Whether You Like It or Not, Telecommuting Is the Way of the Future

Perhaps you’re still trying to get your head around the concept of a decentralized workforce.

Have you ever given consideration to the starting point of telecommuting or the likelihood of the labor market in the years to come? Let us delve into the progression of telecommuting from its commencement to the present day.

The Humble Beginnings

Remote work may seem like a modern phenomenon, but a closer look at its origins reveals that it has been around for a long time.

In the eighteenth century, the first pioneers of travel were Methodist circuit riders, who travelled around on horseback to spread their message. This was followed in the early nineteenth century by the cowboy lifestyle, with its associated culture of solitude. At the same time, Kodak employed photographers to traverse the nation in wagons that had been kitted out with studios, enabling them to take pictures that would inspire people to take vacations.

It is remarkable to consider that telecommuting has a longer history than cubicles. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, many merchants and artisans would use their homes as both a place of work and a place of residence. It was not until the Industrial Revolution that we began to see the emergence of corporate headquarters and other office buildings. However, employees’ optimism about the economy did not parallel their sentiment towards terms such as “9-to-5,” “the commute,” “the grind,” or “cubicles,” which all carry negative connotations.

In 1973, Jack M. Nilles, a NASA engineer, coined the term ‘telecommuting’ and predicted that it would become the norm within the next twenty years. His pioneering research means that he is now widely recognised as the ‘father of telecommuting’, due to the fact that he conducted much of his work away from the traditional office environment.

In 1990, the City of Los Angeles launched a Telecommuting Pilot Project, with the aim to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion, while improving productivity. This project enabled over 400 local government employees to work remotely from home.

Why has there been such a sudden shift toward telecommuting?

The Great Recession of 2008 has been identified as a potential factor in the exponential increase of digital nomads and remote workers, as many Fortune 1000 organisations have sought to reduce their expenditure by eliminating their need for office rental space. This cost-saving measure has resulted in savings of tens of millions of dollars for these companies, as they are able to employ more digital nomads and reduce the number of physical headquarters.

In response, the number of people working remotely full-time has increased by 115% in the previous decade and is anticipated to continue growing.

Kate Lister, the head of Global Workplace Analytics, has made her position on the matter clear: “The evidence is undeniable; the advantages to employees, the environment, and the company’s bottom line are so clear that many of the world’s biggest organisations are now allowing their staff to select where they work from.

The Internet, which has become an ever-present part of our lives, and the astonishing technological developments have made teleworking more convenient than ever before.

What do the critics have to say, though?

Despite the growing trend of remote working, there are still many upper-level managers who cannot comprehend the concept of having remote employees that report to them. As such, it can be difficult to establish a strong company culture when employees rarely have the chance to interact with each other in person.

But there’s always a way to overcome difficulties.

Prioritizing the development of a corporate culture that is conducive to success in a virtual setting should be your first order of business.

For instance, sending a pizza to a worker who is not physically present in the office may help maintain their enthusiasm and create a sense of camaraderie, and can be seen as a symbol of the organisation’s commitment to its employees. Although working remotely can be challenging, keeping employees engaged and passionate is of paramount importance.

Managers often find it difficult to trust that remote workers are truly putting in the effort required, as the lack of physical presence in the workplace can lead to a multitude of potential distractions.

But, do these concerns have any basis in reality?

Nicholas Bloom, a professor of Economics at Stanford University, has conducted research which indicates that employees’ capacity to select their own working hours is not detrimentally impacted by the prospect of part-time or freelance employment.

A recent study, in which Ctrip, one of the participating companies, took part, showed that by allowing employees to work remotely, not only did the company save money on office space and furnishings, but also saw a marked improvement in business efficiency. Research has indicated that individuals who work from home are more content with their lives, are less likely to quit their jobs and achieve higher productivity.

Bloom asserts that it is not sensible to assume that the more automated a task is, the better the outcomes. It is not beneficial to attempt to regulate every moment of the day as this does not lead to greater productivity. Consequently, it is wiser to determine objectives and expectations based on when tasks need to be completed, rather than the amount of hours worked. Ultimately, it is the quality of the work that is most significant, rather than the quantity.

Aiming for

Meghan M. Biro, an expert in talent management and HR technology strategy, has long been an advocate of remote working, and in 2023 her prediction that telecommuting would become the norm was proven to be correct. In 2023, Jhana’s management team is of the belief that the future has arrived.

The 2023 Comprehensive Workfront State of Work Report has revealed that a majority of office employees (61%) are of the opinion that video conferencing will be a major factor in successfully transitioning staff to a remote working environment. The financial data supports this view, indicating that the majority of employees believe video conferencing will be a critical part of the transition.

Companies that are willing to put in the effort to handle the challenges associated with managing teams of remote workers will have a great advantage over their competitors as working from home becomes the norm.

What then can they do to keep themselves on track?

Shahan Mohideen, a member of Jhana’s Expert Manager panel, emphasises the importance of showing office employees the same level of affection as any other team member, but doing so by adapting different approaches to ensure they feel included.

It is essential to appreciate the worth that remote workers can contribute to the workplace, and Mohideen has some further insight into the unique abilities they possess: “Remote workers tend to be more resilient as they are not exposed to the hustle and bustle of an office environment.” They may demonstrate greater self-discipline and an increased aptitude for managing their time efficiently.

The success of any group that is based remotely relies heavily on the connections between its members, as well as their shared comprehension of the organisation’s objectives. Companies that have a solid set of values and a unique corporate culture are able to transcend the limitations of a physical workspace.

At Works, we have an unrivalled expertise in sourcing remote talent that is perfectly suited to your organisation’s ethos and values. If you’re ready to start building your remote workforce, then please do not hesitate to get in touch and we will be happy to help.

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