You’ve heard about it, that’s for sure. But you may not know exactly what it means or what it entails or you’re honestly just confused by what people mean when they say they work remotely. The truth is that there really is no universal definition for the concept of ‘remote work’. There are different interpretations and different extents to which you can work remotely. If we look in a dictionary, it gives a simple definition for ‘remote’ as something that is distance in space and time. So in that sense a lot can be considered to be remote work.
So, is it another word for outsourcing work to a different company or country? Nope, that’s definitely not what it is. Is it working from home sometimes? Yes, it sure can be. Is it what those travelling millennials do? You know, the ones that don’t have a fixed home and just work here and there and anywhere? Yeah, you could classify them as remote workers too. You see, it’s not black or white, but rather every colour in between. Let us break it down for you.
A brief history
Technology has boomed unimaginably during the last two decades, to a point where it’s taking over jobs and industries; we’ve all seen that happening. Whereas people during the industrial revolution were needed at all times in the factories to build cars, most of that work is now automated and done by machines. It’s kind of daunting that computers and machines are outsmarting us. But at the same time, this digital magic has also brought us many many blessings too. Let’s be honest, smartphones and laptops have made our lives a whole lot easier. Name three people that don’t own a laptop or smartphone – and no, your grandparents don’t count! And even they are catching up. Hard, right? It’s true that it comes at a price, technology causes people to lose their job, but we can’t forget that it also creates new jobs and new ways of doing work. It can improve the quality of life drastically. For example, we can now work remotely. Bye bye office life?
Although it seems like remote work has only increased in popularity over the last couple of years, it’s been around for much longer. Yahoo, for example, promoted remote work already in the 1980s. Let’s have a brief history class. Messenger and Gschwind, two researchers (1), found that there are three generations in the evolution of remote work: the home office, the mobile office and the virtual office. The first wave of remote work, also called telework at the time, was telecommuting. The word gives it away: the focus was on reducing the commuting time. Instead of going to the office, the employee could just stay at home. How you may ask? That would be thanks to the rise of telecommunication tools and the fast dispersion of the Internet and the WWW. Did you know the first prototype of the internet was already created in the late 1960s? Why use pen and paper anymore when you can send an email, right? At this stage, the home office was still stationary; you were still connected to all the wires and you couldn’t really go anywhere.
Thank god for the revolution of digital technology! Computers and tablets did not only become smaller and lighter – which was very welcome considering how big and bulky they used to be – they became wireless as well. Workers became mobile, they weren’t stuck anymore at their home desk and could actually take a phone call while going for a walk or while being on the toilet. How convenient. It basically meant they could work in different locations now and they weren’t just restricted to their homes.
Everything went really fast from that point on; the internet exploded and introduced the final office, the virtual office. As Makimoto and Manners (2) predicted in their popular book ‘Digital Nomad’ from 1997(!) “work is neither here nor there, but rather constantly on the move.” The biggest change? That information is now stored in clouds and networks and it only needs a device to be accessed. That’s probably also the reason why telework should be called remote work from now on. Telework is old-fashioned and outdated; we don’t do stationary computers and fixed telephones anymore. So for those who love definitions, here is one for remote work that pretty much covers it all (3):
“Remote work is work that is completed anywhere and at any time regardless of the location and to the widening use of technology.”
(Grant, Spurgeon and Wallace, 2013)
When does one work remotely?
Okay, we have now deepened our historic knowledge and found a definition of remote work, but we’re still not clear on when we can use the term remote work. Like we mentioned before, it’s a bit vague. Basically, people interpret remote work differently – for some companies it means having telework programs in place that allow employees to work from home a couple of days a week; for other companies it means having a few people work remotely, but have most employees work in the office; then there are companies with fully distributed teams that are scattered all around the world (and across different time zones) and there is also a group of people that work from anywhere as a freelancer or solo-entrepreneur and travel the world (they’re probably working from their laptop on a tropical beach in Bali, sipping on a coconut – not the best idea though, your laptop will 100% overheat, talking from experience here.) All these examples can be put on the spectrum of remote work, after all, it simply means work is done with a distance in space and time.
Why is remote a good thing?
What we do know for sure is that remote is the future, in all its forms – from working from home to working from the jungle of Costa Rica (as long as you have Wi-Fi that is). Obviously there are some jobs and industries that will always require the physical presence of the employee; a doctor can’t perform a surgery from a distance. However, would we be surprised if one day a robot does this job? Nevertheless, it’s in every company’s greatest interest to at least try to get some sort of remote work options implemented. Why’s that? Well, for many reasons, but also because it’s what most people – read: most millennials – want. Older generations generally – not all of them though – seem to want to stick to offices, but since millennials are our current and future workforce we can’t ignore what they look for in a company. Many studies show that flexible work options are one of the main criteria when they look for a job. We all know millennials do not shy away from changing jobs as fast as lightning if they’re not content or don’t feel satisfied in a job. So if you’re a company and you prefer not to have anything to do with remote work, you might want to reconsider that.
To those that don’t see why this would be a good thing. Think about it. There are many benefits to remote work. Sure our environment would appreciate less CO2 emissions, because we stop commuting. Our bodies and mental health will be grateful too once we can banish that awful commuting lifestyle. Just have a look at the countless studies done on the negative effects that commuting has on our health. Some studies even say that long commutes are bad for marriage and cause more people to get a divorce (4), like really? And a better environment and improved health are only the tip of the iceberg, there are so many more benefits to remote work, but we’ll get into that in a next article.
How can DailyBot help?
Remember Yahoo being one of the first companies with telecommuting programs? Well, in 2013 they decided to call their employees back to the office and get rid of the programs, because they assumed physical presence was still the key to collaboration and creativity. Maybe they were doing it wrong? Debatable. And can you really blame them? It seems logic that it’s easier for a small start-up team of 25 people to work remotely than it is for a company with over 1000 employees. It’s true that remote work is probably not for everyone or every company. Adopting remote policies and practices ain’t easy. It takes time, commitment and engagement and the bigger the team, the more likely it is you will have employees that resist and can’t deal with the change. Nothing is impossible though…
Most distributed teams have to deal with different time zones. And a lot of these companies also don’t have fixed working hours. They’re bad for business and for the employees. Why force your best people to work in the morning when they’re most productive at night? This means that employees are working at very different hours. You may find it hard to believe that this works, but it works. And we’re not the only ones doing it. Do some research and you’ll find tons of inspiring companies with distributed teams and it works for them too. What’s the secret? We can only speak on what works for us, but we’re pretty sure good communication and the right practices and policies are key. Once you get that right, you’re on the right track.
This is where DailyBot could come in handy. This tool runs asynchronous standup meetings. This way you can get a daily update from every team member regardless of their time zone to see what everyone is up to and without wasting valuable time. DailyBot is a great first step in setting up the right communication practices in a remote team.
Learn more on: https://www.dailybot.co
We hope this helped you gain a little clarity and more understanding on the concept of remote work. Whatever your feelings are towards the idea, just remember that it’ll be a huge part of the future, so be ready!
Credit where credit's due - Resources used:
(1) Messenger, J.C. and Gschwind, L. (2016) ‘Three generations of Telework: New ICTs and the (R)evolution from Home Office to Virtual Office’, New Technology, Work and Employment, 31(3), pp. 195-208. doi: 10.1111/ntwe.12073.
(2) Makimoto, T. and Manners, D. (1997) Digital Nomad. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
(3) Grant, C.A., Wallace, L.M. and Spurgeon, P.C. (2013) ‘An exploration of the psychological factors affecting remote e-worker’s job effectiveness, well-being and work-life balance’, Employee Relations, 35(5), pp. 527-546. doi: 10.1108/ER-08-2012-0059.
(4) Martin, R. (2011) ‘Long commutes 'bad for marriage': Swedish study’, The Local, 24 May. Available at: https://www.thelocal.se/20110524/33966.