The transition to remote work was jarring during the coronavirus pandemic
The next phase of remote work will transform economies, as more companies revise their policies to accommodate employees who have permanently shifted to working remotely, and more workers move to places they’ve always wanted to live but couldn’t.
Ozimek and the team at Upwork have conducted surveys on remote work since the pandemic’s start, and his outlook is based partly on those results. He predicts that remote-first startups will figure out new ways of working asynchronously, making fully-remote work more manageable than the version we use today. And he expects economic geography to shift in big ways, with workers free to live wherever they want to—from hometowns to ski towns—instead of wherever they work. Quartz spoke to Ozimek about what the next iteration of remote work could look like. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Adam Ozimek: The number one thing that’s happened is that a lot of businesses and a lot of workers have found that remote work works better than they thought. You can see this in surveys of workers, you can see it in surveys of employers—basically everyone has figured out that this way of working is a lot more productive than they thought. There are a lot of important benefits to this way of working, and it makes sense as a longstanding change not just a short-term adaptation for a lot of roles.
Why do you call remote work a “general purpose technology,” a term economists use for inventions like electricity or the internet?
It’s a general purpose technology because it’s going to have a lot of really big spillovers. It’s more than just about allowing two people to work together remotely—it’s going to have implications for all sorts of changes at the firm level. We’re in the early stages.
What are some of the areas you expect to change?
I think it’s important to be very humble about it and say we don’t know what all these changes are going to look like. But when you’re fully remote, that allows you to do some parts of your business outside the firm. For example, you can use remote freelancing or outside services. You can utilize freelancing platforms where you can see everyone’s past work and you know the ratings those freelancers received from previous clients. And as a freelancer, you can connect with clients all over the world who don’t know you personally, because they can see what you’ve done. These platforms already existed, but comfort with remote work will help to unlock their potential.