Remote work was rare a decade ago. Working from home was usually available only as a special arrangement to accommodate families in specific cases. However, teleconferencing and telework technology have advanced to the point where some businesses thrive with completely remote teams.
The mass transition to remote working came about in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond preventing illness from spreading – a sick team can’t be as productive – remote work has proven beneficial in a number of ways.
Since working from home is here to stay, it’s important to know how to get the most out of remote communication technology. After all, your team can be just as effective, if not more, working from home if you have the right tools. Read ahead for a guide on the past, present and future of remote working.
A decade ago, most employers would have balked at the idea of employees regularly working from home. One major concern most employers had for working remotely was a loss of productivity. But the pandemic showed that employees could work on their own. Prodoscore, for example, reported that remote workers’ productivity increased 47 percent during the lockdown in March and April 2020, finding that communication activities such as emailing (up 57 percent), telephoning (up 230 percent) and chat messaging (up 9 percent) all climbed.
Other recent studies indicate that remote work options increase job satisfaction. Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work report found that 91 percent of survey respondents enjoyed working remotely, with flexibility listed as the biggest benefit. Additionally, in 2022, McKinsey surveyed 25,000 workers across a range of industries about their remote work experience. According to the study, seeking out flexible work environments is the third reason why people search for new jobs (better pay/hours and career opportunities are the others). Remote work is such a large priority for workers that 87 percent of the respondents said that when offered the chance to work remotely, they would take it.
Ultimately, working remotely is effective, but it has to be put into practice correctly, and it may not be the best situation for every employee or every business.
Employees are choosing to work remotely when given the option, and those who do report higher job satisfaction.
There was a time when remote work as we know it wasn’t even a possibility, because the technology didn’t exist. If your colleagues and business partners wanted to get in touch with you when you were out of the office, they couldn’t email, text or direct message you. You would’ve needed to provide an alternative phone number or email to have a work-related conversation. Even full-time “remote” positions were different from what they are today.
“Ten years ago, remote employment basically meant a telemarketing or customer service position at below minimum wage,” said Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at Centific. “It rarely was connected with a full-time career. Now, technology affords us the ability to get the same job done, no matter where in the world we are. [It has] enabled us to be in contact with co-workers or clients at any time.”
One of the most helpful technologies for seamless remote work is video conferencing. Live video feeds help out-of-office workers see and speak to one another in real time, anywhere with an internet connection, which is the next best thing to a face-to-face meeting. But this capability wouldn’t be possible without the widespread broadband internet adoption of the past 10 to 15 years.
This technology has advanced so quickly that many companies have even done away with traditional offices and instead run their businesses out of coworking spaces to accommodate their largely remote workforce.
“Shared office spaces, where remote employees can gather to work, have been created and are more widely available in different cities,” Lambert said. “This in itself represents the growing amount of remote workers in recent years.”
Remote work also presents unique opportunities in the face of a crisis, such as a natural disaster or an epidemic. As the pandemic continues, remote work options allow workers to protect public health and be part of resilient teams.
Because of these advances in communication technology and internet access, teleworking has become an accepted practice in many offices, both in the U.S. and globally. This type of work isn’t done entirely from home: Remote workers often turn to coffee shops or coworking spaces, and some even travel the world while maintaining their career goals.
“The modern workforce is increasingly mobile, collaborative [and] dynamic, and comprises multi generations, all with different communication preferences,” said Stacey Epstein, chief marketing officer at Freshworks. “These workers span multiple industries … all of who[m] represent unique challenges when it comes to staying connected while on the job.”
However, many companies continue to resist this work trend for various reasons. Some business owners may fear a lack of productivity in their employees, while others haven’t invested in teleconferencing and telework tech to support remote workers. Still, some businesses are making the necessary investments to support remote work.
In Buffer’s 2023 report, most companies paid for expenses such as hardware, office equipment and supplies, with 64 percent of respondents indicating their company provided hardware and 40 percent reporting that items like a desk and chair were also offered. Internet service was given to 28 percent of remote employees.
This is marginally better than Buffer’s 2019 report, in which 75 percent said their employers would not pay for internet service. As the desire and expectation of working remotely increase significantly every year among the workforce, companies may be more likely to support remote-friendly policies.
Adopting a remote working policy can also save companies money by removing the need for expensive office space (or satellite offices) while allowing workers the freedom to create their own schedules and work from wherever they please. It can be a win-win situation.
As more employees expect remote work options, more companies are investing in the tech and systems needed to support working from home.
While the structure of remote work may continue to evolve, this flexible business model is here to stay. Remote options may continue to grow as technological advances such as AI are able to play a major role in managing remote staff.
The transition to overseeing a remote workforce might be daunting, but with the right tech and hardworking employees, it can be a seamless process. In the long run, since many employees now expect remote work opportunities, it’s important to embrace workplace innovation.
Instead of resisting change, organizations should improve their remote work policies and capabilities. If your company is concerned about productivity and performance issues due to a companywide ability to work from home, Lambert recommends creating standard key performance indicators (KPIs) for both management and employees. This way, she said, remote team members are aware of employee expectations, and their performance can be monitored. It’s just like traditional in-office work, but from a distance.
Sean Peek contributed to this article.