The information age, the automation nation, the knowledge worker revolution—the arrival of remote work is at once changing culture and improving the little things in life. We’re rewriting traditional corporate culture while rocking a 30-second commute to the office wearing sheepskin slippers. We’re also trying and testing, both succeeding and failing, at many different aspects of working productively with distributed teams. Perhaps futurist scholar Marshall McLuhan explained it best (all the way back in 1964): “The future of work consists of learning a living in the automation age.”
We are truly “learning a living” as remote workers, and the best way to to do that is by sharing what we’re experiencing. Academic research has proven that knowledge sharing has a wide range of benefits for both the individual worker and their teams and companies. To this point, Buffer has just released the 2020 State of Remote Work report, an open look into what remote workers are experiencing today.
Buffer’s survey findings reveal some fundamental lessons about remote work that I plan to leverage when “learning my living” remotely. Here are five key findings that you too can invest into the success of your career as a remote worker this year and beyond.
5 Ways To ‘Learn A Living’ From 2020’s Top Remote Work Trends
1) Looking for a remote job? Talk to remote workers
If you don’t have any previous experience with remote work, it can be hard to know where to start when looking to find a remote job. Online job boards that don’t cater to remote work can be difficult to search for remote-specific opportunities, and there are definitely some professional fields that appear (at least on the surface) to have fewer remote opportunities than others.
Engaging in some friendly virtual professional networking will be your most direct way to get the real scoop on what’s available right now. Remote folks are inherently more connected online than via physical locations or events. Reach out to them via LinkedIn, Slack communities or other networking sites—you’re likely to find someone willing to help you out. Buffer found that a full 97% of respondents said they actively encourage others to work remotely! So if you’ve got burning questions about where and how to source a great remote job, go right to the source.
Companies not actively promoting themselves as “remote” may in fact be flexible with working arrangements depending on the position. If you take a look around, you might discover that you know more people with remote experience than you previously thought!2) Get into remote work for the right reasons
Your remote work experience will have its ups and downs. There are a lot of myths about the remote life that are simply not true. You’ll often hear mixed messages (“You can easily slack off to watch Netflix all day!”) that will paint the wrong picture about what remote work is really about: (“Remote workers have less career growth because people think they’re watching Netflix all day.”)
You’ll vastly improve your ability to succeed with a clear understanding of what you can expect when working remotely. According to Buffer, a flexible schedule (32%) is the biggest benefit, even spending time with family is among the top reason:
It seems to be a pretty big benefit too: 98% surveyed said they plan on working remotely the rest of their career! (Something is missing, however: It appears that uninterrupted TV time didn’t make the list.)
3) Head off the risks early
Clearly understanding the positive benefits of remote work is a good first step, but being realistic about the potential struggles will boost your remote work success immensely. Loneliness and difficulty collaborating and communicating with teammates are the two biggest struggles cited today:
These challenges are very real and deserve to be openly talked about with your team. A big risk that comes into play when dealing with these issues as a remote worker is impostor syndrome. It’s easy to have misunderstandings and get a distorted view of your relationships with your teammates when you’re asynchronous or your teamwork is disjointed. We have a lot of resources to help both individuals overcome remote work challenges and for remote teams to have great communication, collaborative workflows, and strong knowledge sharing processes so don’t be shy about working through your concerns and always trying to improve your remote skills.
4) Value your office culture
When you get out of the office, it’s logical to think that you’re leaving those shared refrigerators and office politics behind. And Buffer did uncover that 78% of surveyed remotes work primarily from home, with just 7% loyal to coworking spaces and 5% working mainly from coffee shops. But here’s the thing: You still have office culture even if there’s no physical shared space. Many of the cultural events and habits like watercooler small talk or team icebreakers are still vital to building camaraderie with your coworkers. Treat your virtual workspace like an office, and you’ll have stronger company culture as a result.
It’s also likely that you’re still working with some people who are co-located in an office. Teams that are split between remote and in-office have distinct needs when it comes to staying connected and building a space where everyone feels included, connected, and on an equal footing. You should stay involved in office happenings, like when your office teammates are on lunch (and thus not instantly replying to your messages), to avoid those all-too-easy misunderstandings.
Besides, when asked, 25% of respondents said they would work in an office again, with another 50% open to the possibility of heading back to a shared workspace. You never know where your remote journey will take you!
5) Expand your view beyond your daily desk
Staying connected to your company will go a long way when it comes to feeling included and valued while you’re remote. You should, however, also celebrate the flexibility and freedom that remote work can offer. You don’t absolutely have to stick to that home office to get things done. In 2018, Buffer uncovered that 81% of people surveyed do work remotely and travel at the same time for varying lengths of time:
Take advantage of the ability to work from wherever with a few ground rules for staying productive while working and traveling. The nomad lifestyle might seem like a novelty, but there are some great teams out there who work and travel as a rule, like UNICEF’s Global Innovation team: They work asynchronously across 9 time zones, with team members traveling as much as 50% of their time.
Remote work is a growing discipline, and for some, still a futuristic theory of how their 9-to-5 might look someday. Thanks to insights like this year’s State of Remote Work report, however, knowledge sharing about remote work is only getting more accessible. Together we can make it easier across the board to learn a living remotely.
And if you’re ready to deep dive into remote teamwork, check out Trello’s guide to embracing remote work with your team.
Editors Note: This piece was updated as of March 2020