Top insights and data from one of the largest remote work reports.
When some people think of the workplace of the future, they envision futuristic-style holograms having a meeting or robots cooking lunch for everyone in the office.
Increasingly, though, the workplace of the future is looking more simple — people having the flexibility to work remotely from home with teammates all around the world.
With that in mind, the question is no longer “is remote work here to stay?” It seems like remote work might even be the new normal.
The real question now is “what trends are growing across the remote work landscape?”
So, we’re digging into the data.
With three years of data from our annual State of Remote Work survey, we can start to piece together what’s becoming normal about remote work and where it might be headed in 2020.
Over 3,500 remote workers from around the world (our biggest data pool to date!) completed our survey and gave us a behind-the-scenes look into their experiences and feelings around being a remote worker.
We’ll start with an overview, and then we’ll really dig in. In the Insights section, we’ll explore the benefits and struggles that come with remote work, find out why some people don’t recommend remote work, discover how many remote workers actually choose to work in their homes, and much more.
Read on for the top stats, insights from real-life remote workers and companies, and the full set of data!
Please note: This data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s one statistic that remains unequivocal each year: remote workers almost unanimously want to continue to work remotely (at least for some of the time) for the rest of their careers.
This year, 98 percent of respondents agreed with this statement. Also, it seems that once someone gets a taste of working remotely, they tend to recommend it: 97 percent told us they would recommend remote work to others.
See charts #1 and #2:
So, most remote workers would like to keep working remotely in some capacity — but are they happy with how often they work remotely right now?
Of this group, the clear majority of respondents (57 percent) are full-time remote workers. About 27 percent of them work remotely more than half of their time, and the smallest group (18 percent) works remotely for less than half of their time.
Seventy percent indicated that they were content with the amount of time that they currently work remotely, 19 percent would like to work remotely more often, and 11 percent would like to work remotely less often.
See charts #3 and #4:
There are always challenges that come with remote work, though they vary from person to person. Over the past three years of putting out this report, we’ve seen two unique struggles remain in the top three: the difficulties with collaboration/communication, and with loneliness.
The primary benefit of remote work has remained the same for the past three years straight in our report: flexibility!
See charts #5 and #6:
When you hear “remote work,” where do you picture people working?
If you thought “in their homes,” you’d be spot on! While it seems like remote workers default to working at home (80 percent told us that’s their primary work location), a wide variety of them mix it up and work from other locations part of the time.
Only three percent of respondents primarily work from coffee shops, but 27 percent head to coffee shops as their secondary work location. Coworking spaces are another choice, although they aren’t quite as popular — it’s the primary work location for seven percent and the second choice for 12 percent.
This year, we added in “company’s office” as an option, and we discovered that the traditional office is still a key work location for many who also work remotely (25 percent said it was a primary or secondary work location for them). This makes sense, as 26.5 percent of those surveyed told us that they only work remotely 75 percent or less of the time.
See chart #7:
One thing we’ve learned over the years is that there’s a range of stances on remote work across workplaces. While fully remote companies (like us at Buffer) are the reality for 30% of respondents, many companies incorporate remote workers in a variety of ways. Some have a mix of full-time office workers and full-time remote workers (43 percent); others offer employees a certain amount of “work from home” days (nine percent) or the flexibility to work from home as needed (15 percent).
All together, over 60 percent of our respondents indicated their companies have a split between employees in an office and employees who work remotely. We’ve seen this become a growing trend in the remote work world.
See chart #8:
As we reflected on all of the numbers and stats above, we started asking ourselves some questions. Why do some people not recommend remote work to others? How often do people ideally want to work remotely? Why is communication such a big struggle when we have so many tools to help with remote communication?
In the next section of this report, we’ll dig into the answers to those questions.
One thing we were curious to find out: do people like remote work so much that they believe it would be suitable for other people as well? The results were evident — only three percent indicated that they wouldn’t recommend remote work to others (see chart #2).
The question emerged: so why aren’t these people recommending remote work?
We started by digging in and learning more about those three percent. What percentage of time do they work remotely? How are their teams set up? Could we figure out why they might not recommend this style of working?
Interestingly, 53 percent of these respondents work remotely 100 percent of the time, and 17 percent work remotely between 76 percent and 99 percent of the time (see chart #9). So, for a vast majority of these folks, they’re working most of the time remotely.
However, a slight majority of the overall group (53 percent of the people who don’t recommend remote work) work at companies where there is a mix of remote and office-based workers (see chart #10). These folks may be experiencing the communication and collaboration challenges that come with this mix of employee types, which we’ll explore in Insight #4 below.
See charts #9 and #10:
The takeaway? The majority of people who wouldn’t recommend remote work are primarily working remotely, but they’re not on a fully remote team.
This finding comes as no surprise to Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, the creators of the Meeting Owl, a smart 360° camera, microphone and speaker all-in-one. When it comes to splitting a team between remote and office-based, no matter the ratio, he says that “the challenges remain the same: ineffective communication. As an employer, it’s critical to maintain a community for all workers despite their physical location, and require manager training specific to remote workers as well as provide the latest technological advancements in digital collaboration tools across the organization.”
In the survey, we asked how much time each respondent spends working remotely (chart #3) and how happy they are with the amount of time they do (chart #4).
We were curious — is there a sweet spot, an amount of remote work time that leads to the most contentment?
The short answer? We think so!
We saw a strong correlation between people who are happy with the amount of time they work remotely, and with people who work remotely more than 75 percent of the time.
In the group of folks who are full-time remote, 82 percent of them are happy with that amount of remote work. Of the people who mostly work remotely but not fully (76 percent to 99 percent of the time), 70 percent of them feel content with that amount of time.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, when we looked at the folks who want to work remotely more often, they were the ones who spend the least amount of their time working remotely.
Eighty-two percent of respondents who work remotely less than 25 percent of the time want to work remotely more often. Half of those who work remotely 26 percent to 50 percent of the time feel the same.
Looking at it from another angle, we took a look at the respondents who worked remotely less than 25 percent of the time. A small two percent of that group want to work remotely less often than they currently do.
We can see a trend emerging here. The more time these workers spend working remotely, the more they tend to be content about it. The less time they spend working remotely, the more likely they are to want to do it more often.
For remote workers who want to increase the amount of time they spend working remotely this year, Greg Caplan, CEO of RemoteYear, a company that allows remote workers to travel while working around the world, has specific advice. When it comes to asking for more remote work time, he says, “the key to getting permission is thoughtfully and maturely presenting the business case of your ask. The best presentations include building a clear plan for how you will get your work done well as well as a clear communications plan to stay in sync every step of the way. In a remote environment, its important to over-communicate to make sure everybody is always on the same page.”
This year, we added a benefit to the list: “not having to commute.” Is anyone surprised this one made our top three this year?
Probably not, as there is much research showing that commuting is stressful and often the worst part of someone’s day. The Ford European Commuter Survey of 5,503 commuters in Barcelona, Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome found that for commuters, “the journey to work causes more stress than their actual jobs (or even the dentist).”
This aversion to commuting may also explain why remote workers overwhelmingly choose to work from home over any other space (see chart #7), and why it has remained that way in our last three State of Remote Work reports.
Along the same lines, we found that coffee shops are a popular place for remote workers to get work done — we’re guessing that these folks are heading to local coffee shops and not commuting very far!
Laurel Farrer, CEO of Distribute Consulting and Founder of the Remote Work Association, believes that not commuting is just the beginning of the impact that remote work can have, she says the benefits of remote work “are so much bigger than just convenience and work-life balance. When we eliminate commutes and empower professionals to choose their workplaces, the entire world is impacted. Carbon emissions and energy usage are dramatically reduced, transportation infrastructures are less congested and last longer, family dynamics and mental health are stronger, teams are more diverse and inclusive, the urban-rural divide shrinks, consumer debt decreases, and the list goes on. Virtual jobs aren't just changing the future of work, they're changing the future of our global society.”
As we shared earlier, we’ve seen the same top struggles emerge for remote workers over the past three years: communication, collaboration, and loneliness (see chart #6).
While this doesn’t come as a shock to us (we’re continually exploring how to iterate and improve our communication practices and minimize remote work loneliness), these are important issues for companies to acknowledge.
Why are we struggling with collaboration and communication?
In a time filled with seemingly hundreds of digital products and tools to solve the problem of remote work collaboration and communication, some people might be scratching their heads as to why this is still a top concern.
One idea could be that while we have endless tools to help remote workers better collaborate and communicate, these tools might primarily aim to support all-remote teams. As we found in our survey results, many people are starting to work remotely while their company remains office-based. If everyone on the team isn’t communicating in the same ways, the challenge remains.
Amir Salihefendić is the CEO of Doist, a company that creates tools that promote a calmer way to work and live. He says that this is a struggle for every team. “Communication and collaboration are still the core struggles as they affect every team, and [these are] things that we haven't fully figured out, even for non-remote teams.”
He goes on to explain how real-time tools can be especially challenging. "Even worse, a lot of remote teams are adopting practices that work when you work with people from the same timezone or the same office (e.g., real-time chat is an excellent example of bad practice)," he says. "In the upcoming years, I am sure we will see tools that are made from first-principles thinking and that challenge the status quo, and we'll see tools that highly optimize for remote-first teams."
Doist's tool, Twist, an asynchronous communication app, is an excellent example of leaning away from real-time conversations.
On loneliness and remote work
It’s important to note that while loneliness is consistently selected as a top struggle for remote workers in these reports, we don’t think this implies that remote work causes loneliness.
Remote workers feeling lonely is also an accurate reflection of a larger-scale societal struggle with loneliness. In the U.S., loneliness has been labeled an epidemic. In the U.K., almost one-fifth of the population has reported that they are “always or often lonely.”
In our survey, we ask four questions about specific remote-work-related expenses that companies might cover for their remote employees. The expenses are home internet bills, drinks or food while working at cafés, coworking space memberships, and cell phone bills.
For the last three years, over 70 percent of respondents have consistently selected 'No' (their companies do not cover the expense) to all of these questions. Interestingly, cell phones are the most likely to be covered, even more than the places where work gets done: the home and coworking spaces.
See charts #11, #12, #13 and #14:
This year, for the first time, we included an open-ended question asking respondents to share other expenses that their companies cover. We received many answers that fell into the categories of computers, travel, office equipment, and software.
It seems like companies are more likely to pay for the one-time expenses involved in working remotely, like setting up a home office, and less likely to pay for recurring monthly costs like home internet, cell phone, and coworking space memberships.
Sarah Ahmad is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mistro, a company helping to streamline benefits and perks for distributed teams. She believes that confusion might be the culprit of employers not paying for these expenses. “Companies often want to support their remote workers but are unsure of what to provide and how to actually administer a remote specific policy,” she says. “Even simple benefits like high-speed internet, equipment, or coworking spaces — which create an environment for productivity and engagement — are difficult to implement.”
Her advice to remote workers in this situation is to “communicate your needs to your employer. Most are quite receptive, but may lack the contextual information they need so you can perform your best.”
Since remote workers are, by definition, working (at least some of the time) in a place that is not their company office, it’s interesting to pay close attention to where remote workers are spending their time working.
We consistently see that people work primarily from their homes. In 2018, 78 percent of respondents indicated they worked mainly from home; in 2019, it was 84 percent; and this year, it is 80 percent (see chart #7).
Another consistency is that when people aren’t working from their homes, they choose to work from coffee shops.
The rise of third spaces
The remote work movement is creating a rise in popularity of what Andreas Klinger, Head of Remote at AngelList, calls “third spaces.”
The concept is that remote workers increasingly have a third space in their lives. They live at home, work from a designated workplace (our study shows that this is likely also at home), and then have a third space where they go to spend valuable time out of the house. Most likely, this is a coffee shop.
Andreas has several theories on what this means for remote workers and commercial spaces. He explained: “You have your workplace, you have your home… If those two places end up being the same spot, where do you go to decompress? Community spaces or ‘third spaces’ might be an answer to this. The next significant Starbucks competitor won't try to kick out remote workers but instead – with an adapted business model – try to lure them in.”
What about coworking spaces?
Another consistency in our reports is that coworking spaces might not be as popular as they seem to be with remote workers.
In the past three years, we haven’t seen more than nine percent of respondents claim that coworking spaces are their primary location for working. Coworking spaces were only selected by 7% of respondents as their primary work location (see chart #7), which is surprising, considering that some reports say that in the next two years there will be nearly 26,000 coworking spaces around the world. In 2018 alone, over 2,000 new coworking spaces opened their doors.
Christelle Rohaut is the CEO at Codi, a company that connects remote workers during the day with collaborative workspaces in homes nearby. She accredits the dip in remote workers choosing coworking spaces to “inaccessibility because they are clustered in downtown areas.” She believes that “the future of coworking is in people's homes because it's the most convenient and reliable option.”
With Codi, she’s seeking to combine community with convenience. “Our members can find their community, change of scenery, and stay local,” she says. “We want to make remote and distributed work a much more sustainable and enjoyable model for everyone —for employees as well as employers.”
Thank you to everyone who responded to the State of Remote Work survey and those who helped put the report together!
We’d like to give a special thank you to Frank Weishaupt, Greg Caplan, Laurel Farrer, Amir Salihefendić, Sarah Ahmad, Andreas Klinger, and Christelle Rohaut for sharing their thoughts and agreeing to being quoted in this report.
The State of Remote Work survey and report were created and published by Buffer and AngelList. If you are looking for a remote job, check out Buffer’s hiring page and over 15,000 remote-friendly jobs on AngelList.
For questions about this report or data, please reach out to Hailley Griffis at email@example.com.
Below are the full results from the 2020 State of Remote Work, broken up into sections and including demographics at the end.
3521 remote workers responded to this survey.
Remote Work Satisfaction
What percentage of your work time do you spend working remotely?
Which of the following statements best describes you:
Would you like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of your career?
Would you recommend remote work to others?
The Benefits and Struggles of Working Remotely
What’s your biggest struggle with working remotely?
What’s the biggest benefit you see to working remotely?
How much vacation time did you take in the past year?
How much vacation time does your company offer each year?
Remote Work Locations
What location do you primarily work from?
What is the second most common location that you work from?
How Companies Are Thinking About Remote Work in 2020
Business Owners: Did you always intend to support remote work?
Employees and Business Owners: What is your workplace’s stance on remote work?
Employees and Business Owners: How many full-time employees does your company have?
Employees and Business Owners: What percentage of your company works remotely?
Remote Work Expenses
Does your company pay for your home internet?
Does your company pay for your cell phone?
Does your company cover the cost of a coworking membership?
Does your company cover the cost of drinks/food at coffee shops?
Location by country
Forty-seven percent of respondents selected that they currently live in the United States, followed by Canada (5.5 percent), United Kingdom (5.2 percent) and India (4.3 percent). Other countries selected were: Spain (3.2 percent); France (2.6 percent); Germany (2.4 percent); Australia (2 percent); Portugal (1.5 percent); Poland (1.4 percent); Brazil (1.3 percent); Mexico (1.2 percent); Ukraine (1.2 percent); Russian Federadion (1.1 percent); Italy (1.1 percent); Netherlands (1 percent); and the remaining 18 percent of countries had 1 percent or fewer respondents select them as options.
Forty-one percent of those who took the survey work at organizations in software space. Other industries include: IT and Services (19.5 percent); Marketing (8.7 percent); Other (7.3 percent); Financial Services (4.6 percent); Media and Publishing (3.6 percent); Education (3.3 percent); E-commerce (3 percent); Medical and Healthcare (3 percent); Consumer products (2.3 percent); Travel and Tourism (1.6 percent); Non-profit (1.5 percent); Government (0.6 percent); and Law and Legal Services (0.6 percent).
When asked about what best describes the work they do, 34.3 percent of respondents selected Engineering, followed by 12.7 percent of respondents choosing Marketing and Advertising. Other work options include: Leadership (8.9 percent); Design (7.1 percent); Other (5.1 percent); Product (6.9 percent); Operations (6.5 percent); Customer Support (6 percent); Sales (4.1 percent); Data (3.6 percent); Human Resources (3.3 percent); and Finances (1.4 percent.)
When asked about the level that they are in their current role, 32.6 percent of respondents selected Senior level, followed by 31/1 percent selecting Professional level. The next most selected response was Management level with 18.1 percent, Executive level with 13.2 percent, and finally Entry level with 5 percent having selected it.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents chose Employee as the term that best suited them. Of the remaining respondents, 23 percent chose Freelancer/Self-employed and 10 percent chose Business owner.
Remote work experience
The respondents to this survey have worked remotely for varying amounts of time, the most popular response was “1 year to 4 years” with 42.2 percent of respondents selecting it, followed by “more than 4 years” with 33.9 percent of respondents, then “less than six months” with 12.6 percent of respondents, and finally “6 months to 11 months” with 11.3 percent of respondents.
Below is the breakdown of salary ranges for respondents in USD.