As of this writing, we’ve only been four months into 2018, and so much has happened already. From Uber leaving Southeast Asia to North and South Korea making the first tentative steps towards ending the decades-old Korean war, it’s certainly shaping up to be a year of massive and far-sweeping changes.
The nature of work as we know it has also been undergoing constant change, what with more and more companies starting to appreciate the benefits of remote work. Now that we’re progressing towards half of 2018, what sort of trends can we expect to see in the workplace?
Artificial intelligence, or AI for short, has been accompanied by equal measures of fear and excitement in HR circles for quite some time. Just about every new device and app coming out in the next few years is bound to contain a form of AI, and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that automation will render a lot of jobs obsolete before we know it.
Take chatbots, for instance. Far from just spitting out auto-replies, the most sophisticated ones on the market can now do everything from fielding basic customer concerns and inquiries to notifying managers about employees on sick leave.
As the technology continues to evolve, AI will most likely be adopted by many companies at a quicker pace, reducing the need for clerical workers and potentially opening up telecommuting opportunities for creatives who can produce content that their automated counterparts can’t.
Udemy and Coursera are just two of the most popular third parties offering online courses on just about every topic out there. With self-directed learning quickly becoming more mainstream, certifying educational attainments will no longer be the monopoly of traditional learning institutions. Why go into student debt enrolling in some far-off Ivy League University when you can get accredited as a specialist in marketing or finance without having to leave your home?
Sometime down the line, it won’t be so unusual for employers to focus on skills rather than on traditional transcripts when hiring. College diplomas are no longer likely to be the sole benchmark of one’s potential for advanced work as well.
This can only be good news for many remote workers, many of whom boast skills that were picked up through various freelance gigs rather than at university. Employers could also explore the possibility of offering financial assistance for their remote staff seeking additional training through online courses as yet another job perk.
Prolonged immersion in actual and virtual offices can take a toll on one’s mental health. Depression, anxiety, and unsettling feelings of isolation have been plaguing both onsite and remote workers for years, leading to higher turnover and reduced productivity due to burnout.
The more palpable effects of this mostly unseen epidemic has now led to evolving discussions over what companies and employers can do to support their afflicted staff. Quite a few have arranged for in-house counseling, managers have encouraged occasionally taking a mental health day, and a French law has even made it illegal for local employers to contact their workers off the clock.
Some firms have also embraced remote work as a way to empower their best people to work through things at their own pace and to take breaks as needed without the pressure of higher-ups looking over their shoulders.
Even the most tech-savvy millennial or Gen-Z’er apparently prefers in-person communication over remote interaction, it seems. After all, it’s a lot easier to be more invested in your work when you like your colleagues. In my case, our tiny yet dynamic team motivates me to keep doing my best, all while keeping the tedium and boredom that can sometimes accompany remote work at bay.
So, does this mean that we’ll all revert to corporate offices from telecommuting cyberspace? Not really, but we might expect those running remote teams to utilize video conferencing, group calls, and the occasional in-person meeting to try and build camaraderie within the group more often.
In line with the rise of AI, several professions will no longer be as secure as they once seemed. Machines and software not only execute complex tasks like underwriting insurance claims and making medical diagnoses more accurately, but they also don’t require sick leaves or 401k packages.
This is where second-skilling comes in. Defined as the development of one’s skills in a field that’s quite different from the one you’re currently employed in, it’s a precautionary measure that could ensure that you’ll still get employed even when a bot replaces you on the job.
Remote work happens to be a great starting point for many people who would like to develop a second skill, so to speak. The flexibility of its working hours makes it possible for someone who works as an engineer by day hone their craft at graphic design by night, for example. Thus, we can perhaps expect the telecommuting workforce to swell within the following months.
Offices and companies that stick to old biases favoring white Caucasian males will not only find themselves being ridiculed for not being “woke,” but are likely to be outstripped by their more forward-thinking rivals, thanks to the vast and varied contributions of a diverse workforce.
Many remote employers will tell you that talent favors no gender, race, or geography, and that’s precisely one of the best things about this industry. No one really cares what your skin color is or whether your accent is funny so long as you can produce results and get along with everyone on the team. Best of all, different cultural viewpoints can only help a business understand and service its customers better, especially if it wants to achieve a more global reach.
As technology makes the farthest corners of the world more accessible, you can bet that the remote workforce will only get more diversified as time goes on.
On the flipside, authoritarian figures coming in to power have cracked down on businesses that hire foreigners, so some laws meant to promote diversity and equal pay have actually been repealed in quite a few Western countries.
Remote work has yet to be fully regulated as an industry due to its relative novelty, but while this can provide remote employers with more savings and thus more resources to compensate their workers better, the lack of regulatory guidelines can also make it easier for them to withhold benefits like health insurance or paid sick leaves.
A popular contradiction posits change as the only true constant in the world, and very few people understand that better than remote workers. While we can certainly look forward to the emergence of more telecommuting opportunities as well as an improved work-life balance in our careers, it should also be noted that we need to keep upgrading and adding to our skills to truly benefit from what the future will bring.