Remember that scene in the movie Back To The Future? The one where Marty speaks to his boss via a conference call in his living room? The idea of remote work has been around since the 80s. Let that sink in.
The cult movie may have predicted the emergence of tools like Skype and Zoom long before they hit the market, but it got one thing wrong. Until the start of this year, convincing your skeptical boss to let you work from home was something that required the negotiation skills of an FBI agent.
The work-from-home model, however, is nothing new. Remote workers have been quietly working from their favourite environments for years; filling up our Instragram feeds with enviable photos from co-working spaces in Bali and Thailand, along with other newly-popular digital nomad destinations.
That, after all, is the beauty of remote work. You can go pretty much wherever you want, whenever you want.
Goodbye two weeks of holiday a year, hello one long adventure!
But what makes working-from-home different to remote work?
Right now the work-from-home landscape is miserable if you’re quarantined at home. We won’t blame you if you’re getting sick of having your dog/kids/partner disturb your workflow. And we totally understand that you’d really prefer it if your bedroom wasn’t your office.
But it hasn’t always and won’t always be that way. Remote work outside of the COVID-19 situation tended to look quite different for everyone.
For some people it was living in a smaller town in their home country. Escaping the city, they skipped the commute, enjoying more time with family and a cheaper cost of living.
For others, remote work was traveling the world, laptop in their backpack. Free to roam one co-working space at a time.
Some remote workers stayed in the cities, enjoying more flexibility over their lifestyle and avoiding the dreaded morning commute.
And then, of course, there are the coffee shops that become your office for the day. And other non-lockdown experiences that ultimately compliment this lifestyle. The arsenals of remote-work life that negate all the complications of having to move a desk into your living room.
So let’s take a closer look at these arsenals of remote work
In recent years there has been an influx of companies facilitating that ever-enviable digital nomad lifestyle. Co-working spaces popped up in almost every major city in the world. Travel companies like Remote Year and Unsettled created custom tours for digital nomads. Traveling communities quickly solved the challenge of working alone.
Refuting the formerly held notion that remote work might reduce work efficacy Greg Caplan, co-founder of Remote Year, told Bustle Magazine last year that remote workers actually outperformed their in-office counterparts.
“people are the most productive when they’re stimulated and inspired by their surroundings”
With all his employees working remotely, and business booming, he was clearly on to something.
But if being a digital nomad always seemed like it was out of your grasp, the tide has turned! Frankly, there has never been a better time for remote work.
The tools of the trade
The technology currently available allows us to completely recreate the office atmosphere through our computers. Collaborative tools like Slack leverage the ability to share information. The added bonus being that you can also use it to gossip about the latest show you watched on Netflix.
But it goes much further than communication platforms. Project management tools like Trello, Asana, and Basecamp allow easier collaboration, organisation, and work allocation between teams.
And then of course video conferencing takes over from traditional meetings. Platforms like Zoom have multiple benefits such as the ability to record and re-watch meetings. And, of course, to turn off your video so you can yawn without being seen by your boss.
The point is, that the work-from-home movement has been increasing steadily… but slowly. Until the start of this year, criticism from corporations held many people back. In 2017 giant corporations like Yahoo and IBM gave heated press statements, claiming that working from home wasn’t effective.
In fact, outside of the tech industry – which has long embraced remote work – most companies tended to be reluctant to admit that working from home might be an option.
As tech companies continued to thrive and grow despite mostly hiring remote workers, other industries struggled to adapt to changing attitudes that a person’s efficacy could be measured by their work, not the physical time they spent in office.
And then, the game-changer
Enter COVID-19. Though the global pandemic has undeniably had many negative effects, it is simultaneously building opportunities. We now have new patterns of working that were simply unimaginable just a few months ago.
As companies across the world raced to roll out work-from-home policies ahead of global lockdowns, it seemed that perhaps remote work was finally getting its much awaited moment. The thing is, the working-from-home model was inevitably where we were headed anyway. The movement had been largely accelerated by two things; technology, which provides the tools to get the job done; and urbanisation, where overcrowding and pollution present the perfect counter-argument to the office work narrative.
The problem was, even though the conditions were perfect for remote work, many companies just weren’t brave enough to take that next step.
“The largest work from home experiment”
In the months following the start of the crisis, multiple newspapers began referring to this as the “largest work from home experiment ever.” It seems almost ridiculous that it took a crisis such as this one to get remote work on the global radar. But social distancing called for an immediate change, and the tech industry had been waiting with open arms for years.
Almost overnight there was a shift. Where, previously, remote work had been a matter of privilege, it became a basic right. And this right is expected to extend long past the crisis. The forum for Global Workplace Analytics predict that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of the year. That’s more than triple the amount of remote work opportunities that were available at the start of the year!
How did we even end up working in offices in the first place?
We’ve been working from offices since the late 18th Century. At the height of the industrial revolution, the labor force experienced a huge shift. The widespread growth in so many industries meant it was necessary to create spaces for increasing amounts of administrative work.
200 years later, in the early 90s, working from an office was the norm. The acceleration of computer technology changed how office work could be done.
Fast-forward to the present day and automation is steadily taking over what were traditionally the labor-heavy jobs of the working class. This means more and more of us are moving into areas of administration/middle management. And most of this work is now almost entirely done on our computers.
So why do we still work in offices then?
For several years before the pandemic, the technology we had at our fingertips was sufficient for us to switch to a remote working culture. Mentally, however, we still had some hurdles to cross. After all, human beings just don’t change as quickly as technology. In fact, studies show that we are simply hardwired to resist change.
And, of course, there are undoubtedly some positives to working in an office. Social interaction is usually the first one that comes to mind. But for many people, the negatives outweigh the positives. The World Economic Forum published a report stating that just 7% of Americans had work from home policies prior to the Covid-19 crisis. However, according to Forbes in February 72% of Americans said they’d take the opportunity to work from home if they could.
Realistically, we could have made the switch to working from home years before this. But it took an event like a global pandemic to actually get us there.
How working from home benefits us, our companies, and the environment
When it comes to remote work, the benefits to workers are usually more obvious than the benefits to everyone else. After all, if you’re choosing between:
- living in the city and spending all your money on rent
- living in the suburbs and spending all your money on transport
There surely has to be a better way!
Remote workers can expect more flexibility in their lifestyle. With no location tying them down, they can work from a beach in Barbados, or a ski resort in Switzerland, it doesn’t really matter as long as they get the job done.
And then there’s the social life. It’s a common misconception that remote workers don’t have opportunities to socialise. Whether you’re spending more time with your family because you’ve cut out your commute, snuggling your cat whilst typing up a monthly report, or meeting like-minded creatives in your local co-working space; there are plenty of opportunities to get social.
In general, as a remote worker, you’ll simply have more time and more flexibility to create the life that you want.
On the other hand, companies who hire remote workers gain access to a wider talent pool, and enjoy reduced costs of hiring. Remote workers are also reportedly happier, more productive, and less likely to quit. When you add to that the environmental benefits such as reduced traffic, decreased pollution, and the minimisation of paper and plastic use, for example, you get a win-win-win.
Is your company embracing a mutually beneficial remote culture?
With all those benefits, you’d expect all companies to to continue with remote work post-lockdown. But not all companies are able to leverage the benefits of remote work. This, in many cases is due to an inability to truly adapt to the virtual environment.
To be successful, it is essential that remote companies foster a strong workplace culture. Employees also need clear KPIs. And implementing a feasible internal communications strategy (such as daily scrums) are key to the continued success of remote companies.
The benefits to companies that do make the switch, are manifold. The Global workplace Analytics forum claims that a company can save $11,000 per employee per year by hiring remotely. Try presenting that figure to the next boss who questions your remote motives!
So if you want to delve further into remote work, Covid-19 has just handed you the golden ticket to that lifestyle. The work-from-home stigma has been lifted, and there’s a new wave of companies embracing it like never before.
If your boss ever told you “it would be impossible to work from home,” then Covid can re-open that conversation. And if your boss still says no? Head on over to our job board, which is currently overflowing with new remote work opportunities! No office. A flexible structure. The opportunity to travel to whenever and wherever you want.
Your dream life is waiting. Thanks Covid!