Three years ago, I was the COO of a fully-distributed team of 500 freelancers scattered throughout the United States. To unify my scattered flock and strengthen our company culture, I set out to find professional development resources for officeless workforces like mine.
Unfortunately, terms like “remote work,” “distributed,” and “virtual operations” were still in their infancy, cradled in the nurseries of tech startups. Financial, medical, and service industries were still trying to define the digital operational models we’d adopted organically. I found myself blindly searching the Internet for phrases like “my staff doesn’t live near me” and “company without an office.”
Luckily, I eventually connected with tech and SaaS executives who shared their language around remote work so that we could translate the successes and strategies of our industries for complementary information sharing.
It seems impossible to think that that was only three years ago—since then, remote work has exploded into the international spotlight and now seems to be a common household topic. We’ve seen products and services surface recently that are targeting this work model as a market. From events, coworking offices, software and office accessories, to work-travel programs, these next-generation products are being specifically designed for this untethered audience.
With a defined market and targeted products, the question must be officially raised: Has remote work progressed beyond the scope of just being a trend? Go one step further: Is remote work now an industry?
If we consider the definition of an industry as, “The manufacturing or technically productive enterprises in a particular field, country, region, or economy viewed collectively, or one of these individually.” Then yes, remote work is no longer a “perk,” “lifestyle,” or “policy.” Remote work, telecommuting, and workplace flexibility have officially become a global industry.
While this may feel exciting and impactful, what does it actually mean? What repercussions will the development of a boundary-less industry have on the future of global commerce?
Based on the growth patterns and the successes of existing remote-friendly companies, my predictions are based on the evolution of international economies to match the pace at which virtual teams can produce work:
Workforce training will be updated
Working from home or mobile offices may be convenient, but it requires a new set of skills and tools that workers aren’t trained for in office environments. Specifically, independent professionals need to understand self-management, online etiquette, and asynchronous communication much more than they would as a member of a co-located team. A new breed of leadership and development companies is emerging to provide updated education both privately and in universities.
Governments will get in on the action
Remote-first companies boast low overhead costs, stronger workforce talent, and nearly non-existent startup costs. While these benefits are appealing to corporate investors, they’re also crucial to the development of economic infrastructures. In 2018, governments showed how seriously they’re taking the remote work industry by introducing bills and laws that utilize virtual jobs to resolve job accessibility, economic stability, and emigration concerns. This will subsequently lead to an increase in the tracking and enforcement of mobile-impacted regulations, such as taxation and tourism, as governments strategize how to control borders for their benefit.
Businesses will streamline operations as emergency preparation
Currently, the demand for virtual jobs is highly worker-centric. As education and consulting resources increase, businesses will feel more supported in the conversion process and will quickly adopt the benefits of distributed operations, including better controlled overhead costs and higher productivity. Not only is this good for business ROI—it may also be a key differentiator when it comes to cash flow sustainability, with the threat of a recession looming.
While we may not know exactly what the future of telecommuting looks like, one thing is certain: If remote work has exploded from techie lingo into an international industry in just a few years, we can be confident that its development will be aggressively fast and globally impactful.
Disclaimer: Laurel Farrer is a subject matter expert for Workplaceless and a strategist for the Utah Rural Online Initiative.