8 Key Remote Work Trends for 2021-2023

by Josh Howarth - September 20, 2021

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2020 was a transformative year for remote work.

Based on Gartner research, 48% of employees will work remotely at least partially post COVID-19.

(Compared to only 30% before the pandemic.)

With such fundamental change to workplaces, let’s take a look at 8 important remote work trends for 2021-2023.

1. Mass adoption of remote work

In 2020 remote work went from a Silicon Valley perk to a necessity for many companies.

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Search volume for work from home (“WFH”) has increased by 775% over the last 2 years.

And this wasn’t a temporary shift.

The pandemic changed long-term expectations of where and how people work.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 54% of U.S. employees would prefer to continue teleworking after the pandemic is over.

And according to a Gallup report, 6 in 10 managers will allow their employees to work remotely more frequently than they did before lockdowns began.

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One survey found that 60% of managers plan to support increased remote working for their employees.

A McKinsey survey of corporate business leaders, 38% of respondents believe their employees will work more than two days a week remotely after COVID-19, (compared with 22% before the pandemic).

All of this data suggests that a hybrid or 100% remote work model may start to become the norm over the next few years.

2. Greater attention to employee well-being

In a Deloitte survey, corporate executives named “improving employee well-being” as one of the important priorities that they hope to achieve in the next 1 to 3 years.

undefinedSearch interest in employee well-being has increased by 237% over the last 5 years.

And workers prioritize employee well-being as the 3rd highest priority in work transformation efforts over the next few years.

Similar findings are reported in a Willis Towers Watson’s report, which cites employee well-being as one of the 6 key themes on the agenda for HR leadership in 2021 (the importance of which was further accelerated by the pandemic).

According to a Buffer survey, remote workers particulaly report increased feelings of loneliness. 

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A study by Buffer found that loneliness is a common downside to working remotely full-time.

Remote workers also stated that they struggle to “unplug” after work. Others state that working remotely makes maintaining a work-life balance more difficult.

And a Slack report found that both experienced and new remote workers struggle to experience a sense of belonging at work.

To tackle these types of remote work challenges, corporate wellness efforts are commonly focused on mental health and meditation.

According to Pitchbook data, VC funding of US mental health startups grew from $1.06 billion in 2019 to $1.37 billion in the first nine months of 2020 alone.

Many companies are on board with meditation apps such as Headspace, which reportedly has 600 businesses (including Google, LinkedIn, and Adobe) among its customers.

undefinedChart showing Google search growth for "Headspace" since 2017.

So while remote work has several advantages (like a lack of commuting and the ability for flexible work times), organizations of all sizes are learning to figure out how to maintain the health and well-being of their remote staffs.

3. Freelance platforms gain traction

As companies begin to assemble a remote workforce, they're increasingly turning to freelance platforms.

This comes at the same time that millions of people are seeking out remote freelance work for the first time.

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Google search growth for "freelancing" since 2017.

(Upwork data shows that the number of Americans that freelance has increased from 53 million in 2014 to 59 million last year).

According to Harvard Business School research, nearly half of senior corporate executives expect their usage of digital talent platforms to increase substantially in the future.

Also, almost 90% of business leaders consider remote talent platforms important to their organization's future competitive advantage.

Which is leading to the surging growth of platforms that offer access to skilled remote talent.

Back in 2014, there were roughly 190 freelance platform companies (with an investment of approx. $600 million).

This number quickly grew to 330 companies. And investment in this space has now reached over $1.9 billion.

(This represents a 75% growth in the number of freelance companies since 2014).

Some of the leading digital freelancing platforms include Fiverr and Upwork. Both of which are now publicly traded companies.

undefinedSearch growth for Fiverr over the last 5 years.

Fiverr and Upwork have a combined market cap of over $13.5 billion (compared with less than $2 billion in 2019), based on YCharts data.

The freelance platform market may have a few giants (like Fiverr).

However, there’s still plenty of interest in the space from VCs.

That’s because many emerging freelance platform players have viable business models, solid go-to-market fit, or specific features that separate them from the Upworks of the world.

A recent example of VC funding in the space includes startup Catalant which offers a talent marketplace of expert consultants on demand.

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Catalant is one of many niche freelance marketplaces with significant VC backing.

The startup raised $35 million in Series E earlier in 2020, which has brought their total funding to over $110 million.

4. Increased use of video-based communication

2020 was the year that “Zoom” went from a company name to part of our everyday vocabulary.

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Search interest in Zoom has experienced explosive growth over the last 5 years.

In fact, the New York Times named Zoom as one of the phrases that defined 2020.

In particular, Zoom went from having 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to over 300 million in April 2020.

However, Zoom isn’t the only company in the workplace video conferencing space.

And many are attempting to take market share away from Zoom in the video call space.

Loom, a platform for sending video recordings, recently raised close to $130 million in Series C funding (with a reported valuation of $350 million).

Another player in the space is the recently-launched Loop Team.  

Loop Team is specifically to help remote teams to keep tabs on each everyone’s activity, meet via video chat, and receive important status updates.

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At a high-level their platform attempts to replicate team members working “side-by-side” in a physical office space.

Loop Team raised their first seed funding for $4.7 million led by Eniac Ventures.

Will the exponential growth for video-based communication continue?

Gartner predicted that spending on video conferencing would likely fade during the course of this year.

Largely due to the mass adoption of video conferencing platforms.

Yet at the same time, it’s expected that in 2024 in-person meetings will account for just 25% of enterprise meetings (a decrease from 60% prior to COVID-19).

Which signals that there’s significant room for growth in the video conferencing software space.

Tools like Bluejeans, Whereby and others facilitating communication over video can expect an upward trend in usage during this transition period.

undefinedSearches for “Whereby” since 2017.

5. Growing importance of cybersecurity

According to the global Cisco survey of organizations, 85% of respondents say that cybersecurity is more important now than before the pandemic.

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Search interest for cybersecurity has increased by 177% over the past 5 years.

What's more, many organizations weren't fully ready for remote work transition.

An EY poll found that the majority (71%) of respondents reported that remote work support was their most significant security challenge within their organization.

There’s a noticeable shift in cybersecurity teams' perceived importance now that remote work is starting to go mainstream.

70% of boards believe there will be increased importance of cybersecurity (compared to only 43% of boards pre-COVID-19).

With over 1,300 startups in the field, cybersecurity may be a somewhat saturated market.

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With remote work partly driving demand for cybersecurity solutions, a growing number of startups are launching to meet that demand.

However, funding with “Smart Money” participation in IT security startups reached an all-time high of $11.5 billion this year.

6. Rise of collaboration tools for remote teams

Based on a BCG survey, employees state that they struggle to maintain productivity levels on group projects when working in a home office.

(Interestingly, employees in that survey stated that they find individual and managerial tasks easier to do while working remotely.)

With employees working remotely now more than ever, software designed to enhance the collaboration of distributed teams is quickly gaining momentum.

For example, the remote work collaboration platform DingTalk developed by tech giant Alibaba is growing in popularity.

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Searches for Dingtalk have grown 7800% over the last 5 years. 

One of the growing subcategories includes the online whiteboard software market. Some of the examples in it include Conceptboard, MURAL, Miro.

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Google searches for “Conceptboard” has surged over the last 2 years.

Miro offers an online collaborative whiteboard platform and raised $50 million in Series B funding in April 2020.

Another startup in the space, MURAL, is focusing on facilitating visual collaboration at work.

MURAL raised a $50 million funding round in July 2021.

7. Virtual interviews gain widespread acceptance

Since the start of the pandemic, companies have embraced virtual technology for conducting job interviews.

Based on Gartner poll results, 86% of organizations have switched to virtual recruiting due to concerns about COVID-19.

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Search volume for "remote recruitment" has significantly increased over the last 5 years.

But this shift to virtual recruiting and interviewing doesn't seem to be a hindrance.

In fact, many business leaders are reportedly satisfied with the remote hiring process. Some have even maintained pre-pandemic interview success levels.

Many leaders expect that some of their recruiting operations will continue in a virtual environment post-pandemic.

That’s because hiring managers note that online interviews have simplified logistics, reduce costs and shorten process times compared to in-person interviews.

Candidates themselves also seem to see virtual interviews in a positive light.

According to RecRight survey findings, over 80% of candidates report satisfaction with video interviewing methods as a part of their recruitment process.

As of September 2021, there are over 170 products in the video interviewing software category in Capterra.

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We're seeing a growing number of video interview SaaS startups launching.

That number will likely grow with further adoption of video-based technology for remote interviewing.

An example of it includes Sydney-based startup myInterview, which offers a video screening platform for recruiters. The startup raised a $5 million seed round last year.

This trend goes beyond interviews. Nearly every step of the hiring process (including recruiting and onboarding) will likely remain digital-first moving forward.

8. Explosive growth of virtual team building

Based on a McKinsey study, company culture is key to an organization’s success.

The report found that a strong company culture strongly correlates with performance and enhanced company agility.

And, thanks to the growth of remote work, companies are now shifting their team building activities online.

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Search interest in "virtual team building" skyrocketed in the beginning of 2020 and haven't dropped too dramatically since then.

According to a Grand View Research report, the virtual events industry is forecasted to achieve a robust CAGR of more than 20% between 2020-2027.

Corporate spending on virtual events are due to make up a sizable part of this growing pie, including team building activities.

VCs are starting to fund virtual event platforms, including those that focus on or have features for team building.

In November 2020, London-based startup Hopin raised $125 million at a valuation of over $2.1 billion marking it as a unicorn.

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Searches for “Hopin” over the last 5 years.

Another example in this category, New York-based startup Bizzabo, which provides a platform for hosting remote and in-person events, raised $138 million in its latest funding round.

Billion-dollar startups aren’t the only growing companies in the virtual team building space.

Smaller, niche products aiming to connect remote employees are on the rise too.

For example, Gatherround provides video-guided conversation games to connect remote employees and foster company culture.

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Gatheround is an example of a team collaboration startup designed for a focused use case.

Conclusion

That’s it for our list of 8 trends set to define the future of remote work.

Last year introduced the advantages, challenges and opportunities of remote work to millions of individuals and businesses.

And we can expect more change and adoption of remote work into late 2021 and beyond.

Written By
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.
548 Market St. Suite 95149
San Francisco, California
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