Why the next phase of remote work will be even more disruptive

Labour economists argues that remote work will transform economies, as companies must revise policies to accommodate remote employees.


Team Guide

12/29/20215 min read

Increasingly, the trend for future work is toward a hybrid model, combining both remote and in-person workflows. The intention is to allow employees the flexibility of working remotely while maintaining the rapport and ease of communication made possible by a physical office. A survey by CBRE indicates that 80% of large US businesses (10,000+ employees) and 66% of mid-size businesses (100-10,000 employees) intend to move toward a “hybrid guided flexibility” work model in the back half of 2021.

And many workers want it that way. In what’s been dubbed the “Great Resignation,” a staggering 95% of workers are considering changing jobs. One of the primary drivers of this resignation? A desire for the increased flexibility of remote work. In response, many businesses are using the offer of remote work to attract more workers in the middle of the current labor shortage.

Let’s dig into the numbers to understand the future of remote work, and see how remote work is affecting the economy.

Remote work job postings are soaring

Our data indicates that employers are advertising for remote positions much more intensely than they were pre-COVID. Since the beginning of 2021, the total number of remote job postings has increased dramatically. January-May of 2021 had nearly 1.2 million postings. That’s around 400,000 more than January-May of 2019, and almost triple the number of postings in January-May of 2020.

The monthly average of remote job postings tells the same story. In 2019, the average was 147,127 remote postings per month. In 2020, the monthly average fell to 109,254. Currently, the monthly average is 235,965. This puts us about 90,000 above the 2019 average, and on track to finish the year with nearly 3 million remote postings total.

Demand for remote work is truly soaring. The question naturally comes up as we think about the future of work: which industries and regions have been most affected by this seismic shift in the workforce?

Remote work and the demand for hard skills

As we see more and more people working remotely, jobs are beginning to involve different sets of skills. Tackling jobs remotely requires particular talents, and it’s becoming increasingly important for jobseekers to market themselves accordingly.

A recent FlexJobs report, for example, recommends workers develop their technological knowledge, online proficiency, and ability to work with other cultures and time zones. An article by translation company, Tomedes, suggests that remote work is opening up new opportunities for communication skills involving multiple languages. Career development manager Brie Reynolds advises workers to familiarize themselves with project management apps, document sharing programs, and remote communication tools. In response to the changing job market, some community colleges are offering coding certificate programs introducing students to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Changes like these are reflected in our job postings data. Consider the top in-demand skills for the 15 companies with the most postings for remote jobs 2019-2021.

It’s interesting to note the changes in skills demand over the past year. Technology Solutions, which showed up in only 9,590 postings April-June of 2020, is now leading the pack at 110,695. Further down the line, Software Engineering and Computer Science are both sitting right around 60,000 postings, up from 26,752 and 22,890 respectively.

As future work moves online, we should expect to see hard skills like these increase in demand.

Remote work and the demand for soft skills

But that’s not the end of the story. Reynolds also suggests that employers aren’t only interested in employees with online-specific hard skills, but also in employees with soft skills such as administration, time management, and self-motivation. Other current in-demand soft skills, according to an article from Fast Company, are adaptability, resiliency, and communication.

This fact is also reflected in the skills those 15 companies are pursuing. For example, Agile Methodology, previously featured in only 19,021 postings, is now sitting in second-place at 79,532.

A look at the national picture tells the same story. The skills that show up in the highest number of remote job postings nationwide are as follows:

Notice the overwhelming prevalence of soft skills like Communications, Sales, and Management. Remote work, though requiring a lot of hard skills to run, certainly isn’t rendering soft skills obsolete. If anything, soft skills are becoming even more valuable in the future of work.

Remote work’s impact on migration

Remote job postings are highest in major metropolitan centers. New York posted for almost twice as many remote jobs as any other MSA, followed by Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago.This isn’t much of a surprise. Job postings have always been higher around major cities. In fact, the top 10 regions with the most remote jobs postings and the most job postings overall are almost exactly the same.

But change may be coming. According to a CBRE report, 2020 saw a significant increase in emigrants from dense, high-cost urban metros. Fifteen percent more people left urban centers in 2020 than in 2019. One of the major distinctives of those leaving urban centers is the ability to work remotely.

As of now, this exodus isn’t taking people very far. The report indicates that many of the migrations were relatively short distances to neighboring counties. Some people will most likely return once life goes back to normal. An article from Brookings found that, of the millions who relocated from coastal “superstar” metro areas, less than 1% moved to the Heartland and Mountain states.

So while we’re not seeing a significant urban-to-rural or a coast-to-heartland migration, we are seeing a considerable urban-to-suburban migration, made possible by remote work.

Remote work’s impact on cities

But the cities themselves are feeling the loss. In Seattle, over 450 retailers, restaurants, and other street-level businesses have closed permanently since COVID ousted workers from the office.

New York City has also lost hundreds of small businesses over the COVID lockdown, and many of those that remain face an extraordinary amount of debt. The Partnership for New York City predicts that a mere 62% of the office workers who left will return to the city by September. A significant number of those that do return will be in three days per week. Though up from March estimates of 45%, that’s still a considerable loss of potential clientele for downtown businesses. Economist James Parrott estimates that a 10% loss of Manhattan office workers means 100,000 fewer people for the local economy.

Future of remote work

Remote work’s continued presence (even as we pull out of lockdown) indicates that it’s here to stay, at least in some capacity.There are many questions to answer as businesses continue to incorporate remote options into their plans for future work. Concern for in-person collaboration, the loss of restaurant and retail workers, and potential remote burnout are all things for employers to consider.

But one thing is clear: remote work is sticking around. As we enter the second half of 2021 and face the future of work, we have to be ready to adapt.

A picture of a girl wearing black and on her black desktop computer
A picture of a girl wearing black and on her black desktop computer