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The Past, Present, and Future of Remote Working

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March 25, 2021
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5 minutes
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘remote work’?

Most people probably think that remote working is a relatively new trend and didn’t exist before. And a lot of professionals think that only the pandemic has caused this trend to rise.

Well, not quite. Remote working is actually very old. In this article, we’ll go back in time and discuss the evolution of the remote working model. We will start with a brief history of remote work, and also discuss how this trend will further evolve in the coming years.

Because we are a consulting platform, you’ll find some nuggets on trends in management consulting. But rest assured, even if you’re not into management consulting, you’ll find a lot of interesting facts in this article.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.

The History of remote work

Although the term ‘remote working model’ is commonly used these days, it was usually referred to as telecommuting back in the 1970s. This was the decade in which the book The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff was published. Author Jack Nilles proposed that telecommuting could be used to cut down unwanted transportation. The idea was to reduce vehicle traffic as well as the use of nonrenewable energy resources.

Well, one thing is clear - heavy traffic is not a new problem. It existed even in the 1970s and many people found it frustrating. However, it was also important to keep the economy running. Not going to work because of traffic or due to the lack of a transportation mode that used renewable energy sources wasn’t really viable. That’s why the only remaining option was to reduce the number of workers who needed to commute.

It’s true that a lot of professionals, such as construction workers and nurses, cannot work from home or from a remote site. They needed to be present at the job site during normal working hours. That’s why the proposed solution was something along the lines of letting ‘some’ people work from home or from different, low-traffic sites. This applied to the workers who didn’t necessarily need to be in a central workplace environment to do their job, such as clerks, accountants, etc.

When it comes to the history of remote work, the main motivation behind switching to a different working model was to reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Turns out that it wasn’t a far-fetched idea after all. Studies by the California Air Resource Board have shown that remote working can actually help create a cleaner and less-polluted environment by decreasing the overall vehicle miles.

“People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t. And a lot of people are actually saying that they’re more productive now.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

What’s up With the Remote Working Model Now?

Fast forward to the present time. Remote working is still widely popular and growing day by day. However, the reasons have changed. Yes, COVID-19 has played a huge role, but there are other reasons as well. Spoiler - it’s not about reducing pollution or rush-hour traffic.

Here are some reasons why remote working is prevalent today:

  • Flexibility: A survey by PwC showed that 64% of millennials would like to work from home sometimes, and 66% want flexible work hours. It’s clear that the modern workforce wants flexibility in their professional lives.
  • Online consulting platforms: The advent of online consulting platforms have made it easier for companies and freelance consultants to connect. The ease of finding high-paying freelance consulting gigs has made many consultants leave the corporate world and go freelance.
  • Technology: Unlike the 1970s, when the internet was still in its preliminary stage, this is the era in which even a 10-year-old may know how to set-up a WiFi connection. Cloud computing and video conferencing have taken remote working to a whole new level. Now, businesses can hire consultants who live in a different time zone and both parties can even work simultaneously.

The Future of Remote Working

The pandemic has surely forced a lot of businesses to adopt the remote working model. Even the ones that don’t usually offer work-from-home arrangements to employees. This will surely shape the future of remote working because both companies and employees are now aware of the fact that productivity has nothing to do with an employee's location.

There could also be an increase in competition because companies may decide to go for the best talent regardless of their location. So, when it comes to a job or a freelance consulting project, you won’t just be competing with candidates from one city as candidates from different cities (and countries) will also be considered. For this reason, if you have the right talent and a WiFi connection, location will unlikely be a matter of concern for employers, thanks to the increasing prevalence of the remote working model.

A survey by Upwork showed that 1 in 4 Americans will most likely be working remotely in the year 2021. No wonders this is because of the pandemic. This is not only true for America, but a lot of countries will likely have the same story.

Final Thoughts

Back in the 70s, the remote working model, or telecommuting (as they called it), was proposed in order to reduce traffic jams that were caused by a lot of workers commuting at the same time. Millions of people still work remotely, but for different reasons. Surveys show that the modern-day workforce wants flexibility when it comes to location and work hours. In the consulting industry, the freelance marketplace is shaping remote working trends in management consulting by enabling companies and remote freelance consultants to connect with each other easily.

Advancements in technology have made remote working so convenient that it’s as good as sitting face-to-face with someone. However, the pandemic has made it obligatory for companies to let employees and consultants work remotely. And because now everyone knows how to get things done without sitting next to each other, more and more companies are likely to adopt remote working models in the future.