In a post-pandemic age, remote working is the future. But where did it begin? Probably a bit further back than you think. Here’s the history of remote work.
While the rise of the digital age and the popularity of the #workfromwherever and #digitalnomad trends, remote working has seen a tremendous amount of exposure in recent years. Yet, working from home is far from a new concept.
In fact, long before the dawning of the internet, people were plying their trade in their homes. The notion of collectives of workers gathering en masse to complete work together, for any reason other than waging war and treating illness and injury (usually caused by the waging of wars), didn’t truly occur until the industrial revolution.
Society underwent a huge paradigm shift that saw the “norm” transition from a world of isolated workers, each peddling their skills and wares from their individual residences, to something more akin to the rat race we’re familiar with. Designated office spaces and daily commutes were born.
Then the digital age happened, and another paradigm shift occurred. When the internet was invented in the early 1980s, workers had already been making use of UNIX and DOS for years. Creating a system linking networks that already existed opened up a whole new world in connectivity, and with it, alternative ways of working.
So when did remote working really start, and how did it become what we know today, as we move into a post-pandemic age?
Where It Started: A History of Telework #
Before the days of Skype and Zoom calls, a NASA engineer by the name of Jack Nilles laid the foundation for modern remote working for monitoring and evaluation experts when he coined the term “telecommuting” in 1973. Long before modern remote working came into play at the turn of the millennium, limited numbers of workers at IBM were working from home to test the effectiveness of telecommuting.
What started as a team of five remote workers rose to 2,000 by 1983, and call center staff—who conducted all their work via the phone anyway—had the option of doing so from home.
What may have seemed a fad when it first came about is now the norm. According to a Gartner survey, 74% of businesses are planning on shifting their M&E employees to remote positions as part of their post-COVID plans.
The Shift From Factories and Cubicles to Wi-Fi and Zoom #
With the development of the first website in 1999 and the emergence of garage startups, a new age of business was born, and it belonged to the entrepreneur. Initially typified by struggling college students and those who had left the corporate world in search of more freedom, success, and personal fulfillment, startups pioneered a new way of working.
Fueled by shoestring budgets and a lot of determination, entrepreneurs and M&E professionals worked from box rooms, sheds, and garages until they found investors willing to back them. Even then, many chose to create businesses that were flexible, allowing themselves and their workers to continue as they began: working from wherever.
Remote work meant less travel, which translated to fewer vehicles on the road, less pollution in the air, and a lot of support from the green movement. By 2000, guidelines were necessary, and the Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act legitimized remote workers and made it mandatory for companies to have telecommuting policies.
The industrial revolution gave us factory workers and eventually the much-maligned cubicle swamps that typified work for most of the 20th century. The technological revolution with its Wi-Fi, Zoom calls, and superior methods for asynchronous communication, will give us so much more.
Advantages and disadvantages to remote work #
Like flexi-time (flexible work time), which allows monitoring and evaluation specialists to choose when to start and end their workday and/or how long to take their break for within agreed limits set by management, flexplace or remote work is also becoming a popular element of the modern workplace.
It simply means M&E professionals can choose, again within limits set by management, where they will perform their work.
Remote work has been becoming more and more popular in the last few years, and with the COVID-19 pandemic and need for social distancing, flexplace policies are on a steep rise, wherever the type of work allows it.
The main advantages of remote work are:
- Greater pool of potential talent (almost no geographical limitations) for employers
- Employees keep full pay and benefits
- Employees (and employers) save commuting time and costs
- Higher autonomy and less office interruptions can increase the productivity of employees
- Employees can completely customize their working setup
- May assist employees with disabilities
The main disadvantages of remote work:
- Less suitable for positions that require the use of specialized equipment
- Fewer networking opportunities for M&E professionals.
- Heat and electric bills at employees’ homes may increase
- Some employees could be less productive in this arrangement
- Some employees may feel overlooked and isolated
The state of remote work in 2022 #
Today, work is no longer black and white. Remote and in-office working styles are fluid, with many monitoring and evaluation experts desiring and demanding a blended, flexible approach. Over the past three years, the way we work transformed at lightning speed. Priorities have evolved for both employers and employees alike, pushing flexible and hybrid work – the new way to work – to the forefront.
Key Takeaways #
Most of the history of work has been remote; office cubicles are the outlier. The growing popularity of remote work is not a fad. Its long history is evidence that there’s a certain inevitability to it. This has accelerated with the pandemic, and most career paths will now contain some degree of remote work in the future.
M&E professionals retention hinges more and more on allowing flexible hours and the ability to work remotely—at least some of the time. Remote workers are far more engaged than those stuck in an office five days a week. In fact, those who spend 60-80% of their hours working remotely over three or four days in the week are far more engaged than those who spend all their time on-site.
With benefits far outweighing disadvantages, it’s time to prepare for the future of work and the extent to which remote working will be a part of it.