What Is Remote Work? Meaning and How To Find Remote Jobs
Remote work has recently gone through a rebrand of sorts. Before COVID-19, remote work was viewed as a dreamlike existence achievable only by the lucky few. But living with such freedom also came with unflattering stereotypes (pajamas all day long) and distrust (are they really working?).
Then, the tables turned.
Nearly overnight, the pandemic forced whole sectors of the global workforce to work from home. Although the arrangement was temporary for most people, it lasted long enough to change their sentiments about remote work, so much so that recent data suggests:
- One in three (34%) employees prefer working from home more than an office
- Nearly half of businesses plan to retain some form of remote work
Now that working virtually is becoming as accepted as going to an office, it’s a good time to understand what remote work looks like in 2023. And decide how right it is for you.
- What is remote work?
- Remote work stats in 2023
- Remote work vs. working from home vs. telecommuting
- How to start working remotely
- Advantages to employees
- Challenges for employees
- Difficulties for companies
- How to adopt a remote work culture
- Best practices for remote teams
- Where to find remote jobs and freelancers
- Popular remote jobs in 2023
- Is remote work here to stay?
What is remote work?
Remote work is a workforce strategy that enables people to perform their work from a location outside of a company’s office. This may be from their home, a satellite office, co-working space, or coffeehouse.
Depending on a business’s workplace policy, some employees split their time between onsite and remote. And some people work remotely 100% of the time. In addition to employees, remote workers may also be vendors, agencies, and independent contractors such as freelancers.
Remote work statistics in 2023
When COVID-19 upended lives and businesses, it spurred business leaders to question how work gets done. Likewise, the chaos prompted employees to reevaluate what work looks like in their lives.
Both sides concluded that embracing remote work allowed them to move past limitations.
Maybe for the first time, employees really felt how not-commuting to an office every day freed them to spend more time on self-care and with loved ones. And many professionals realized how working a traditional job shortchanged their work satisfaction and even their earnings potential.
Studies suggest they weren’t willing to go back to the way things used to be:
- 9 million professionals, who worked remotely during the pandemic, said they’d consider looking for another job if they had to go back to an office
- 10 million are considering freelancing, mainly to maintain control over where and when they work, and their financial future
Business leaders got introspective too. They realized that embracing remote work gave them access to skill sets they needed to remain competitive. To that end:
- 71% of hiring managers plan to sustain or increase their use of freelancers in the next 6 months
- 40.7 million Americans expect to be fully remote in the next five years
Although more businesses plan to adopt remote work policies, many are still figuring out what that may look like. Some will close physical offices for good in favor of being fully remote. Others will have a hybrid workplace where employees work a few days per week on-site, or have some roles remain 100% remote.
Whatever the configuration, the Upwork Future Workforce Report predicts nearly half of the workforce will be at least partially, if not fully, remote by 2026.
Remote work vs. working from home vs. telecommuting
Although remote work, working from home, and telecommuting are all forms of working virtually, the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Here are the differences between the terms and why understanding them is important.
Remote work is a workforce strategy. A strategy that enables businesses to reduce costs, retain talent, and access skills by working with professionals who do their jobs outside of a company’s office. To succeed, a business must adjust its mindset, tools, and processes to fully support people working off-site.
Remote workers also have the most flexibility of the three virtual work options. For example, they may be independent contractors who set their own hours or employees who can run off to a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, and then make up the time after hours.
Working from home
Working from home is a benefit. It’s what you do when your child is home sick from school, or when you need to avoid office distractions. Workspaces in this case are usually temporary arrangements, such as on a laptop from your kitchen table or a neighborhood coffeehouse. When employees are working from home, they’re usually expected to work regular office hours.
Telecommuting is a cross between remote work and working from home. Telecommuters often live close enough to the business to commute in for certain meetings and gatherings. Sometimes, telecommuters have a flexible schedule, but they usually work during regular office hours.
Although businesses benefit from telecommuting, the gains are not as high as for fully remote employees. For example, in telecommuting, your talent pool is limited to people within commuting distance of the office. With remote talent, your talent pool can extend across the country and around the world.
How to start working remotely online
Moving teams from in-office to remote work takes more than a strong internet connection and a file-sharing app. From maintaining security to keeping team members engaged, there’s a lot to think about and prepare.
Create a remote work policy
A remote work policy outlines who can work remotely, from where, and when. Consider the resources, tools, and infrastructure needed to onboard new members, provide skills training, and support day-to-day tasks. Think about how remote work will affect the business’s culture and how you’ll prepare managers to lead remote teams.
There’s a lot to think through, so take your time. For example, each state and country you hire in has its own payroll taxes and rules. How will HR handle the extra work? If you’re planning to increase use of independent contractors, how will that affect your current onboarding practices and workflows?
If you’re wondering how you’ll find the time to do all of this, why not contract an HR professional to create a remote work policy for you? Not only are they skilled at it, but they’re also remote workers themselves. So, they may consider details that others overlook.
Establish a communication protocol
Misunderstandings naturally increase when team members aren’t communicating in-person. That’s why even if just one team member is working remotely, it’s important for the entire team to communicate more than you normally would in an office.
One way to keep everyone on the same page is by setting a regular communication schedule, such as daily standups and weekly 1:1s. You can also help everyone communicate effectively by providing guidelines for using different communication channels. Such as when to email instead of Zoom. And when to pick up the phone instead of Slack.
Your policies may give people permission to disconnect. When emails keep flowing in after hours, people feel they always have to be “on.” Respecting their personal time may help them avoid burnout.
Review security processes
Make sure your security systems remain strong as you scale use of remote team members. Some things to consider:
- Protocols for different types of talent, including consultants and agencies who may require access to your networks
- How to remain protected when people log into work through various personal and work devices
- Processes to securely offboard external talent after completing a project
- How team members can safely deliver work containing sensitive information
This article provides practical tips for getting started: How to Create a Foundation of Security When Working with Remote Talent.
Advantages of working remote for employees
Buildings are reopening, but a recent study suggests that more than one in three (34%) employees are unhappy about returning to the office. Because going back means giving up the perks of working from home:
- Improved work-life balance: You can take short work breaks to play with children, make time to care for family members, and attend a child’s school event
- Better health: You can cook healthier meals instead of going out to lunch, take walks in the middle of the day, and create a work environment that’s ideal for you
- Less stress: Your morning routine isn’t as rushed, you escape office distractions, and can log off work in time to handle personal responsibilities
- No commutes: You avoid traffic stress and save on commuting costs, and can spend the time saved on self-care and with loved ones
Common challenges of working remote for employees
Working virtually does have its drawbacks. These are some of the most common challenges employees must overcome:
- Feeling isolated or lonely: Feeling alone and not included is easy, and can lead to disengagement
- Increased miscommunication: Email and text messaging are convenient, but they may not convey thoughts clearly, and you miss subtle cues that come from body language and voice inflection
- Difficulty focusing or staying organized: Productivity can drop if you’re not a time-management disciple and disciplined self-starter
- Working too much: Workdays can get longer because work is always just in the other room
Challenges companies face with remote work
There are plenty of bottom-line fattening reasons why companies want to hire remote workers. But managing a team spread across several locations creates new challenges.
Managing different audiences
You may be managing a team made up of different types of contributors, including full-time and part-time employees, as well as independent professionals. Adjust your leadership style to ensure every audience gets the attention and resources they need to be motivated and feel supported.
Getting too transactional
When you don’t see the person you’re communicating with, it’s easy to forget empathy and get right down to business. But that could affect how well teams communicate and collaborate over time, says Mark Frein, Chief People Officer at InVision.
Frein intentionally reminds employees to connect with remote talent. He explains, “It’s easy to start off a message saying ‘Hey, I need ____.’ But you wouldn’t walk up to somebody in the office and just start asking for a deliverable. You’d say something like good morning first. Those rituals are important when interacting with someone in person. It’s just as important to continue practicing those rituals with remote workers to keep the emotionality from breaking down.”
Juggling multiple time zones
Pick meeting times that enable everyone to participate. Ask each person their available meeting times so you respect their personal time and avoid cutting into their productivity hours. That said, do set expectations with employees about their availability and speed of responsiveness (i.e., respond to emails received in the evening by the next business morning).
Bridging cultural differences
One of the benefits of remote teams is the ability to increase diversity. However, if you haven’t learned the body language cues and cultural habits of every team member, misunderstandings may develop.
For example, some people may say they agree with you when they really don’t because they consider it rude to disagree with a manager or client. If you suspect some people didn’t understand everything fully, help them out but don’t call them out. You could send all participants an email summarizing the discussion and action points from the meeting.
Maintaining the company's culture
Company culture isn’t built on a slogan or annual gathering. It’s developed with every action from how you onboard someone to how inclusive the organization feels. Maintaining culture requires ongoing and deliberate action, and authentic participation from everyone in the organization.
If you’re unsure how to start, this article, How to Assess and Improve Your Remote Work Culture, provides practical ideas.
How to adopt a remote work culture
Adopting a remote work culture begins by embracing a remote-first mindset. Everything, from how your entire business distributes work to how employees communicate, should prioritize people working from their own locations.
For example, when an issue arises, scheduling a last-minute meeting with team members in the same office is tempting. But that may exclude remote members who can’t drop everything to attend. When you adopt a remote-first mindset, you provide enough lead time to ensure everyone invited can join.
A remote work culture also knows that anyone can work remotely at any time. So remote and onsite workers are treated with equal respect.
Best practices for remote teams
Keeping remote teams aligned and engaged creates many factors that have to be managed. These basic tips apply to both employees and independent professionals:
- Use video in at least half the meetings. When people see facial expressions and body language, they can avoid misunderstandings and feel more connected.
- Make sure everyone’s heard during meetings. Perhaps have someone watch for people who look like they’re trying to speak, but get interrupted. Also, have them search the chat so all questions are answered.
- Focus on results and what each person delivers, not where, how or when they work.
- Help independent talent understand the ultimate mission and vision of the organization. The bigger picture may strengthen their connection to a project.
Where to find remote jobs and freelancers
There are dozens of job sites dedicated to remote work and more seem to appear each year. You could search for jobs through social media, but that often requires a lot of back and forth. And you don’t get the protection that many freelancing job sites provide.
Some sites, such as Toptal, specialize in specific skills like finance and software development. Other sites, such as The Mom Project, target a specific audience. The list below are a few of the top general freelancing sites that cover a wide range of skills and types of projects.
Upwork is the largest and most popular work marketplace with a global talent pool offering 10,000 skill sets. It attracts top clients, including one-third of the Fortune 500.
FlexJobs has over 50 career categories, with jobs ranging from freelance to full-time, and from entry-level to executive.
PeoplePerHour is a large global jobsite covering common job categories from marketing to development.
Guru is a large site offering a variety of skills. Talent and clients can reduce fees and improve their visibility through paid memberships.
Popular remote jobs in 2023
Since independent professionals often work remotely, you can get a sense of the most popular remote jobs by looking at the types of projects posted.
A recent Upwork Skills Index shows the most in-demand skills align with the biggest issues worrying companies in 2023. They are: Continuing digital transformation initiatives, managing supply chain issues, and improving trust with employees and customers.
Is remote work here to stay?
The short answer: Yes. Remote work was gaining popularity long before the pandemic forced people to consider it sooner rather than later. And, after two years of experiencing this flexible way of working, businesses and employees are hooked.
Remote work allows businesses to operate with more agility, enabling companies to hire the right people, chosen from a global pool of talent. Instead of trying to make do with less, employers can build dream-teams on-demand by layering in independent specialists.
Working virtually also erases geographic boundaries around hiring. When it doesn’t matter where someone works, you can hire the best person for a job, bar none, as opposed to settling for the best person within commuting distance of the office.
Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist at Upwork, puts it plainly, “If you don’t adapt and plug into the remote economy, you’re going to be at an even greater hiring disadvantage than you were pre-pandemic.”
It may be argued that it’s the workers, not businesses, who are leading the remote work charge. During the pandemic, people questioned what work meant to them and how it fit into their lives. Seeking work-life balance wasn’t enough anymore. The new holy grail is work-life fulfillment, and workers are determined to achieve it.
Workers are making it clear that fulfillment requires flexibility. After offices fully reopen, 91% of remote workers in the US want to retain some form of remote work, according to a Gallup study.
Professionals also want more flexibility over their career trajectory. Since 2019, our research shows the number of knowledge workers becoming freelancers has increased year over year. Instead of being tied to the same business, working on the same tasks everyday, freelancers choose who they work with, what type of projects they work on, and how much money they earn. According to the same research, 44% of freelancers say they make more than they would for a traditional employer.
Remote work is now and the future
Remote work is now—and the future. Businesses, employees, and independent professionals are all finding that remote work adds to their creativity, their freedom, and their bottom line. Given remote work's ability to so effectively meet so many needs, we predict that more and more companies will turn to remote work. It isn't going away. It's going to grow.
Dive deeper by visiting the Upwork Resource Center covering all things remote work. There, you’ll get ideas, the latest trends, and practical tips for using remote work to achieve bigger goals.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.