The Remarkable World of Remote Work: What Does The Future Hold?

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1/3 of Canadian jobs could be remote, and even more could be hybrid. Yet, the vast majority weren’t until the global pandemic in 2020.

Many people merely dreamed of a world where they could achieve a work-life balance and work from the comfort of their homes.

Then, many North American and global populations shifted to remote work in what felt like an instant.

Those ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ turned out to be ~ two years (and counting), and because of this, some workplaces made semi-permanent and permanent transitions to remote work.

For some, this pivot was life-changing. For others (especially leaders), it was confusing and daunting.

Most rode the unprecedented wave of remote (and hybrid) work and adapted in time to their new normal.

Of course, some companies—like Dell—are now handing out RTO mandates like Halloween candy (that you essentially have no choice but to accept)—despite 90% of remote workers declaring they’re more productive and happy at home.
Work From Home - Castle HR

Approximately 20% of Canadians still work remotely (as of late 2023/early 2024).

This number was closer to 40% during the pandemic, and understandably so. Of course, these numbers vary by industry and education level.  Many studies and sources report that remote work is here to stay…at least some of the time.

For those who spent years eager to achieve a better work/life balance and dreaded their daily commutes, remote work may have once felt like an unattainable luxury. Normalizing remote and hybrid work probably feels like a dream come true for these people!

But for others, navigating the hasty transition from an in-office workspace to remote work was tough and isolating.

So, what does the future hold for remote work? What are the keys to remotely operating a successful company (and building a solid team)? And what about hybrid options? Will a Return-to-Office (RTO) mandate be your demise?

…We’re glad you asked! Let’s explore some pros, cons and tips about Remote Work in a post-pandemic world.

What is Remote Work?

Remote work involves employees performing tasks from a location outside the traditional office, fueled by digital connectivity.

Its evolution accelerated due to technological advancements and changing work dynamics. The normalization of remote work was also accelerated due to the recent global pandemic; many historically performed in-person jobs shifted to operating remotely.

Remote Work For Business - Castle HR

Remote work has existed for decades, but, it was never normalized. Before 2020, it was more commonly associated with smaller businesses, upper management roles, or other very niche ones, as a tiny percentage of the population worked remotely in the 2010s (4% in 2016).

What is Hybrid Work?

Hybrid work is an innovative approach to modern work structures. It combines the flexibility of remote work with the benefits of in-person collaboration.

For many – this is the ‘happy medium’ between being fully remote and spending 40 hours a week in an office.

It allows employees to split their time between working at home and in their office. By leveraging technology and creating adaptable hybrid work policies, organizations have realized that they can empower their workforce to achieve a better work-life balance, foster a more inclusive and diverse culture, and enhance productivity through a blend of autonomy and teamwork.

Hybrid work promises increased employee satisfaction, improved efficiency, and the opportunity to redefine traditional workplace notions.

At some organizations, employees may have pre-set or mandatory hybrid arrangements (i.e. they can work from home on Thursdays and Fridays but must report to the office on other days). Others leave the choice up to their teams or have more lenient schedules.

*Whether your team is hybrid, remote, or in-office, you need formal policies to protect your team and business and set expectations. Working with a lawyer or seasoned HR Professional is the only way to ensure nothing is missed.*

If you don’t have a trusted HR Professional in your corner, we can help. Click here to book a free call with our CEO to see if Fractional HR would benefit you!

How Have Remote and Hybrid Work Trends Transformed the Global Workforce?

Remote work has transcended; it went from being a trend to reshaping how work is conducted worldwide.

It’s no longer a perk but a fundamental way of operating, offering flexibility and broadening talent pools for many organizations!

Let’s break it down:

Remote Work Pros: Positive Impact on Productivity, DEI, Talent Pool and Culture

Yeah…there are a LOT of pros to remote work.

Firstly, remote work often enhances productivity by minimizing commuting and providing a customizable work environment.

The ability to better balance tasks unrelated to work, such as childcare, chores, errands, and appointments, while working from home can drastically reduce stress levels and improve the quality of life for some people.

In turn, people will be happier; they can designate time to focus on completing their tasks efficiently.

Remote work has also done wonders for DEI initiatives. It has opened doors for people who may not have had as many opportunities to be employed in in-office settings.

Remote work is a catalyst for creating more inclusive workplace environments.

Currently, there are more employees with disabilities in the workforce than ever before [in the United States], and workplaces are becoming more diverse and inclusive by providing remote options.

Employees with mobility issues, sensory issues, and even chronic illnesses or pain can be a part of a remote team and set up their workspace to fit their needs.

Collaboration is critical to success; employers only dreamed about a broader talent pool a decade ago. Those once limited to hiring people who lived ~50km from the head office have shifted to remote work and may find that hiring people from anywhere in their country (or the world) attracts more A-players.

Collaboration In Global Workforce - Castle HR

Combining different experiences, education levels, backgrounds, and abilities can help build successful teams. This cultivates a diverse, winning, productive, and inclusive culture that today’s workforce truly wants to be a part of!

Remote Work Cons: Blurred Lines, Challenges and Unforeseen Consequences

As much as we support remote and hybrid work arrangements at Castle HR, it wouldn’t be fair to discredit many leaders’ complaints and concerns—because they are all valid! Remote work can, of course, present a plethora of challenges if you aren’t prepared.

For starters, remote workers grapple with isolation, blurred work-life boundaries, unclear professional boundaries, and potential distractions.

Physical separation can cause collaborative challenges, such as communication gaps and misalignment. These can be mitigated, but some leaders struggle with leading remote teams and keeping everyone aligned.

The consequences of these challenges are vast.

While remote work offers numerous benefits, its rapid adoption also unveils new issues, such as Zoom fatigue, potential information security risks, and disparities in access to remote work resources.

For instance, specific roles may involve sensitive or private information, which can easily be leaked or revealed to external parties when employees work at home.

It’s also no secret that many people’s children appeared on Zoom calls during the pandemic and may continue to distract their parents while working at home. Issues surrounding professionalism and ‘Zoom etiquette’ have prevailed since the surge of remote work.

Our Advice: Be Prepared, Craft Remote and Hybrid Work Policies

When starting a remote company or transitioning from in-office to remote or hybrid, preparation is required; there’s no doubt about that!

While we have always been a remote company, we understand that the stark pivot from in-office to remote work (that took place in the blink of an eye for most) left leaders scrambling. However, many new businesses, born in the heart of the pandemic or after it, choose to adopt remote-first policies.

No matter where you stand, one thing remains true: remote work requires different leadership tactics than in-office work did decades ago.

Setting up a remote work environment that fosters an inclusive and communicative culture can be done with adequate planning and with expectations set out in your Employee Handbook.

You can also outline privacy policies, NDAs, and all other vital policies here. Always consult with an HR Professional or Lawyer when creating your handbook!

Need advice? There are no bad questions! Click here to book your free consultation with Castle HR today.

Additionally, conducting quarterly, modern performance reviews is an excellent way of having a two-way conversation with each team member throughout the year. When you connect, you’ll discuss their progress in their roles, goals, culture and value alignment, and overall wellness. This allows your employees to ask for help if needed and for you to address specific issues before they escalate.

Firm remote and hybrid work policies and regular conversations (even outside of your performance reviews) can help mitigate and minimize security risks, disengagement, and other disparities.

The Role of Technology: How Has It Revolutionized Remote Work?

Imagine trying to work from home in 1990…how would you fare?

How about in 2000? 2010?

While it may not have been impossible (depending on what you do for a living), remote work has become more practical thanks to numerous technological advancements in recent years. Advanced collaboration tools, cloud computing, and high-speed internet have revolutionized remote work.

These technologies enable real-time communication, seamless file sharing, and virtual collaboration.

Tools like video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management platforms bridge the physical gap, allowing teams to communicate effectively, share updates, and collaborate without ever leaving their homes.

But, as with anything, there are pros and cons associated with these advancements:

Technology Pros: Leveraging Digital Communication, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for Remote Collaboration

Virtual and augmented reality transform remote collaboration by simulating in-person interactions. This technology enhances training, online meetings, product design, and immersive meetings.

Digital communication – via Teams, Slack, Discord, or even Zoom – means that teams can converse and balance socialization and professional discussions with their colleagues and leaders.

Digital Communication For Remote Collaboration - Castle HR

Along with this, documents and presentations can be shared, edited and discussed digitally within seconds.

This allows for instantaneous feedback and potentially more efficient operations.

Technology Cons: Overreliance on Technology, Misuse of AI, and Its Impact on Human Interaction

While technology facilitates remote work, an overreliance on digital tools can lead to reduced human interaction and less spontaneous creative exchanges, potentially affecting innovation and relationships.

While AI streamlines processes and other forms of technology can improve efficiency and automation, it’s essential to understand that this can raise ethical concerns, such as job displacement and biased decision-making.

Striking the right balance between automation and human involvement is crucial.

Our Advice: Communicate Your Expectations and Encourage Interaction

Setting expectations from day 1 is key is ensuring your team is aligned and using all technology and digital tools responsibly and to their benefit.

These things can be outlined formally in your Employee Handbook and during onboarding, but you can also actively set examples for your team daily.

At Castle HR, we encourage employees to interact with one another about work-related and non-work-related topics. For instance, we share photos of pets, outings, and other exciting life events on Slack. It might not be exactly like ‘water cooler talk,’ but spontaneous exchanges and authenticity can still exist in a remote environment, and we value this as an organization.

We also clearly state that our team members must always respect one another’s space and time. We have clear privacy policies, too.

This is important and should be emphasized in all workplaces, especially in remote settings where boundaries are blurred.

Technology And Its Impact On Human Interaction - Castle HR

Just because a Google Doc can be shared and edited within seconds doesn’t mean the person receiving it should drop their tasks to tend to it.

Finally, if your team is encouraged to utilize resources and tools that can help with automation, ensure they know how to do so responsibly.

You may wish to have a policy (and conversations) regarding technology and AI usage at your company that clearly outlines what is and is not acceptable and how each tool should be used.

At Castle HR, something we often remind leaders of is that information found on the internet (or AI content) cannot replace the expertise and value of working with a senior HR Professional. Our CEO, Tom, explains this in his post and video below:

How Has the Notion of Work-Life Balance Changed in Remote Work?

Remote work has blurred the boundaries between work and personal life, demanding new strategies to maintain balance.

Depending on the individual and their level of discipline, this may or may not be a problem.

Flexibility and self-discipline are essential to prevent burnout; without them, some employees will fail to thrive in a remote environment. Let’s go a bit deeper…

Work-Life Balance Pros: Flexibility and Improved Work-Life Integration in Remote Work

As mentioned earlier, remote work offers the flexibility to align work with personal responsibilities, potentially reducing stress and enhancing overall well-being by eliminating lengthy commutes and tight schedules.

Some remote workers enjoy working from bed, wearing their pyjamas all day, or (if their employer allows it) working at an atypical time. For instance, they may find they are more productive than in the office if they’re allowed to work between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m.

On the other hand, some people may be early risers who take advantage of their mornings, which are no longer spent sitting in traffic. Remote workers can walk their dogs, enjoy quiet time, take their kids to school, or exercise before clocking in.  Some may stick to a strict work schedule, have a home office that they use daily, and dress professionally.

Improved Work-Life In Remote Work - Castle HR

Remote workers typically enjoy a lower-stress, flexible work environment where they can simultaneously be productive in their professional and personal lives and have the freedom to create a workspace that works for them.

Work-Life Balance Cons: Difficulty in Disconnecting from Work in a Remote Environment & Burning Out

Some remote workers find it challenging to disconnect from work due to the absence of physical separation.

This constant connection can lead to overworking and hinder relaxation. For instance, people may feel pressured to reply to emails or other messages on weekends. They may work well into the evening and put in more work hours than they once did at the office.

What is the result of overworking and not setting boundaries?: Poor mental health.

Remote work can exacerbate mental health challenges, including feelings of isolation and burnout…but it can be hard to notice as a leader if you don’t see people daily.

It can be equally difficult for the person suffering to recognize, too.

Mental Health Challenges Of Remote Work - Castle HR

Employers must prioritize mental well-being through support mechanisms and resources. Which brings us to the solution…

Our Advice: Talk to Your Team!

There’s no surefire way to mitigate these issues, but there’s also no point in dancing around conversations about burnout and mental health.

It’s best to tackle them head-on and privately address any signs of poor performance or worrisome behaviour with your employees.

At the same time, your employees do operate with a fair amount of autonomy at home (compared to when they are in the office), so while you cannot force changes on them, you can suggest that they:

  • Consider setting up designated workspaces
  • Prioritize setting clear schedules
  • Embrace time management techniques
  • Set clear boundaries between work and leisure

This is also where *drum roll* quarterly, modern performance reviews can be a lifesaver!

Normalizing discussions around wellness, encouraging our team to take time off, and asking one another for help and support when needed is a big part of who we are at Castle HR. We also provide our team with access to InkBlot Therapy.

Modern performance reviews allow you to discuss performance and any issues with your A-Players before they have the chance to escalate.

Finally, conducting team surveys can provide an avenue for anonymous feedback, and you can assess this to get a sense of how your team feels about remote work and other aspects of your organization!

How Does Leadership Differ in a Remote or Hybrid Work Context?

Some leaders thrive in remote settings…but it’s no surprise that others struggled (or continue to).

Remote and hybrid leadership require a shift from traditional micromanagement to result-oriented approaches that emphasize trust, clear communication, and outcome-driven management.

Simply put, many old-school management techniques disappeared when remote work became the norm for many organizations in 2020.

This isn’t a bad thing, but in some cases, this either:

a) resulted in much of today’s workforce realizing they preferred remote work – and arguing return-to-office mandates, or b) specific teams falling to shambles due to the lack of leadership and direction.

In addition, some leaders have trouble adapting to managing a team virtually and may have had issues slip through the cracks.

That’s why regular check-ins, transparent communication, and fostering a culture of open dialogue are essential to leading remote teams effectively and building trust. Understanding how to respect autonomy and boundaries is also necessary.

Let’s get into it a bit further…

Remote Leadership Pros: Enhanced Autonomy and Trust Building

Remote leadership empowers employees by granting autonomy and focusing on outcomes rather than processes. For instance, some employers only have specific deliverables in mind, apart from attending scheduled meetings or calls.

So long as their employees meet those expectations and complete their work on time, these employers might not care if their employees sit at a desk from 9 to 5 every day.

This autonomy can foster a sense of ownership and professional growth; some people do their best work at atypical hours!

A young person in a wheelchair uses their laptop in a busy cafe.

At Castle HR, we call this, ‘adulting.’

Remote Leadership Cons: Challenges of Miscommunication, Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction and Engagement

Remote work or hybrid arrangements only amplify the risk of miscommunication due to the absence of non-verbal cues.

Ensuring concise and unambiguous communication is vital to prevent misunderstandings.

Additionally, some leaders may have tried/try to micromanage their remote teams. In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom fatigue became a trendy term for a reason.

Some leaders may have (wrongly) assumed that because their teams were spared a few hours of commute time, they could attend meeting after meeting each day.

Although in the comfort of their homes, people inevitably grow tired—and even burnt out—after attending six hours of Zoom calls back-to-back. This can lead to poor performance, low productivity, and low morale.

This may be nothing more than an unpopular opinion to some, but being on camera can be draining, and many Zoom meetings could likely be summed up in briefly in an email.

This can help keep your team engaged, on track, (and sane) when working remotely.

Finally, remote teams may struggle with disconnection and disengagement.

Remote work can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of camaraderie. Interpersonal bonds sometimes (unfortunately) fail to exist in some remote work environments.

Our Advice: Work WITH Your Team And Adapt

Transitioning to remote work can be difficult for anyone, especially for leaders with decades of experience managing in-office teams. It’s only natural that a sense of disconnect and unknown comes with one’s initial remote work leadership experience. But resisting change won’t get you anywhere.

Shifting from a traditional ‘9-5’ in-office mindset (and micromanagement leadership style) is vital.

Try to adopt a more inclusive, flexible style that encourages autonomy. Asking for support and assistance from a trusted HR Professional or advisor can help with this transition.

In addition, being transparent with your team is always beneficial. As a leader, you can set a great example, and part of that is exhibiting the same behaviours and values you hope to see from each person on your team.

Team-building initiatives, virtual social events (or even the odd in-person one if most of your team resides in the same area), and recognition programs are crucial to fostering a sense of belonging.

Having fun and appreciating your team and their efforts is essential, even if you never meet them in person.

Finally, rethink strict RTO mandates.

Are Return-to-Office Mandates Necessary?

Depending on your feelings about remote work, this answer may surprise you!

Issuing strict mandates without warning, such as an RTO mandate with minimal warning, can aggravate your team and lead to a spike in turnover and/or a decrease in morale. This can tarnish your culture and possibly impact your profits, too.

An employee concerningly raises their hand in opposition toward their boss, whose arms are crossed in disagreement.

But that doesn’t mean you should avoid returning to the office altogether if it would benefit your team and business the most.

Unispace reported that of the 72% of surveyed businesses who issued RTO mandates, nearly half struggled with higher-than-expected attrition. [This was a global survey of 16,000 people].

So, what’s the solution?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ strategy to return to the office that prevents pushback or turnover; however, hybrid teams experience the best of both worlds.

Offering a hybrid work model as a solution to a team working from home for months or years is a great middle-ground for you and your employees.

Hybrid Work Model - Castle HR

So, mandates may not be necessary, nor the best course of action if you hope to retain people, but you can still ease your team back into the office if needed.

Have conversations with your team, provide adequate notice, be flexible, be transparent, and make time to hear their concerns (if any).

In addition, if you’re making your decision based on data—such as a decrease in productivity and profit while you operated remotely—share your reasoning with them.

Remember, being a flexible employer can help attract and retain top talent; if you need to return to the office, consider offering your team something to entice them to return…and make those lengthy commutes worthwhile.

(No, not just free donuts or lunch…but perhaps the ability to work from home twice a week or take flex days).

Whatever you do, don’t penalize people in the process unless you have adequate rationale to do so. Dell told their team that they’d be ineligible for raises if they didn’t return to the office. As noted earlier, most people work more efficiently and are happier with remote or hybrid arrangements. So, ask yourself, is a strict RTO mandate really necessary?

Hybrid structures are appealing because they provide teams with flexibility and autonomy while still requiring in-office interactions. This is a win for you and not a total loss for your team…especially if many of them enjoy in-person collaboration.

…It’s also an excuse to wear pants and dust off their old corporate attire, which is something many might not realize they miss!

What Does The Future of Remote Work Look Like?

Is remote work the ‘new norm’?

It depends on who you ask. Statistically, only small portions of the population still work remotely 100% of the time (20% in Canada).

For obvious reasons, this peaked at record highs during 2020-2021, with ~40% of the population working from their couches and home offices.

But just as remote work felt like a dream come true for some employees (and an easy switch for prepared employers), many struggled with it and continue to struggle.

While remote work offers flexibility, a better work-life balance, and a sense of autonomy, it can also bring severe imbalance and chaos to those who thrived (or had their company thrive) in the office.

That’s why the hybrid model gained so much traction from 2022-2024 (current). It combines in-office and remote work, offering flexibility while fostering collaboration. It addresses diverse employee needs and balances remote benefits with in-person interactions.

Employees sit in a meeting; some are at a table, others are on screens. It is a hybrid work model.

In the Remote Work and Compensation Pulse survey, 48% of employees preferred working remotely, and 44% preferred a hybrid option. As for employers,…half responded in favour of hybrid, while only 5% felt remote work was feasible.

A different study by Buffer revealed similar results: 98% of people wanted to work remotely at least some of the time.

So, it’s clear that while remote work has declined in the years following its peak, hybrid workplaces are on the rise and are preferred by the masses…employers included.

Today’s workforce and modern employers have had time to adapt to remote work. While in-person interactions are still beneficial, it’s evident that remote/hybrid work has not hindered productivity and profits. It’s led to happier, less stressed leaders and teams more likely to experience a better work-life balance.

A balanced scale with the word 'Work' on one end and 'Life' on the other.

…less stressed, happier people will be more productive and bring good energy to your workplace.

How HR Foundations Can Impact Remote and Hybrid Work

Solid HR foundations and strategies based on proven processes can go a long way regardless of your business or how you operate.

Fostering a culture, demonstrating your values, hiring the right people, investing in their growth, and understanding retention strategies can be difficult in a remote setting without the tools or support to do so.

HR foundations can help with all of this, and it’s what we do best here at Castle HR.

We put a senior HR expert in your corner on a Fractional basis to help you establish and implement these foundations and cultivate a thriving workplace – whether your team is remote, hybrid or in-office. Click here to learn about our services; there’s no hassle with Castle!

…And, your success is our success!

We often work with growing businesses that are not yet ready to make an internal HR hire and want processes established by experts who have been in their shoes.

This means we’ll take a look at your current HR landscape and, from there, help you harness the power of your HR strategies to help you foster a winning culture (this is still vital within remote environments),  learn how to attract and onboard new talent successfully, understand what steps you can take to retain them and provide you with unlimited advice along the way.

You CAN build a thriving remote/hybrid organization, but you need the right strategies in place… and it doesn’t hurt to learn from those who use proven processes and understand the ins and outs of the modern workplace.

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