Will you join the revolution? Here’s everything you should know before adopting remote work

June 25th, 2019

Google released their Distributed Work Playbook in April, reporting their findings and advice about remote work for employees and their managers. It comes at a great time for other employers too, with adoption of the distributed work model on the rise around the world.

And why not? With working from home, a flexible schedule, more time for family and the option to travel as some of the perks of remote work, it’s clear to see why the demand for remote work is increasing.

But is the notion of ‘remote work’ really that new? And is it actually the holy grail that its most passionate evangelists claim?

Remote work: a brief history

It was back in 1973 when the man considered to be “the father of remote work”, Jack Niles, began working remotely on a NASA comms system. By 1975, the first personal computers were introduced, laying the groundwork for modern remote work.

The Washington Post famously published an article in 1979 titled ‘Working at Home Can Save Gasoline’ as the biggest draw-in at the time, but societies remained dubious to the notion with only a minority opting to work remotely.

IBM became a notable early adopter, nominating five of their employees to work from home in 1979. Just four years later they had over 2,000 remote workers in their ranks.

The biggest enabler for remote work was the establishment of the internet in 1983. By 1987, the number of telecommuters in America reached 1.5million, and has continued to grow on a global scale ever since.

Remote work has grown so popular that it is now even being enshrined in law: on 30th June 2014, the UK government gave all UK workers the right to ask their employer for flexible work.

Does remote work actually work?

By 2023 it is hypothesised that 43.3% of the global workforce will be mobile. Since its creation the popularity of remote work has been rising at an average of 13% year on year but, despite its growing popularity, there are undoubtedly drawbacks to working this way over long periods of time.

Buffer’s ‘The State of Remote Work 2019’ notes that some distributed workers are finding it difficult to know where their work life ends and their personal life begins, and many feel that the distractions of home life compromise their ability to work effectively. Others report suffering from loneliness and isolation, which is hardly surprising if the work involves staring at a screen with no company around to break up the day.

Communication and wellness are critical to good work, but remote working often erects barriers to both: how do you establish a regular sleeping pattern when you are attempting to coordinate across multiple far-flung time zones? And how can you communicate with colleagues whose time zones and working hours don’t intersect with your own?

Some larger companies who had previously introduced remote work on a large-scale have wound up pushing back to the older, more traditional ways of work. Many are retreating back into the office space and recalling their remote workers for the long-haul.

With the likes of IBM – the aforementioned pioneers of remote work – cutting back their distributed model and others like Yahoo! quitting altogether, it’s clear that for some major companies remote work has not fully lived up to the hype.

Where will remote work go next?

Despite the recent corporate pushback, the benefits of remote work are there for all to see.

The key question for employers is, how can they harness the benefits of remote working in a way that minimises the downsides?

Successful adopters of the distributed model say that consistent check-ins on remote workers and weekly surveys that gather honest, anonymous feedback are key to success. As well as supporting with day-to-day micro issues, these policies mean employers can gather in-depth data and analytics that can be used to glean a deeper understanding of the workforce as a whole and bring to light solutions that can be applied at a system-wide level.

Adopting the right technology is also key. The ever-expanding universe of tech has led to breakthroughs that are ideal for supporting and nurturing remote workers. With video call engines like Google Meet, workload management systems like Monday and instant messaging networks like Slack, it is possible to bridge the gap between onsite and remote workers.

Want more advice on adopting remote work? Check out Google’s Distributed Workers Playbook for sound advice on managing your off-site workers, setting team visions, and tackling the time-zone differentials.