Around 15 years ago, I ran a home working pilot for a major company. Office space was tight and it was one of the alternatives investigated to continue to achieve our objectives without increasing office rental bills. Line speeds were poor and broadband expensive, so some employees taking part in the pilot were using dial-up. Almost no applications existed to facilitate working from home. Videoconferencing over the internet was unheard of and most people worked off-line and then connected every hour or so to synchronise e-mails and documents with the servers at head office. The pilot was carried out with around 30 volunteers working one day a week at home over three months.
15 years ago line speeds were poor, videoconferencing over the internet unheard of and applications to support home working didn’t exist.
For the employees the pilot was an unqualified success. They loved being freed from the grind of the commute, most started work earlier and finished later but liked the opportunity to work with fewer interruptions and get on top of their week’s work. Many who usually spent their working week meeting-bound re-organised their calendars to take meetings for four days and do their desk work at home. As a result they felt more satisfied and more productive. The only issue expressed was a concern about weight gain with the kitchen a little too close for comfort! Sadly when I reported the results to the company’s board the senior management were unimpressed. They had concerns about disempowerment of managers who might not be able to track employees down, control and measurement of the tasks that employees were carrying out, arranging meetings with people who were out of the office and trust that people were actually working and not watching TV all day.
Things have moved very fast in the intervening years with line speeds increasing exponentially and a wealth of tools available to support and manage remote work.
Things have moved incredibly fast in the intervening years. Broadband speeds have increased dramatically and a wealth of tools are available that plug the confidence gaps expressed by that board of directors. Videoconferencing, instant messaging, task and project management tools, shared storage, knowledge bases as well as email have all increased the ability to contact, involve, manage and motivate employees working remotely.
Hundreds of millions have enjoyed the experience of home working and become comfortable with the technology
As line speeds have increased and more tools become available, so has the prevalence of home working with many companies embracing remote working as the way they see office work evolving. However progress was gradual and evolutionary until world events caused a switch from evolution to revolution. The COVID-19 epidemic made sure home working well and truly came into its own. Firms who could, sent their employees home with their laptops and in most cases expanded existing infrastructure to take the extra load. Zoom witnessed a 1000% increase in users, Microsoft teams more than doubled its user base and Slack also saw massive increases in paying customers. All of these new users witnessed the potential and viability of remote working. Despite the far from ideal circumstances, hundreds of millions have enjoyed the experience of home working and become comfortable with the technology.
Remote working is here to stay.
Gren Gale is an Author and Consultant