Remote Work is the Future of Work
Updated: Sep 30, 2021
The way we work is changing.
It’s always been changing, of course: with each new advance in human history there has always been a corresponding shift in the way people work.
“The world of work—comprising all interactions between workers and employers, organizations, and the work environment—is marked by the constant adaptation to changes in the technological, cultural, political, and economic environments." — Encyclopedia Brittanica
Every step we’ve made along the path of human evolution — be it social evolution, industrial evolution, technological evolution, whatever — has brought with it seeds of change: change in the fundamental way human beings work; and indeed, in the very meaning of the word “work” itself.
Take the early days of human civilization. Back in the old days, the idea of “work” was very basic, being dictated almost entirely by an immediate need for survival. Such necessities as food, shelter, child care…these were the main concerns of work in the earliest days of human society. (It’s interesting to note that all three are still major industries even today — which speaks to their essential nature.)
As time went on and society gradually evolved, we humans created more and more new things. Pottery. Textiles. Metals and alloys. Agriculture and farming became major occupations. Inventions like irrigation revolutionized the world of work.
With each new technological innovation we discovered, invented or devised, the landscape of “work” changed: older, less efficient models were gradually phased out, and newer, more “modern” practices were adopted.
The Middle Ages saw more changes: crafts and building came into their own. Guilds sprang up. Specializations arose. The idea of “commerce” — buying and selling on a large scale — came into being.
And with each step along the path of progress, the way we work changed.
One of the biggest changes happened when wind power and water power began to become more prominent. This signaled a major shift: from human power toward machine power.
And the world of work changed again.
Mining. Construction. The introduction of markets that sold products. With each generation we saw some fundamental change in the way humans worked.
The factory system. Mechanization. Power-driven machinery.
Which brings us to perhaps the greatest single paradigm shift in human work history: the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution was a point of critical mass in human evolution, a perfect storm of knowledge and discovery where ideas flourished, stars aligned — and the concept of “work” was forever altered.
The changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution — changes both to human society and to the world as a whole — were numerous and far-reaching. This period of history saw stronger and more lasting changes in the way we worked than in any preceding era: it was indeed a revolution.
If we pause and glance back at the history we’ve covered so far, we see a clear pattern: the nature of work is always changing. What we regard as “normal” today might be considered “old-fashioned” tomorrow. The future of work is not the same as the past — or even the present. From one generation to the next, the way we work changes.
The ever-changing nature of human work is a reflection of a more general process playing out all around us every day, governed by the same principle of constant change. All of nature — everything that exists — is in fact constantly changing, growing, and evolving.
Given the universality of this evolutionary principle, it’s hardly surprising that the way we work — like every other arena of human activity — should also be subject to constant change.
And once you become aware of that fact, you might start to ask yourself questions like:
What is the future of work?
After all, we know it’s going to change. We know it’s not going to stay the same as it is today (let alone go back to what it was yesterday — sorry coal miners!). We’ve learned as much from studying history. We’ve seen a clear pattern: the way we work constantly changes. What we’re doing now isn’t what we’re going to be doing a hundred years from now — or even fifty years.
Indeed, experts predict that over the course of the next 10-15 years, we will see a complete transformation in the workplace due to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and automation.
“These technologies…will bring numerous benefits in the form of higher productivity, GDP growth, improved corporate performance, and new prosperity, but they will also change the skills required of human workers.” — McKinsey & Company
One of the most striking new changes we’re seeing is working remotely, where a person works from home (or somewhere else that isn’t “the office”). The forces at work in our society in general were already primed for this type of change, even before the onset of COVID-19 — but it was the pandemic that made remote work “the new normal”.
The same pandemic that shut the world down made us streamline the process of working (and learning) remotely — and this helped to usher in a new paradigm, which we are now seeing playing out around us.
It’s not hard to see the benefits of such a change: ditching the commute alone would be worth it for a lot of people. And there are many more benefits besides that.
Many workers — who have happily shed their commutes, decreased their interaction with difficult colleagues, and let go of other frustrations of the office — relish the freedom, flexibility, and the increased productivity of working from home. [source]
The shift to remote work is a societal change that has been in the works for many years, but not until the pandemic were we able to really assess it: being stuck at home for months was like a sort of “prototype” period, and what we discovered is that there are undeniable advantages to working remotely.
Remote working is now at the vanguard of the evolution of work in developed countries, and we can only expect this trend to continue. Working remotely will become “the new normal”, and as always, we will see a gradual move away from previous models.
Whether the overall transformation of the way society works happens tomorrow, next year, or ten years from now, one thing seems clear: remote work is the wave of the future.