Remote work is not new. For some jobs it was actually the mode of work that was preferred or even required. This has been true for writers, journalists, salesmen, and artists. Yet, for most of us the norm was a job performed in an employer’s facilities: an office, a factory, a lab, a lecture hall, a classroom, a workshop…
Presence in person at a workplace provides structure, focus, imposes a certain level of professionalism and standardization, as well as allows for easier monitoring of employee’s progress and effort. It also helps divide professional and personal lives, which constitutes a healthy approach.
Sometimes physical presence is mandatory in the case actual interaction with other humans or machines is essential in performing the tasks at hand. It is difficult to imagine remote hairdressers or mechanics – even though, actually, less and less so.
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Globalization and the rise of multinational corporations changed the way employees work. With multiple divisions around the globe and dispersed expertise, the teams were often virtual in the sense that team members never meet in person due to various locations of the individuals. This mode of work may be called semi-remote work, as it took place mostly on the employer’s premises, but team members were spread all around the globe.
Application of semi-remote work also brought about realization that, in many cases, there is little to no benefit in mandating certain workers to the office, since they have little physical interaction on-site. This insight gave rise to home-office, when worker’s presence was not required for some days during the workweek.
At the same time, Internet connectivity and technical infrastructure improved at homes, which was required to conduct work in a way analogous to the one in the office. The ability to work remotely was sometimes seen as a perk, both for workers and employers, as working from home is more efficient both in terms of cost and time (mostly in relation to commute).
From the point of view of the employer, it was also beneficial, as it allowed a reduction in the cost of office space, increased morale and gave an extra motivational tool. Still, employers were wary of potential slacking off by employees, improper behavior – especially when facing outside parties, – and productivity losses. All in all, the whole premise reached a certain equilibrium, where remote work was present, but not dominant.
In order to accommodate the needs of employers with respect to remote work, new technology was required in terms of hardware, software, and infrastructure. Initially, the focus was on hardware – with laptops and mobile phones on the forefront.
However, software solutions were also required. At first, they were based on periodic synchronization with employer’s systems whenever in office or with proper network access. As the access to Internet became more widespread both at homes and remotely, solutions could become more on-line in nature.
With new possibilities and technology, a number of solutions followed to accommodate the needs of remote work that included teleconferencing, remote collaboration, knowledge sharing, and monitoring tools.