Why Growth-Focused Companies Should Leverage Remote Work

Why Growth-Focused Companies Should Leverage Remote Work

While businesses hustled to keep the lights on during the pandemic, something big happened to the workforce. It was a change so significant that it altered how businesses must approach work if they want to remain competitive.

Yet the change happened so silently that nearly everyone missed it.

We, at Upwork, didn’t.

Here’s what happened: control over work shifted from the employer to the worker. The widespread adoption of remote work catalyzed this shift. And you better believe they’re not letting it go after offices reopen.

We’ve been tracking this power shift from the beginning and gathered a few experts to provide practical insights on how it may affect your teams.

In the webinar Remote Work: From Temporary Shift to Strategic Advantage. Eric Gregg, CEO and Founder of ClearlyRated, Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist at Upwork, and Tim Sanders, VP of Customer Insights at Upwork explain the power shift and how it affects your work model and workforce strategy.

They also share how you can use the new dynamic to support business growth through the recession and beyond. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

Every company is remote-able

It may be tempting to think that once everyone can safely return to their desks, employers will regain control over work. But that’s not going to happen because as Ozimek says, “Every company, at least partially, is remote-able.”

It’s important to recognize that jobs that can easily be done virtually are in professional services, and a lot of industries contain professional services within them now. Even industries that don’t appear to have much scope for remote work really do.

For example, the manufacturing industry seems tied to people coming onto shop floors. But many manufacturing companies also provide professional and business services including design, communications, and marketing. Manufacturers realize that scope of work can be done anywhere, which may explain why 20% of their workers shifted to remote in December of 2020.

Where the power shifted

Remote work is not an option, it’s a requirement

“People are used to constructing their lives around work and they don’t want to lose that flexibility after offices reopen,” explains Gregg. If you don’t permanently provide some type of remote option, you won’t attract top talent and risk losing your best people.

Consider how Millennials and Gen Z make up most of the workforce. They grew up in the digital age comfortable with staying connected from anywhere. When reviewing jobs, their top three considerations are compensation, career growth, and flexibility. Remote work is the ultimate in flexibility.

If you’re still unsure about offering a remote option, Ozimek suggests determining the cost impact of requiring people to work onsite. Do this by taking into account how much more you must pay for someone with the same caliber of talent to come into the office everyday.

Employees drive work opportunities

Despite widespread layoffs and hiring freezes in 2020, talent still holds the upper hand in some industries. Gregg predicts it’ll remain a talent’s market as the economy recovers. This means if you want to keep your top talent, you must provide a hybrid work model (a mix of onsite and remote) that meets employees’ demands.

If you don’t provide flexibility, employees may also create it for themselves by going independent. Freelancer platforms remove the biggest obstacle to going solo as they make it easier to find projects. And there’s plenty of work out there. According to an Upwork study:

There’s no single hybrid work model that guarantees success. Each will be unique to the business. Gregg suggests taking into account feedback from job candidates and employees to meet their demand for flexibility and equally distribute work opportunities.

Remote is the great equalizer

Although you may feel forced to provide a hybrid work model, the benefits are far from one-sided. Here are a few ways that employers benefit.

Gain an infinite talent pool

You can expand the size of your talent pool by adjusting how much employees work remotely. If employees must go into the office as little as once a week or a couple of days a month, you only extend your labor market by an hour or two from the office.

If the entire company or certain roles are fully remote, that’s a game changer. Whether you’re hiring full-time or on a project basis, you can hire people without geographic constraints. Essentially, your labor market can be as large as your time zone, the whole country, or the whole world. You control the dial.

24 is the new 8-hour workday

Increasingly, the idea of operating eight to 10 hours a day feels noncompetitive. Remote work enables teams to adopt the Follow the Sun model created by software developers. In this model, any sized team can improve their competitiveness by maintaining a 24/7 production schedule.

Here’s how it works: People located in different time zones work together on the same project. One person hands off work at the end of their day to another person who’s starting their day from another part of the world.

Any business can profit from a 24-hour workday because you don’t need employees across the globe to use this model. “What we’re seeing is that as organizations embrace remote, they embrace external talent networks and a global workforce,” says Gregg. For example, the sales operation team at Upwork engages specialists across several time zones to maintain a near 24-hour workflow. Admins in the U.S. and the Philippines ensure sales reps get support during the hours they work, which is often past the typical 9 to 5 day.

Build a variable cost structure

A hybrid work model enables you to take advantage of another remote opportunity: thinking fractional instead of full-time. To explain, let’s say you need a ReactJS developer. The knee-jerk response may be to hire a full-time person for that role. But when you take a step back, you realize that you only need that skill for a specific project. So, you just need someone on a project basis (fractional).

When Upwork showed Rajneesh Sehgal, Director of Engineering at Flexera, how to think factional vs. full-time, the engineering team became so productive that they completed all their projects with 50% of their budget left to spend. You can see Flexera’s full case study here

“Upwork lets me be more strategic with my budget,” explains Sehgal. “Many times, I don’t need an employee, I just need someone for 3 months. Instead of locking up my budget with a single hire, I can break it up to get several people with different skills and get several specialized projects done.”

Businesses that embrace remote work and an independent workforce can build a variable cost structure. “What we are seeing is that the sequencing is changing,” says Sanders. He observes that at the earliest stage of programs, clients begin programs by breaking down the deliverables and asking, what can we Upwork? Then the work that’s left is divided among employees. “This starts to become the cadence of how you do the work, and that’s where it really takes off and scales in organizations that use our work marketplace strategically,” says Sanders.

Propel diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts forward

Gregg often tells his peers, “Look, if you want to make really lasting immediate progress that’s going to have a short-term and a long-term impact on your diversity, equity, and inclusion goals around the company, start by increasing the flexibility, and specifically the remote components of what you’re offering your team.”

Remote work is an effective way of equalizing opportunities. It provides jobs for skilled individuals who want to work, but they may be primary caregivers or have circumstances that prevent them from working a traditional 9- to 5 job. When you offer the flexibility to work from anywhere, and provide flexible hours, those same people can be included in the workforce again.

As if to underline Gregg’s statement, Ozimek sums it up saying, “What workers want and what workers need from an employer pertains around social equity in the workforce and around remote work. They’re not separate, but significantly intertwined issues.”

Remote isn’t a choice

Truth be told, it’s not a matter of whether you want to adopt a hybrid work model or not. Competitive and labor pressures are forcing your hand. Remote is here now and it’ll make up a larger part of the future. You must figure out how to make it work.

Businesses that figured it out see their costs going down, they’re more nimble, they’re more profitable. They’re able to make good on their promises towards distributing opportunities fairly across gender and race. They’re honoring the individual and helping them succeed, no matter where they want to live and how they want to work. And for all that, the business thrives.

Sure, there’s going to be a learning curve adjusting to a remote workforce. Success requires having the right structure, tools, and mindset across the organization.

Upwork proved remote work works long ago. Before the pandemic, nearly 70% of our 1,700 teammates worked remotely across the globe. And we’ve spent over 25 years helping other businesses reap the benefits of a flexible work model.

We’re here to help you create a hybrid model that works for your business. Get started by visiting Upwork today.

Listen to the full webinar here: Remote Work: From Temporary Shift to Strategic Advantage


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Author Spotlight

Why Growth-Focused Companies Should Leverage Remote Work
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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