A growing number of American professionals plan to be away from an office entirely over the next five years, signaling a permanent change in the workplace and greater use of freelancers by businesses.
A survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers finds 40.7 million Americans plan to work remotely by 2026, nearly 28% of those surveyed, according to a report by independent online company Upwork Inc. That’s 4.5 million more than in a previous survey in the third quarter of 2020 – and about 21 million above pre-pandemic levels.
More than half of companies say remote working has increased their willingness to hire freelancers, according to the new survey conducted in June and July.
The results are consistent with other research showing that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to concert employment. There will be 86.5 million freelancers by 2027, or 50% of the total workforce, according to Statista data.
The use of freelancers can further sever relationships between employers and workers, leading to profound changes in the labor market. This will put some workers in a more precarious position in terms of job security – and access to healthcare. For companies, this could mean more flexibility but also less loyal workers with long experience in their company.
A recent Microsoft study found that working remotely reduced the time its employees spent collaborating between internal departments.
Employees added connections within their existing groups, but looked for fewer new ones elsewhere in the company, Microsoft researchers wrote in a blog post.
The Upwork report comes to a different conclusion, finding that working remotely has improved collaboration. The widespread use of video communications software such as Zoom over the past year and a half has made it easier for companies to hire outside workers to participate in projects, according to Upwork.
“Already, the data is showing fallout in management practices and signs that companies are increasingly able to collaborate with people outside the company with greater ease,” said the chief economist of ‘Upwork, Adam Ozimek, in report. “While much remains to be seen, the case for remote working as a driver of productivity in the future is strong. “