Office Productivity

13 minute read

What Does it Mean to Work Remotely in 2020? (Because Things Aren’t Quite the Same)

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

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You’re working from home. Maybe you’ve been at this for a few months now, as a result of the pandemic. Or, perhaps you’ve been working from home for a few years already.

Regardless of whether you’re a work-from-home newbie or veteran, this fact holds true: Given the current state of the world, remote work looks a lot different right now than it ever has before. Hey, there’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to really turn things on their head.

So, what does it mean to work remotely in this uncharted landscape? And what do you need to know to do it effectively? We have answers for you. 

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What exactly is remote work?

You’re probably already familiar with the gist of remote work. It’s an arrangement that allows employees to work outside of a traditional office environment—whether that’s from a home office, coffee shop, hammock in the woods, or somewhere else entirely.

Needless to say, it offers a great degree of flexibility for employees and it’s a lifestyle that’s continued to gain traction as a result.

Between 2005 and 2017, there was a whopping 159% increase in remote work. A reported 56% of global companies allow remote work, and employees definitely take advantage of that opportunity. 52% of employees around the world work remotely at least once a week, while 68% work remotely at least once per month. 

What makes these workers want to jump on the bandwagon? Remote work offers a number of benefits including eliminating a lengthy commute, improving focus by allowing people to tailor their work environments, and providing a better opportunity for work-life balance.

But, much like with anything, there are two sides to the coin. While there are several perks related to remote work, there are challenges that need to be overcome as well. Remote workers can struggle to set clear boundaries between their work and personal lives and might also experience a feeling of isolation and loneliness, as just a couple of examples. 

What does it mean to work remotely in 2020?

Remote work isn’t exactly a new trend, but so far 2020 has turned the remote work lifestyle on its head. A recent survey found that a whopping 42% of U.S. workers have started working from home as a result of the pandemic. Even long-standing remote workers are realizing that things look different than they did just a few months ago. So, what has changed?

mother works from home next to her daughter

1. Remote workers can no longer choose their work environments

When it comes to the biggest perks of remote work, flexibility is one of the most frequently cited benefits. People could work where they wanted—whether it was from the beach, the airport, or a corner table in a cafe. 

According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report, 26% of respondents said the flexibility to work from any location was the biggest advantage of working remotely. 

However, social distancing recommendations and the closure of a number of non-essential businesses means that remote workers are left with one choice about where to get their to-do lists accomplished: their homes. At least for the time being, remote work isn’t quite as freewheeling and flexible as it used to be. 

2. Remote workers are looked to as experts on their teams

While it’s tough to find data about just how many people are working remotely because of the recent pandemic, it’s safe to assume that a large chunk of professionals are adjusting to this lifestyle without any previous experience working from home. There are more people working outside of the office than ever. 

On many teams, that means the seasoned remote workers are looked to as resources. They’re the ones people approach for tips and guidance on how to make the remote work arrangement work well for them.

Of course, this also means that there are some new complexities in working relationships. Considering so many people have been booted from their typical office environment, everybody is learning a new way to work together—whether they’re an established remote worker or not. 

3. Remote workers are dealing with stress and change 

All of the work-related changes resulting from the pandemic are stressful enough. However, a large number of working professionals have found themselves dealing with mounting pressures on top of that.

Whether it’s homeschooling children or caring for loved ones, nearly everybody is dealing with an unprecedented amount of anxiety. Even when you have the luxury of being home, those outside worries make it increasingly tough to focus on your tasks and to-dos. 

Remote workers might be used to the working from home piece of the puzzle, but they certainly aren’t accustomed to this high-stress environment they’ve found themselves doing it in. 

woman applies hand sanitizer in front of laptop

Busting the myths: 4 common misconceptions about remote work

If there’s one positive thing that’s come out of all of these workforce transitions, it’s that everybody has a newfound understanding of what actually goes into the remote work lifestyle. 

Now that they’ve found themselves working from home firsthand, professionals who typically work in the office are realizing that a lot of the assumptions they had about working remotely aren’t quite accurate. 

Here are just a few of the remote work misconceptions that are being disproven at a rapid rate.

Misconception #1: Working remotely isn’t “real” work

As somebody who has worked from home for over five years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to wait for somebody’s cable technician or run a quick errand in the middle of the workday. Unfortunately, it’s easy for people to assume that working from home isn’t quite as demanding as working in the office. 

However, it really does require a high degree of focus, commitment, and yes, real work. In fact, FlexJobs’ annual survey found that 65% of respondents are actually more productive in their home office than a traditional workplace. 

So, remote workers don’t just get work done—they might actually get more work done than their in-office counterparts. 

Misconception #2: Working remotely means working alone

When you work remotely, you can tackle your responsibilities from under your covers. That means you don’t need to deal with people, right?

Not quite. The remote work lifestyle doesn’t mean working in a vacuum. Through video chats, instant messages, phone calls, emails, and more, remote workers spend a surprising amount of their day communicating with the people they work with.

Working remotely isn’t a free pass to escape your coworkers. You’ll still need to communicate and collaborate with them effectively—even if you aren’t side-by-side. 

man on video conference call at home

Misconception #3: Working remotely sabotages company culture

Admittedly, maintaining a strong company culture is a little trickier when your team isn’t co-located. But, working remotely doesn’t mean that culture totally goes out the window.

From Zapier to Buffer to even our team here at GoSkills, there are plenty of companies with remote workforces who have a positive, thriving culture despite the fact that their teams are spread across the globe.

Does it require some conscious effort? Definitely. But, that can be said for any strong culture—whether the team works together in-person or not.  

Misconception #4: Working remotely leads to better work-life balance

You’re working from home, and that makes it easy to assume that your work-life balance will immediately fall into place. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

When your to-do list is constantly there waiting for you, it’s surprisingly tough to balance your work life and personal life as a remote worker. That’s likely why 18% of remote workers say that an inability to unplug is one of their biggest struggles related to working remotely—making it the third biggest challenge behind difficulties with communication/collaboration and loneliness.

Sure, you might already be on your couch. But, that doesn’t mean that work-life balance happens naturally. Arguably, it requires even more conscious effort when your home and professional lives become so blended and intertwined.  

woman working from home with cat on desk

The newbie’s guide to making the most of remote work

If you’re new at this whole remote work thing, it probably took you no time at all to get used to working in your pajamas. But the rest? We’ll admit that it takes some adjusting.

If you’re unsure or struggling with how to deal with certain aspects of working from home, help is at hand. Fortunately, seasoned remote workers have refined some strategies to make the arrangement easier. Here are some tips you can implement to make the most of your time working from home—regardless of how long it lasts. 

1. Set clear boundaries

As mentioned previously, work-life balance is a challenge for remote workers. 29% of remote employees say this is something they struggle with, and other estimates state remote employees actually work 1.4 more days each month than their in-office counterparts.

To avoid the trap of working constantly, establish a work schedule for yourself. Know when you want to be signed in and working in the morning, as well as what time you want to shut down for the day. 

Even if you treat those as somewhat loose guidelines (hey, things come up!), they’ll help you keep a closer eye on balancing your work with the rest of your life. 

2. Find ways to connect with your coworkers

Connection is always important for remote employees, but particularly now when people are dealing with stressful times. This is why it’s important to find ways you can stay connected to your colleagues. 

Whether it’s having a quick video chat while you enjoy your coffee in the morning, sharing resources or funny internet finds (like your favorite working from home memes) that help you keep your chins up during this pandemic, make an effort to keep those bonds strong to combat the isolation of the remote lifestyle. 

man and woman having video call

3. Establish a work environment

If you previously spent your workdays in the office, there’s now a strong temptation to take full advantage of your work from home arrangement and get things done from your couch. But, any remote worker will tell you that you’ll be dealing with a stiff back in no time.

It’s smarter to give yourself a designated space where you can get your work done, whether it’s an actual home office or even just a spot at your kitchen table.

This workspace will help you stay more organized and focused, and it can also make it easier to disconnect from your work when you’ve wrapped up for the day—because you have an actual physical space that you can move on from. 

4. Over communicate (even if it feels weird)

Collaboration and communication are cited as the biggest challenge of remote work, and learning how to successfully work with your colleagues in a distant capacity takes some getting used to.

Treat this as your golden rule: When in doubt, over communicate. If you aren’t sure that status update is important? Share it anyway. That thing you assume is common knowledge? Lay it out there, just in case.

It can feel a little strange, but taking those extra steps to explain things as clearly as possible will save you a lot of future headaches and hassles. 

woman on phone with man taking notes

5. Mind your distractions

When you’re working from home, you don’t have the same distractions that you did in the office. But, you’ll deal with interruptions nonetheless.

Whether it’s starting another load of laundry, watching just one more episode on Netflix, or scrolling through the latest COVID-19 headlines, disturbances and time wasters are present in your home environment too. 

Identify which ones tend to throw you off course, and then put measures in place to mitigate them—whether it’s installing a browser blocker or asking a family member to hold you accountable. 

Remote work looks different, but you can still do it now

There’s no sugarcoating it: Everything is different right now, and that includes the remote work landscape. 

But, while it feels as though things have been turned on their head, there are still a lot of positives related to working remotely. Plus, there’s the added benefit that everybody is getting a stronger grasp on what this work arrangement really entails. 

In this time of uncertainty, it’s best to focus on what you can control, and that includes making the most of your current situation—whether you’re working from your couch or your kitchen table. Use this as your guide, and you’re sure to reap the benefits of remote work at a time when you need them most.

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Want to stay productive while working from home?

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Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.

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