Remote work has gone from mainstream to rushing river. While the productivity boosts of working from home are getting press, as are the skill sets required to succeed in working from home, the movement is broader and growing faster than most realize.

Besides the homebound, remote work includes employees working outside the office several days a week from multiple locations, freelancers who permanently work from a variety of locations, the co-working-space crowd, and digital nomads (whom I'll cover momentarily).

The very structure of work is changing, and companies are scrambling to keep up. An eye-opening study by Upwork among more than 1,000 hiring decision makers shows how prevalent remote work is becoming:

  • 63 percent of companies now have remote workers, yet 57 percent of companies have no remote work policies.
  • 48 percent of companies use freelancers (up from 43 a year ago), while work done by freelancers increased 168 percent.
  • 6 times more hiring managers believe agile team structures will become the norm.
  • 3 times as many believe offices will become temporary anchor points versus daily travel destinations.

In fact, hiring managers believe remote work will change the nature of work more than A.I.

A study by illuminates the varied nature of remote work, with the most common remote jobs being those in client services, business development manager, speech-language pathologist, nurse, accountant, writer, and account manager.

And the forms it takes are rapidly morphing. Enter digital nomads and intriguing companies, like Selina, that serve them. Think of Selina as a massive co-working space but housed in hip hotels, in hip locations, and stocked with everything the working nomad needs: Wi-Fi, free coffee, meeting rooms, and quiet spaces. It caters to Millennials who are marrying later, seeking experiences, wanting to travel the world, and wanting their work to accommodate.

Selina's CEO, Yoav Gery, says (edited for brevity):

Digital nomads come in two types, those dedicated to traveling and working and those in more traditional jobs (banker, lawyer, designer) who are looking for more purpose in life. Companies will recruit Millennials by saying "Come work in our offices for 10 months, but for two months, work from wherever you want. We have a deal with Selina; go travel the world."

Yes, some companies have abandoned remote work, calling employees back into the office, like Yahoo, Bank of America, and IBM.

But with the desire to leave the office behind surging and innovative approaches like Selina's proliferating, even retractors will have to reconsider. In fact, the 2018 State of Remote Work Report indicates that 90 percent of remote workers plan to keep working remotely for the rest of their career. It's not surprising, given the top reported benefits of a flexible schedule, more time with family, a more pleasant work environment, and avoidance of office politics.

The flexibility benefit, in particular, is key--but there's more than meets the eye here.

Gallup research shows that employees are 43 percent less likely to experience burnout when given a choice in how and when to complete their tasks. At the same time, however, research shows that flexibility can lead to burnout because employees feel indebted to their employer for the flexibility, and so work supremely hard to return the favor.

The flexibility conundrum is critical to figure out for both leaders and employees as remote work continues its upward trajectory.

As the Gallup research shows, the key to successfully fostering flexibility (besides managers "checking in" on remote employees) is to bake it into the culture. This means attacking some of the unwritten rules of many work cultures. Rules like:

  • Being seen at your desk assures the manager knows you're working.
  • Arriving later or leaving earlier must equal a lack of commitment.
  • Recognition/promotions go to in-office workers.
  • "Hard work" equals time on the clock versus net outcomes.
  • Critical discussions (even on career) happen in the hallways and are missed at home.

To counter this and create a culture of flexibility requires three simple things from leaders.

1. Manage by objective, not observation.

Forget "seeing is believing." Show trust--seeing them in the office isn't a prerequisite for having faith. Focus on outcomes. If the employee delivers, who cares how it's done? Which brings us to the next point.

2. Take the time to get clear on goals and expectations.

Gallup's research also showed that an astonishing 50 percent of employees don't know what's expected of them. Whether you're a leader or an employee, get clear on this front. Period. And when it comes to remote workers, "out of sight" is far more likely to mean "off the mark" without clear expectations.

3. Equip flexibility.

Give employees remote productivity and collaboration tools. Just don't overdo it, because it can crush productivity.

Remote work doesn't require remote control. Be flexible, ask for flexibility, and make the evolution of work work for everyone.