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What will the future of remote work look like in the United States? What threats do fully-remote workers face?
As workplaces restabilize post-pandemic, organizations are getting so good at supporting remote workers that they may start replacing remote employees with outsourced contractors. Outsourcing jobs (locally or abroad) could help companies cut costs and hire a diverse team of top talent.
Keep reading to learn how outsourcing may affect the future of remote work in the U.S.
Will the Future of Remote Work Be Outsourcing?
If you’re petitioning your boss to let you work fully remotely, watch out: You could end up eventually losing your job. Some executives are getting so comfortable with their employees working from outside the office that the future of remote work might mean outsourcing those roles completely. Not only are white-collar workers more at risk of losing their jobs, but higher-paying positions like managers and executives are even more outsourceable than their subordinates’ jobs, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of Labor Department data.
With workers in high demand, expanding to a global talent pool helps businesses find top-quality candidates. That is especially true since anti-immigration policies stemming from the Trump administration are blocking some foreign workers from entering the U.S.—so while those workers can’t get to the companies, firms are bringing the work to them.
Hiring foreign workers also has unique perks for organizations. First, in an increasingly global market, foreign hires make a business more diverse and culturally aware. Second, as the U.S. heads toward a seemingly inevitable recession, companies can save a lot of money by outsourcing to countries with cheaper workers.
But businesses don’t have to look overseas to gain from outsourcing: Many in the U.S. have already cut costs and remained agile in uncertain pandemic-affected markets by replacing staff with (mostly American and Canadian) contractors—and they don’t have to deal with time zone differences and language barriers.
Don’t Panic (Yet)
Most economists agree that the future of remote work isn’t a matter of whether companies will shift to relying more heavily on outsourcing—but when? If the transition is sudden, over the next several years, it could be severely destabilizing for American workers. But economists are optimistic that the shift will be gradual, happening over generations, and that workers will have a chance to adapt and weather the change.
In the meantime, many executives still see the value in preserving their staff. First, companies benefit from having long-term employees who continually develop their skills and contribute to company culture—even if their salaries are more expensive than payments to contractors. Second, local employees’ familiarity with American culture makes them well-suited to help companies target U.S. consumers.
So, What Is the Future of Remote Work?
Working from home is here to stay, but the future of remote work isn’t all Zoom meetings and overseas contractors—rather, experts estimate that roughly 20% to 30% of workers will be fully remote and the rest will likely have hybrid schedules. New companies will form with remote and hybrid work optimization in their DNA.
For workers, there will be pros and cons. On the upside, remote work gives employees the freedom to live where they want—and where they can comfortably afford, as prices soar for everything from homes to groceries. If the economic recession brings layoffs, remote workers may be more flexible about reducing their hours to meet the company’s needs, which could keep them off the chopping block.
On the other hand, one poll found that 60% of managers say remote workers will likely be the first to be laid off in the looming recession. And when their jobs aren’t at risk, employees working from home may still have to speak up more to ensure their managers don’t forget about them when it comes to pay raises and promotions. Early-career employees might also find that it takes longer to climb the corporate ladder, as remote work offers fewer opportunities to meet and learn from mentors.
But just as we’ve seen seismic changes in workplace culture and norms to support remote work in just the last two years, more are sure to come.
Tips for Adjusting to New Expectations
As the world resumes pre-pandemic activities and the economy picks up, businesses looking to bring workers back to the office are facing not only labor shortages but also a changed labor pool, in which employees have different expectations and priorities.
Relying on remote work during the pandemic ended the debate about whether workers can be productive without close supervision. Working from home, productivity went up and workers gained confidence in their ability to manage their own time. They may flinch if managers expect them to take a step back into a less autonomous role.
To avoid conflict in the future as the world relies more heavily on remote work, supervisors should allow for flexibility and should adjust the way they gauge worker output. For example, instead of mandating employees’ butts in chairs between the hours of 9 and 5, they might track progress toward specific objectives, and allow workers to clock their hours when they can.
Developing New Skills
The pandemic exacerbated the need for companies to have a flexible, skilled workforce that can adjust quickly to new challenges. At the same time, workers are eager to accumulate new skills—97% report wanting to develop their skills but struggling to find the time.
To solve both these challenges, companies should provide learning opportunities on company time and should allow employees to participate in cross-functional projects and meetings. In this way, employees can develop new skills and explore different career paths, while companies can cultivate a team that can quickly pivot to new responsibilities (which may come in handy during the next crisis).
Using Face Time Productively
Use in-office time efficiently to schedule meetings that are best conducted face-to-face rather than virtually. This can make meetings more effective and lessen the need for meetings when employees are working remotely, which has been one of the lesser-liked aspects of the work-from-home experience.
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