The Future of Remote Work

Will remote work dramatically change the 2020s? Disruption is already beginning. Let’s explore future trends for digital nomads and everyone else — including the cybersecurity implications of our changing workforce habits.

by / December 15, 2018

In a blog post that went viral this past week, Richard Branson wrote, “The way we all work is going to change.”  The entrepreneur believes that our 9-5 lifestyles will end in the next decade as a result of technology advancements — from autonomous vehicles to robots to artificial intelligence.

“The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn’t always the case, and it won’t be in the future. I’m lucky in being able to work wherever I am, at any time, and don’t see work and play as separate — it’s all living. I think this will be the case for more and more people in the future, to the benefit of businesses, countries and individuals. …”

But as we inch closer to 2020, how will remote work factor into the new year equation in 2019?   

The reality is that the way we do work is already being transformed now — albeit not as radically as Branson predicts for the future. The changes are occurring as a result of technology innovations that allow access to any data from anywhere at any time. Meanwhile, millennial desires and expectations regarding work are starting to transform what it means to “have a job” and at the same time “have a life.”

With U.S. unemployment numbers at a 50-year low, the endless search for talent at an all-time high and the shortage of government cybersecurity professionals getting worse, this topic will only grow in importance in 2019 and throughout the next decade.

Background on Remote Work   

No doubt, some of you are thinking: Why cover this remote work topic now?

Back in early 2017, I blogged about the pros and cons of telework in government. Looking further back, one of my first blogs for CSO Magazine in 2007 was on telework.   

So what has changed?

Answer: A lot. Let’s start by exploring some fascinating headlines and 2018 stories:

  • Medium.com: The Future of work is remote — “It’s a beautiful afternoon in Barcelona. I am messaging our Development Team in Mar del Plata and about to get on a call with our Design Lead in Boston. She will send an email to one of our clients in San Francisco, who found us online. …”
  • Yonder.io: Why remote work is the way of the future — “Working from home isn’t something you’re limited to doing only when the latest nor'easter hits or your boss is out of town. With today’s technology, ever-growing app market, and forward-thinking leaders, remote working is becoming the norm.As of last year, 3.9 million U.S. employees worked from home at least half of the time, which is a 115% increase from the 1.8 million in 2005. If remote working continues to grow at this rate, it won’t be long before a majority of Americans are working from home on a regular basis. …”
  • Upwork.com: Future Workforce Report: Remote Work Is Set to Go Mainstream but Is Your Business Ready? — “A majority of companies already embrace remote work—nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies have full-time employees who work outside the office. But they may not have the policies in place to support it. While most feel they have the resources and processes to enable remote work, the majority (57 percent) lack a defined remote work policy. …”
  • The Irish Times: Why more Irish employees want to work remotely — “The number of people choosing to work remotely has risen significantly in recent years. The reasons are not difficult to understand. With the rising costs of living, many couples find it extremely difficult to survive on one income. This places huge pressure on parents to work full time rather than stay at home with children. But with both parents working, looking after children can be exceptionally difficult – and expensive. Additionally, many working professionals face a lengthy commute every day, which can be stressful for many people. A recent ESRI study showed that job stress in Ireland doubled between 2010 and 2015. …”

As we take a year-end look at technology and security trends, I believe that these developments will be a key 2019 trend, and it will certainly impact many other online trends, including security plans.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that working from home (at least sometimes) is not the same as the new remote work trend.    

This remote work topic has evolved somewhat since Fast Company asked the question in 2014: Will half of people be working remotely by 2020? Still, the growth of working remotely has not met the expectations set by many strategic planners. This fact has not curbed the enthusiasm of experts who believe that remote work will be a major trend over the next decade.

On the Contrary …

For the naysayers in the crowd, Forbes offers five reasons why a remote work arrangement isn’t for you. The feelings of being disconnected and experiencing too many interruptions away from the office top the list.

Entrepreneur Magazine describes some common mistakes that also ring true with remote work — like poor communication for many.    

I also like this scenario offered by a Trello blog: “A company decides to allow its employees to work from home one day a week. They then find that their employees are least productive on those days, or that employees are difficult to reach, or perhaps they’re constantly cutting in and out on conference calls, so they scrap the program entirely. Not only that, when the topic of remote work comes up in conversation, they repeatedly assert something along the lines of, 'Yeah, we tried that. But it just didn’t work.'”

This scenario mirrors my early experiences with remote work in the state of Michigan more than a decade ago as the CISO and CTO in government. Everyone wanted Fridays to be their day to work from home, and over time, that became the day that the least work was done and no one scheduled meetings on Fridays. (It was also hard to get in touch with certain people, which should NEVER happen.)

Looking back, we didn’t have the right training, metrics and processes in place to truly enable the proper use of working from home. Also, some employees didn’t take the needed responsibility when given the opportunity. We did make adjustments, but never saw increased productivity from remote work. 

But that was more than a decade ago, and Fast Company offers these remote working tools to help manage the remote worker experience.

New Remote Work Solutions, Please

This Raconteur article describes the rise in the ‘digital nomad’ and answers the critics. It starts with the reality that “IBM was famous for its remote working policies - in 2009, 40 per cent of IBM’s 386,000 global workforce worked remotely, allowing it to sell unused office space for $2 billion. They have just reversed the policy. …”

I personally know many people who were affected by the IBM remote work policy change, and there is no doubt that all of the productivity data is still being analyzed.

Another recent article describes reasons why people love co-working spaces. This concept strives to eliminate some of the downsides of isolation and loneliness that many feel when working remote.  

Still, companies like Selina are growing rapidly. In this Commercial Observer piece, the author describes how Selina is bringing their model of hybrid work/hostel to America.  

A Panama hotel chain that mixes high-end hotel units with multiple-bed dormitory rooms in the same building—along with a coworking space and local eateries—wants to expand from Latin America to the U.S. …”

My Closing Thoughts

I recognize that many of the remote work concepts presented in this blog will be seen by many readers as too cutting edge for state and local governments to adopt. Still, these concepts are being explored by the private sector now in order to attract and retain the talent of the future.

I foresee a 20s decade that will bring more and more remote teams to governments (and the private sector) around the world — especially for technology and security work. The key needs of trust, transparency and accountability will be paramount in any remote work arrangements made. Expect 2019 to be a year when many of these connectivity and remote communication opportunities and concerns are discussed in new ways in businesses and governments across the country.

Unless we see a major recession in the U.S., which could ease the desperate search for tech and security talent temporarily, public- and private-sector organizations will increasingly look to utilize remote workers to fill important roles.  

In addition, societal trends with millennials and ongoing advancements in technology will bring about new security concerns regarding data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Also, data backups, remote system access from untrusted networks and customer service must all be addressed anew.

In the same way that cloud computing trends regarding onsite data centers are mixing with cloud data to create a hybrid environment, remote workers will need to be competently managed along with onsite staff. Leaders who can develop the skills to manage a mix of public- and private-sector talent, along with onsite staff and remote workers, will have a major advantage in the new normal that is coming.

Just ask Richard Branson.