Here is a fact about remote work:
98% of remote workers want to continue to work remotely, at least for some of the time, for the rest of their careers (source: Buffer).
We recently conducted in-depth market research and startup technology innovation analysis for our Fortune Global corporate clients.
In this article, we are sharing a few select insights.
You will learn 10 essential remote working trends and 13 tools you can leverage to improve communication, collaboration, organization, and more.
Whether you work at a small or medium business, a large company, or a non-profit organization, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the state of remote working in a post COVID-19 world.
Remote Work: 10 Trends & 13 Tools [2020 Guide]
Table of Contents
What is remote working?
Remote working refers to a situation in which an employee works mainly from home and communicates with the company by email, telephone and/or online digital tools.
Remote work: 10 trends
Trend 1: Remote Working will Continue Post Pandemic
Employees want flexible work schedules and locations.
Buffer and AngelList recently uncovered that 98% of the over 3,500 global remote worker survey takers would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their career.
Another recent survey by Salesforce showed that 88% of the respondents thought flexible work schedules are important and 87% thought flexible work locations are important.
To attract talent, some employers provided work flexibility (in location and hours) as a perk even before the pandemic. The 2019 Global Talent Trends report by LinkedIn shows that in the period of 2016-2018, there was a 78% increase in job posts on LinkedIn that mentioned work flexibility.
The pandemic has forced employees across industries to work from home. This has created a massive-scale social and business experiment which would have been impossible under normal circumstances.
The result has become abundantly clear: Employers from industries which used to be less receptive to remote working are now reaping the benefits.
According to a Gartner survey of 317 CFOs and Finance leaders on March 30, 2020, 74% will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19. These financial benefits include cost saving and maintained or increased productivity (source: The Kung Group, Salesforce), which are the driving force for future remote working.
Technology readiness is another driving force for long-term remote working. With the accelerated adoption of cloud-based office software, business instant messaging and audio/video conferencing tools during the pandemic, employers have the basic tools to enable communication and collaboration for a remote team.
Trend 2: Cybersecurity Becomes a Priority
Remote users are a major vulnerability to cyberattack, according to a 2018 survey conducted by CISCO Enterprise Strategy Group.
The survey covered 450 cybersecurity, IT, and networking security professionals. 43% of respondents believe remote users are the cohort most vulnerable to attack (versus the just 20% who report that it is users at corporate locations).
Part of what makes these users vulnerable are legacy security approaches and the propensity of these users not to adhere to them. While most of the surveyed organizations had a Virtual Private Network (VPN) mandate, 43% believe that roaming users frequently circumvent VPN use while 42% avoid VPN use sometimes.
A survey from April 2020 by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) and McKinsey, that covered 27% globally active financial-services firms, has found that 33% did not have proper vendor remote-access management with multi-factor-authentication (MFA). Another survey from June 2020 by a software company Morphisec, that covered more than 800 traditional office workers from across the U.S., has shown that nearly 25% of employees working from home don’t know what security protocols are in place on their device.
For many organizations, a VPN is not even an option due to a variety of reasons.
The cybersecurity infrastructure for remote working is almost non-existent. These organizations had little choice but to rely on whatever security features that come with cloud-based tools. In fact, it was estimated by some that 90% of the employees’ remote connections are not secure (source: FortySeven, a European IT professional services and outsourcing company).
Among the subdomains of cybersecurity, identity and access management (IAM) is probably the most directly linked to employees’ day-to-day remote working.
Some of the most important trends in IAM include:
Hybrid on-premises and cloud resources
Single sign-on (SSO) for cloud services
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Biometrics is growing in enterprises, consumers, and point-of-sales
Trend 3: Tradeoff between Flexibility and Time Span is the New Work Life Balance
As we saw earlier, some benefits of remote working for employees include flexibility in location and hours.
It also involves time and cost saving from commuting. This gives individuals the possibility to arrange work in a way that accommodates personal needs. For example, taking care of children, elderly and disabled family members, attending health-related appointments, or other life essential activities.
With that being said, flexibility now comes with a blurred boundary between work and life.
The clear distinction between home and workplace has disappeared.
The start and stop time of work has become more variable.
If you’ve been starting to work from home recently, the facts below may not surprise you:
The 2020 survey by Salesforce showed that 32% of the respondents started work earlier than before and 35% of the respondents finished work later than before. This shows that at least some portion of the employees work remotely with a longer time span.
Surveys from 2017-2019 by OWL Labs showed that better work-life balance was among the top reasons for employees to work remotely.
Between 18% and 22% of the remote working survey takers from the 2019 and the 2020 survey by Buffer and AngelList reported not being able to unplug from work. Seventy-five percent of the respondents from the 2020 survey by Salesforce thought it is important for employers to reduce workload during the pandemic work-from-home.
One thing is certain:
The new work-life balance means a tradeoff between work flexibility and long work time span.
Trend 4: Remote Working is Going Mobile
The demand for work flexibility means that employees want to work when and where they choose to.
Working from a mobile device with cellular network connectivity is an inevitable trend.
Traditionally, mobile devices with cellular network connectivity have been used for work mainly for communication purposes, such as phone calls, text messages, instant messaging and emails.
The use of mobile devices for work communication has now recently expanded to audio/video conferencing for remote working.
The rapidly deploying 5G mobile network provides broader bandwidth and lower latency than the widely available 4G LTE network.
The 5G infrastructure upgrade will enable functions and tools beyond communication (such as collaboration) to be run on a mobile device in a mobile network. It will also give remote workers a choice and a change of the digital environment other than a PC. One of the key technologies is the failover between Wi-Fi network and mobile network, since it ensures network continuity as remote working is going mobile .
Trend 5: Remote Working will Improve Human Capital Management
The 2019 LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report has identified the three biggest challenges for remote working: Team bonding, collaboration, and work oversight.
Work oversight is closely related to human capital management (HCM), if not part of it.
HCM has only started to gain increasing adoption in the past decade. As discussed in our workforce empowerment article, HCM may be optimized by shifting the traditional role-defined work to skill-based and task-specialized work, and by using learning management systems.
The optimization of HCM requires employers to know employees better.
This information includes employees’ background and static skills, as well as dynamic business-related behaviors and new professional developments.
HCM is aligned with the employer’s need for work oversight and employee behavior analysis and visualization during remote working. From the employee’s point of view, HCM tools can help choose and manage tasks as well as document progress on a daily basis. This will be helpful given the previously mentioned tradeoff between work flexibility and time span.
We anticipate cloud-based HCM tools will gain wider adoption in the near future, and a few of these tools are introduced later in this article.
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Trend 6: Virtual Water-Cooler will Help with Employee Bonding
A water cooler chat/talk/conversation is when colleagues take a break from work-related tasks and discuss their hobbies, interests, news, and other things.
Many of these conversations historically took place in a break area or near a physical water cooler, creating the namesake. It has been a long-standing tradition in many countries and work cultures.
The three main characteristics of a water-cooler chat are 1) informal/casual, 2) unplanned/spontaneous, and 3) face-to-face.
Studies have shown these conversations play an essential role at work. A Ph.D. dissertation by Dr. Kristie Lynne McAlpine from 2017 provided statistical analysis to prove that informal face-to-face communication significantly and positively predicts idea generation over and above formal face-to-face communication, with this effect being primarily driven by face-to-face spontaneous work-related communication.
In general, benefits of water-cooler conversations include:
Make work meaningful and enjoyable
Build a healthy work culture
Breaks stimulate fresh ideas, collaborations and productivity
Employees practice conversational skills
Bring increased respect for management
With that being said, remote working makes it difficult to arrange such casual yet crucial information exchange in the absence of serendipitous and face-to-face interactions.
To make a virtual water-cooler happen, any video-based online platforms could do the job in theory (source: ICMA). However, it has quickly become apparent that video conferences cause fatigue and exhaustion (source: BBC, Harvard Business Review, World Economic Forum).
Instead of video conferencing tools, virtual online tools that accommodate the specific characteristics of water-coolers would greatly help with employee bonding during remote working.
For example, at Runway, our member portal provided by OfficeRnD has a simple video drop-in room feature that allows people to stop by and chat with other members and the Runway team when they feel like it, even when working from home.
By avoiding having to schedule a meeting, and having the freedom to come and go as the member pleases, it allows for more spontaneous experiences.
Trend 7: Employee Holistic Health is More Important than Ever
Holistic health is an approach to life which considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment.
It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit, with the goal of achieving maximum well-being (source: American Holistic Health Association).
However, being isolated from work colleagues and the disruption of daily living routines due to remote working can cause added anxiety, stress and strain.
This stress can occur at both physical and mental levels (source: Center for Workplace Mental Health of American Psychiatric Association (APA)).
In fact, 80% of the respondents from the 2020 Salesforce survey were somewhat concerned about their physical health. 67% were concerned about their mental health, while 34% of the respondents felt isolated.
With a blurred boundary between work and life and the potential struggle to find the balance with the tradeoff between flexibility and long time span, employee holistic health is now more important than ever.
Employers will have to do more as only 24% of the respondents from the 2020 Salesforce survey said employers provided mental health resources and only 22% responded employers expanded or improved healthcare benefits.
APA provided suggestions for both employees and employers to maintain health and well-being in remote working.
For employees, APA suggests:
Keep a regular schedule
Stay connected with family, friends and support systems
Keep immune system strong by keeping hand hygiene, getting enough sleep, eating well, keeping hydrated, and taking vitamins
Prioritize personal hygiene and limit contact with others
Exercise and stay active
Get fresh air
Limit media consumption
Set boundaries on work schedule
Engage in activities that benefit your well-being, bring you joy and distract you from existing challenges
For employers, APA suggests:
Show empathy and be available
Stay connected with communication and meeting tools
Recognize the impact of isolation and loneliness
Encourage online training
Check in with employee assistance program and health plan
In this article, we cover a few tools in this article for employee holistic health.
Trend 8: Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Issues may Arise
A lesser known trend relates to compensation and expense reimbursement issues.
Although remote working can save employees expenses such as commuting, it adds financial costs. These are usually related to office material supplies, home utility, mobile phone bills, cable network upgrade costs, and, in some cases, additional rent for a bigger home space to accommodate remote working.
These costs are transferred from employers to employees in remote working.
The legal base for compensation and expense reimbursement claims related to remote working is still to be defined.
Early signals came before the pandemic in April 2019, when the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ruled a Swiss accounting firm must compensate its remote worker an estimated monthly compensation of CHF150 for the employee’s rent (source: swissinfo.ch).
According to Ogletree Deakins labour and employment law firm, employers in California are required to reimburse employees for all “necessary” and “reasonable” expenses under California Labor Code Section 2802 and a number of court decisions. But the question is: What are necessary and reasonable expenses?
While in certain countries such as the US, employees may receive tax deduction for business-related expenses, it’s still very likely that compensation and expense reimbursement claims may arise.
Trend 9: Hybrid of On-Premises and Remote Working is the Likely Future
Although technology giants have embraced a full remote working future, the more likely scenario would be a hybrid of on-premises and remote working.
This could imply that some employees work fully remote, while other employees return to business premises. Another wider spread practice is that each employee has the option of working remotely for a certain number of days in a week.
The driving forces are clear:
Employers are more comfortable and trusting towards a portion of the employees to work remotely for a certain amount of time, as mentioned in the Gartner survey;
While a clear majority of employees are interested in working remotely long term, 61% of the respondents of the Salesforce survey also expressed missing going into the office;
The tradeoff between costs and benefits of the remote working is likely to reach an optimum with hybrid working;
The complexity of existing and new labor and employment laws and regulations may reduce the financial benefits of remote working for employers.
In fact, the Salesforce survey showed that in May 2020, 51% of respondents worked from home since the pandemic, 11% worked from home full-time, while 38% did not work from home. In August 2020, the numbers showed little change (47%, 15% and 38%, respectively).
The exact situation of the hybrid will depend on each industry, the nature of the jobs and tasks in question, countries, cultures and other factors.
As some companies find the cost of maintaining their headquarters in expensive commercial real estate is high, and unnecessary, and as their teams become more distributed, they will likely look to coworking spaces and virtual offices to fill the gap.
Coworking allows flexibility for remote workers who wish to break up the monotony of their days, or the vagaries of their home internet connections. Companies and teams will find that coworking provides space for in-person meetings and brainstorming sessions without the locked-in overhead of having a long-term office lease.
Trend 10: Automated Front Desks will Gain Further Adoption for Business Premises
Given the likely future of on-premises and remote working, another trend is the wider adoption of automated front desks.
Automated front desks are a suite of digital tools such as a sign-in app and delivery management software to help modernize the workplace with minimal physical human contact.
The following are examples of tasks that can be managed by automated front desk systems:
Pre-registration, digital visitor sign-in, automated legal document signing, compliance management, secure Wi-Fi credentials, visitor photographs, badge printing, fast and easy package logging, automated recipient notification, secure pick-up with digital signature, automatic recipient reminders (source: envoy).
This specific trend will be driven by a number of factors, including:
Reduced on-premises work for receptionists and front-desk managers;
Complexity in tracking employees and visitors in the hybrid scenario of working;
The wide use of smartphones and other mobile devices;
The need for state-of-the-art and efficient visitor management;
The need for secure access to information and physical spaces;
The need to be able to quickly contact visitors for emergency and safety reasons;
The need for enterprise branding;
A potential preventative practice of general health status verification and record keeping.
13 remote work tools
Criteria for remote work tools inclusion
It is not our goal to cover the thousands of tools available today. Here is a list of the criteria we used to determine which tools to include in this article:
Not developed or owned by a big-cap (market capitalization above US $10 billion) public company
Cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS)
Has been used by at least 1,000 human users, or 100 business entities.
Price option for under US $5/month/user
Priority given to similar tools that support language(s) other than English
All information is as of August 2020.
4 Tools for Communication and Collaboration
(Picture source: Prezi)
Cloud-based platform for making and keeping presentations (1) with a limitless zoomable canvas, (2) that shows relationships between the big picture and fine details, and (3) that can be used as the background behind presenters in video conferencing tools.
Prezi Present – Create moving, zooming presentations that grab attention and keep it.
Prezi Video – Appear right alongside the content while presenting to the audience. It works with video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Google Meet, Facebook, OBS, Tweeter, Youtube, Linkedin, Slack. It offers both live and record-to-share functions.
Prezi Design – Make stunning interactive charts, reports, maps, and infographics.
Basic – Free
Education Plus – starting at $3/month
Individual Standard – starting at $5/month
Plus – starting at $15/month
Premium – starting at $59/month
Team with 3-10 users – $600/year/member
Traction and Adoption
100+ million users worldwide
English, Español, 한국어, 日本語, Deutsch, Português, Français, Magyar and Italiano
(Picture source: Miro)
Cloud-based collaboration platform that allows managers, designers, Agile coaches, marketers, and other talented professionals to simultaneously and securely collaborate on a single digital whiteboard at a time, with features to attach files or objects to the boards including PDFs, videos and shared documents.
A fast and simple-to-use digital whiteboard built to help customers collaborate with others any time, anywhere.
Basic – Free
Team with 2+ users – $10/month/member
Business with 20+ users – $16/month/member
Enterprise with 50+ users – customer pricing
Traction and Adoption
7+ million users. 100K+ active users every week.
(Picture source: Notion)
Cloud-based all-in-one tool that helps users write, plan, collaborate, and organize their workflow and is designed for task and project management.
Team wiki – Turn tribal knowledge into easy-to-find answers.
Projects & tasks – Kanban boards, tables, lists, Customize workflow.
Notes & docs – Keep notes organized. Add any type of content.
Notion allows users the connection to Slack, the inclusion of inline LaTeX and the importation of data from other applications, such as Trello.
Personal – Free
Personal Pro – $4/month
Team – $8/month/member
Enterprise – customer pricing
Traction and Adoption
4+ million users
English, with embedded Google Translation
(Picture source: swit)
Cloud-based several-in-one platform that facilitates easy team communication with high-performance task management.
Chat & Post – Talk, share, streamline conversation
Task & Project – Focus, organize, get things done
Timeline & Workload – Visualize, manage, hit the goals
Zoom integration available
Team Basic – Free
Team Standard – $12/month/member
Enterprise Advanced – $24/month/member
Enterprise Advanced Plus – $34/month/member
Traction and Adoption
450+ business customers, 40K+ human users
3 Tools for Authentication
(Picture source: Auth0)
Cloud-based IAM platform provides login and authentication for a bevy of device types in a variety of formats, including single-sign-on, multi-factor authentication and passwordless logins, enabling third party websites to securely verify the users who access their websites.
A modern IAM platform – Universal Login, SSO, MFA, Breached Password Detection, User Management, Passwordless, Machine to Machine.
Basic with up to 7,000 active users – Free
Developer with up to 1,000 external active users – $23/month
Developer Pro with up to 500 employees – $1,020/month
Developer Pro with up to 5,000 external active users – $1,070/month
Enterprises with more complex need – custom pricing
Traction and Adoption
7,000+ enterprise customers worldwide
Czech, Danish, German, English, Spanish, Finnish, French, French (Canada), Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional)
(Picture source: OneLogin)
Cloud-based IAM platform that employs machine learning to detect high-risk login attempts and trigger additional authentication factor requests, along with providing access to web enterprise apps through a mobile device.
Workforce IAM – SSO, MFA, Advanced Directory, OneLogin Access, OneLogin Desktop, User Provisioning, SmartFactor Authentication, Vigilance AI, Mobile Identity, Virtual Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).
Advanced – $4/month/member
Professional – $8/month/member
Traction and Adoption
2,500+ business customers worldwide, ~40 million human users
English, Spanish, Danish, Italian, French, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, German, Korean, Hungarian, Malay, Marathi, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and Hindi.
(Picture source: SecureAuth)
Cloud-enabled IAM software that provides secure access for cloud, mobile, web and VPN systems, serving companies operating in the energy & utilities, financial services, healthcare, higher education, retail and government sectors.
SecureAuth® Identity Platform offers MFA, risk-based adaptive authentication, SSO, and user self-service in a single solution for hybrid, on-premises, or in the cloud identity security.
Three tier pricing, starts from $1/month/member
Traction and Adoption
100K+ individual downloads from Google Play Store
English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Russian, Korean, Dutch, Arabic, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak
3 Tools for Real-Time Employee Analysis
(Picture source: 15five)
Cloud-based software which is a research-backed performance tracker focused on forwarding growth and performance for each individual, enabling the management to monitor their employee’s performance.
Heatmapping dashboards – See how individuals and teams are feeling and quickly identify high and low areas with detailed reporting insights.
Engagement+ question bank – With more than 120 evidence-based questions, build and customize surveys to measure what’s important to the organization.
Best-Self Academy – Managers uplevel their skills and implement positive changes.
Evidence-based survey templates – Employee engagement survey templates are backed by four fields of psychological science to show a detailed view of engagement.
Basic – $7/month/member
Plus – $14/month/member
Performance – custom pricing
Traction and Adoption
2,000+ paying business customers, 5,000+ downloads from Google Play Store.
(Picture source: ActivTrak)
Employee monitoring software intended to deliver aggregated data and analytics that will quantify employees’ productivity.
User Activity Monitoring & Workforce Analytics – Dashboard, Team Productivity Pulse, Activity Reports, Activity Classification, Data Connect, Activity Logs, Real-Time User Activity, Alarms, Website Blocking, and Screenshots.
Freemium – Free
Advanced – $7.2/month/member
Traction and Adoption
7,500+ organization customers, 1,000+ downloads from Google Play Store.
(Picture source: Kazoo)
Cloud-based employee engagement platform which consolidates employee engagement initiatives into one, easy to use mobile platform for teams of all sizes through real-time recognition, meaningful rewards, and enhanced insights.
Employee Experience Platform – Continuous Performance Management with Integrated Goals and OKRs, Feedback, Check-Ins, Sync-Ups, and Talent Assessments designed to create alignment and ongoing conversations about priorities, employee performance, and development; Employee Recognition & Rewards; Employee Engagement Surveys.
Mobile & Messaging Apps, Integration with ADP, Workday, etc.
Recognition Standard – $4.5/month/member
Recognition Growth – $6/month/member
Performance Standard – $7/month/member
Performance Growth – $9/month/member
Full Platform Standard – $9.5/month/member
Full Platform Growth – $12/month/member
Enterprise – customer pricing
Traction and Adoption
600+ business customers, 10,000+ downloads from Google Play Store.
Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish
3 Tools for Employee Holistic Health
(Picture source: Sprout at Work)
A wellness engagement platform designed to boost corporate wellness and motivate employees to get active in the way they choose, showing a positive effect on employee satisfaction, recruitment and retention.
Mobile app – Health Risk Assessment, Wellbeing Portal, Reporting And Analytics, Challenges And Goals, Champion Support, Social And Gamified, Rewards And Incentives, Integration And Devices.
Traction and Adoption
10,000+ downloads from Google Play Store.
The re-signing of premier clients, combined with significant new client wins, led to a 132% increase in user growth in 2019, compared to 2018 (source: PR Newswire).
(Picture source: Wellable)
An online wellness technology platform which makes it easy for employees to track their healthy behavior, earn rewards, compete in friendly competitions, and share their success with their social network.
With dozens of connected apps and devices, the Wellable platform allows employees to engage in wellness on their terms. Whether it is to run a step challenge, a healthy eating campaign, or a mindfulness series, the platform can accommodate a variety of needs. Employees pick the apps and devices that make the most sense for their lifestyle, connect them to Wellable, and watch them automatically sync with their accounts.
Annual Full-Service – $2/month/member
Annual Self-Directed – $2.5/month/member
Single Challenge Full-Service – from $10/member
Single Challenge Self-Directed – from $500
The Wellable Challenge – from $25/member
Wellness Services – $85-$120/hour
Traction and Adoption
5,000+ downloads from Google Play Store. Unidentified number of downloads from Apple App Store. Users from 23 countries.
(Picture source: Vantage Fit)
A corporate wellness app focuses on preventive health & fitness by promoting healthier lifestyles and habits.
A mobile app with Virtual Corporate Challenges, In-app Tracker, Gamification, Incentivization, and Admin Dashboard.
Freemium for up to 100 members – Free
Premium for up to 100 members – $400/month
Enterprise for up to 100 members – $500/month
Traction and Adoption
1,000+ downloads on Google Play Store.
Written by Liyu Wang, Ph.D., Senior Researcher
Published on August 26th, 2020
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