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Remote Work Flourishes and Enables Business Continuity

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Buffer and AngelList recently published the 2020 State of Remote Work report which surveyed "over 3,500 remote workers from around the world" to "piece together what’s becoming normal about remote work and where it might be headed in 2020." The survey coincides with a Wall Street Journal report on a sudden explosion of remote work across Chinese technology companies, in order to provide business continuity in response to the global COVID-19 epidemic.

The 2020 State of Remote Work report makes the case that remote working is the new normal. It states that the future of work is one of "people having the flexibility to work remotely from home with teammates all around the world." The report states:

The question is no longer "is remote work here to stay?" It seems like remote work might even be the new normal.

The Wall Street Journal, discussing a sudden increase in remote working within China, reported that the "coronavirus outbreak has spurred a rise in the use of virtual-meeting and work platforms." The article quotes Kuan Chen, CEO of Beijing-based AI company Infervision, as saying that remote work has  "in some cases" demonstrated "productivity increases."

The Financial Times also recently reported that remote working had grown from the "experimental fringes" of the technology sector to becoming normal at leading companies which are operating at scale. It contrasted the strategic drive of companies such as Twitter to gain access to a global talent pool, with the forced adoption of remote working in China due to COVID-19 virus' impact on industry. The piece reported that the virus is "forcing office workers" to work remotely and adopt remote collaboration tools.

According to the State of Remote Work report, the top two benefits for remote working were illustrated as being those relating to greater flexibility of where and when work could be done. These were closely followed by other motivations relating to a better personal life.

What's the biggest benefit you see in working remotely?

According to the State of Remote Work report:

The primary benefit of remote work has remained the same for the past three years straight in our report: flexibility!

Alibaba CEO, Daniel Zhang, recently used the announcement of Alibaba Group’s quarterly earnings to describe how the company was moving to a more remote model, which utilised its remote collaboration technology to reduce risk to employees:

We took every effort to protect the health and safety of our employees through flexible work policy and remote office collaboration using our proprietary technology.

The State of Remote Work report revealed that across its sample of respondents, 30% already worked at organisations which were fully remote, and 43% worked at organisations where "part of the team is full-time remote and part of the team works out of the same office."

The Financial Times reported examples of other technology companies seeing value in being able to access a global pool of skilled workers. It reported that last year, David Singleton, CTO of Stripe, wrote a blog post announcing the creation of a "remote engineering hub" on par with its on-site locations.

In the blog, Singleton wrote that the company had included "high-impact remote employees" since its inception, which had previously reported into regional hubs. He wrote that teams working together in their remote-first hub would be able to collaborate using the high bandwidth communication provided by modern tools. Singleton wrote:

"There was a time when writing on a whiteboard had substantially higher bandwidth than a Word doc over email. Thankfully, Google Docs, Slack, git, Zoom, and the like deliver high-bandwidth synchronous collaboration on creative work. The experience of using them is so remarkably good that we only notice it when something is broken. Since you write code via pull requests and not whiteboards, your reviewer needs to have access to the same PR; having access to the same whiteboard is strictly optional."

The Wall Street Journal report also described a recent increase in the popularity of collaborative tools such as Alibaba’s DingTalk in the wake of the current health crisis. In his quarterly statement Zhang said that during this period, DingTalk had "experienced explosive growth in DAU (daily average users) and number of corporate users" using it to maintain operations.

Citing Sarah Ahmad, the CEO of Mistro, a remote benefits specialist, the State of Remote Work report discussed how "confusion" often led to inadequate support for the personal costs and infrastructural needs of remote workers. Seventy percent of respondents had stated that companies did not cover expenses involved in remote working. Her advice to remote workers was to communicate their needs, as she suggested that most employers simply "lack the contextual information they need" to help staff perform at their best. Ahmad is quoted as having said:

Companies often want to support their remote workers but are unsure of what to provide and how to actually administer a remote specific policy ...Even simple benefits like high-speed internet, equipment, or coworking spaces — which create an environment for productivity and engagement — are difficult to implement.

 

Examining the difficulties faced by those who work remotely, the State of Remote Work report revealed that 58% of negative experiences were down to collaboration difficulties, isolation and "not being able to unplug."

Whats your biggest struggle with working remotely?

Examining where remote workers actually work, the report found that 80% work from their homes. It also revealed that it is normal for remote professionals to add variety by occasionally working from other locations:

While it seems like remote workers default to working at home (80 percent told us that’s their primary work location), a wide variety of them mix it up and work from other locations part of the time. ...Only three percent of respondents primarily work from coffee shops, but 27 percent head to coffee shops as their secondary work location. 

Singleton touched on other product level benefits of building globally-distributed remote teams. He pointed out that working in this way can increase empathy for customers in a global market:

Our remotes keep us close to our customers, which is key to building great products. They are deeply embedded in the rhythms of their cities. They see how people purchase food differently in bodegas, konbini, and darshinis. They know why it is important to engineer robustness in the face of slow, unreliable internet connections.

The State of Remote Work report revealed that remote workers were most happy when "they spend more than 76% of their time working remotely." Across different styles of remote work, the report indicated that those who currently worked remotely wanted to continue to do so. It said:

There’s one statistic that remains unequivocal each year: remote workers almost unanimously want to continue to work remotely (at least for some of the time) for the rest of their careers.

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