Remote work is the habit of someone performing their job from home or another location that isn’t owned or managed by the company for which they work. Although remote work isn’t yet possible for every job (retail and service roles, for example), it’s realistic for many industries, even ones that wouldn’t have considered remote work just decades ago. It requires dedication, focus, and creativity to enable team-wide communication and collaboration and accomplish company goals. Technology‘s influence and increase over the past decades have provided a way for remote work to become not only commonplace but also a better solution for many businesses.
Other common terms for working remotely include telecommuting and telework.
History of remote work
Initially, most work used to be from one’s home. In ancient and medieval times, people performed their craft or job in their tent, house, or yard. Just a few exceptions to that rule include soldiers, salesmen (who took their wares to markets), shepherds, laborers, and public service providers (those who built roads or buildings, for example). But often, politicians, seamstresses, shopkeepers, artisans, and farmers more or less worked from their homes.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the rise of factories that going to a designated workplace for a set period of time became commonplace. And “going to work” didn’t become the overwhelming standard until the 1900s.
In the 1970s, the concept of remote work was presented as a way of protecting the ecosystem. Less driving would mean less pollution and therefore better environment protection. IBM was one of the first corporations to develop a partially remote workforce: they tried it in the late 70s, and by the 1980s, thousands of their employees began working remotely. The government made laws about all federal employees being enabled to work from home starting in 2004. Though working from home has long been viewed as something that mostly freelancers do, it’s become much more common for full-time, salaried employees, especially in the 21st century.
The official launch of remote workforces worldwide
Remote workplace trends increased throughout the 2010s. Many companies fully planned to increase their remote workforce and be open to hiring more remote employees. But March 2020 marked the overwhelming adoption of remote business. When the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases, and the dangers of swift infection, unexpectedly demanded that people no longer be around each other, employees had to leave the office. At this point, even companies that didn’t have remote workers at all had no choice but to move their businesses to the home. Managers discovered both remote work’s benefits and its downsides.
Benefits of remote work
Working remotely isn’t everyone’s favorite option; some employees actually prefer the focused environment of the office, having a change of scene, and separating their home and work spaces entirely. But many employees benefited tremendously from the advantages of working from home. Here are just a few of those benefits:
- Flexibility: employees don’t necessarily have to operate on a strict office schedule, though employers likely set some sort of schedule and expect their workers to be present at certain times. But overall, workers can fit in making a quick lunch, running to a daytime appointment, or taking care of children. And if they have to catch up on missed time, they can easily fit in an extra hour of work, because they’re at home and don’t have to leave the office. Simple and flexible.
- Environment: granted, working remotely can be challenging if employees don’t have the right setup and equipment. But taking the time to set up an appealing workspace empowers employees to decide exactly how they want their environment to be.
- Focus: directly tied to environment, increased focus may come from being alone rather than around twenty other office workers, from being able to play classical music all day, or simply from being able to change the thermostat whenever they want. But employees are more likely to be successful if they’re using their own personalized habits that induce productivity.
Remote work did develop a stereotype at some point in the late twentieth century. Employers worried that their employees would be unproductive and lazy without managers there to look over their shoulder. That idea has its roots in the long-held assumption that employees need someone in control constantly observing their work, a concept that gained traction in the nineteenth century when overseers controlled workers who were enslaved and factory managers stalked around watching overworked employees. For many businesses, especially those that commit to hiring hardworking and skilled employees, having a slightly more hands-off policy may be a much healthier option. Many successful companies with satisfied workers still expect transparency and accountability, but they accomplish this through performance reviews and a focus on goals rather than hourly observation and check-ins.
Yes, remote work is extremely beneficial for millions of workers. It’s provided a way for many businesses to stay afloat in a global pandemic. But it does have some downsides, and one of the main ones is security concerns. This doesn’t have to be an absolute downside, certainly—it just requires a lot of focus, work, and training to go from a liability to just a policy.
Corporate security struggles to keep up with the development of technology. Cybercrimes and social engineering have advanced rapidly, and businesses are chasing network security standards. Having a remote workforce makes security more difficult because employees and their devices are spread more broadly. Attackers have more avenues to access a corporate network simply because that network is now accessed at so many endpoints.
To secure their networks, companies employ the following strategies at the least:
- Multi-factor authentication
- Password policies
- Device policies
- Virtual private networks
- Edge and endpoint security solutions
Heavy focus on technology
Workplaces have been relying heavily on technology for years, but having a fully functional remote team means relying pretty much entirely on devices, network connections, and software. Employees need, at the least, a reliable Internet connection and a home network that supports a certain amount of bandwidth (for whatever their job requires, which varies). To have a successful and productive work environment, companies also need communication and collaboration tools so that workers can actually work together on projects and stay informed.
A few applications that are notable for enabling good remote collaboration are:
- Slack — this communication software isn’t just for chatting with your coworkers; it also integrates with a lot of other applications, allowing employees to share documents, spreadsheets, videos, and project management schedules.
- Zoom — it enables video conferencing with many additional features that are highly practical for having remote company meetings that actually feel relevant and personal.
- Google Workspace — you probably know it as the G Suite, but Google’s cloud-based software for sharing work throughout an organization is incredibly helpful for organizations that constantly need to collaborate on documents, sheets, and presentations.