

Apps for managing projects, coordinating work steps, and giving every member of the team clarity into roles, responsibilities, dependencies and status can keep work moving forward on time and on budget.

3. Remain flexible and adaptable in your approach to hiring and overseeing remote employees

For both workers and managers, setting up formal procedures and routines actually makes remote work more resilient and adaptable. Follow a regular meeting cadence for one-on-one check-ins with your employees. Quick, concise meetings help keep everyone aligned, motivated, and working efficiently. Schedule socialization time, too, for building bonds and reducing turnover.

4. Invest in how you’ll remotely reward and recognize team members

Formalize how you take notice of individual and team achievements. Setting up goals with incentives and rewards is important, but it’s not everything. Acknowledge people personally one-on-one and to the group. Remember birthdays and other milestones like work anniversaries. Be generous with gifts, time off, and other kinds of rewards. The personal touch is what makes remote work really work in the long term.

Make working remotely work for you

Remote work is more than just a trend — it’s a business model that will remain and continue to evolve. Flexibility will be the only constant as the meaning of remote work changes and grows over time.

Find a dedicated workspace that meets your needs

Remote work doesn’t have to mean working from home every day. There are many occasions where it’s beneficial, if not essential, to meet in-person and physically interact as a team or with clients. When you need a space for you, your team, or for a specific event, Industrious is here to support you with flexible workspace solutions:

  • Private office spaces: Have access to shared spaces for one person up to a team of 20 in a space that is fully furnished with all-inclusive amenities. 
  • Office suites for larger teams: Choose a dedicated, furnished workplace that comfortably accommodates teams of 15 or more.
  • Conference and meeting rooms: When you need to get people together in person, you can book high-quality meeting and conference rooms on-demand, either by the hour or by the day.
  • Access memberships: Maximize your flexibility with unlimited open workspaces, private offices and conference rooms for hybrid workers.

Whether you work from home, on the road, or in a hybrid model, a comfortable, reliable workspace is the key to productivity and work satisfaction. As remote work continues to evolve, having flexible options for places to work will help you serve the needs of employees and employers equally.

[Find a private or shared workspace or book a tour today.]