At Work

1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely in 2021, Upwork survey reveals

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Key Points
  • 1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely in 2021, according to Upwork's "Future of Workforce Pulse Report" released on Tuesday.
  • By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels, the study revealed.
  • Now that employers are more comfortable with remote work they are more likely to tap freelancers to fill talent gaps.
Parents work from home with their two sons due to the coronavirus outbreak in Paris in 2020.
Xavier Laine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to Upwork's "Future of Workforce Pulse Report" released on Tuesday.

"Our research shows the long-lasting impact that remote work and Covid-19 are likely to have on how hiring managers think about their organizations," says Upwork chief economist, Adam Ozimek. "As businesses adapt and learn from this remote work experiment, many are altering their long-term plans to accommodate this way of working."

"What's interesting is that remote work is getting better for the vast majority of companies as they adapt to the new model," Ozimek said. "Only 5% of respondents of the survey said it was getting worse."

That is to be expected, according to Ozimek, since companies and their employees had a big learning curve. "They were thrown into a whole new experiment when the pandemic began. Companies had to figure out the best technology to use for their remote workers, and employees had to figure out the best way to work at home and be efficient."

The Upwork study surveyed 1,000 small business owners, HR managers and CEOs across a wide spectrum of industries nationwide. It was conducted from Oct. 21 to Nov. 7.

The survey comes at a time when remote work is increasingly a mainstay of American professional life, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the sudden shift to remote work has been an adjustment, the survey finds hiring managers are seeing the positive benefits to a distributed workforce and plan to continue leveraging remote talent. Key findings reveal:

Companies continue to be remote: Nine months into the pandemic, 41.8% of the American workforce remains fully remote.

Source: Upwork's Future of Workforce Pulse Report

 ● Remote work will continue through 2021: Managers believe that 26.7% of the workforce will be fully remote in one year, suggesting that individuals will gradually continue to return to the office, but a significant share will remain remote in the near future.

Source: Upwork's Future of Workforce Pulse Report

 ● Companies say remote work is getting easier, not harder, as time goes on: 68% of hiring managers say remote work is going more smoothly now than when their company first made the shift at the start of the pandemic.

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 ● Increased productivity and flexibility continue to be key benefits of remote work: 70% of hiring managers cite reduction of non-essential meetings, 60% cite increased schedule flexibility, and 54% cite no commute as aspects of remote work that have worked better than expected.

The rise in freelancing

Another key trend emerging from the shifting workforce that the survey revealed is that organizations are facing a talent shortage. It noted that 58% of hiring managers feel stretched to capacity with limited HR resources and support, and 61% of teams lack people or skills to complete their work, resulting in 52% of teams at companies having to delay or cancel projects.

"Now that employers are more comfortable with remote work they are more adapt to tap freelancers to fill talent gaps," Ozimek said. "Companies in many sectors are facing fast-moving challenges in this digital economy and they have to scale quickly in a way they may have not done before. That's where hiring freelance talent comes in."