Remote Work and the Social Forces and Technologies that Enable It

Remote Work and the Social Forces and Technologies that Enable It

Remote work is becoming more and more prevalent. Social forces and technology advances are both responsible. Some software companies are completely distributed and don’t even have a physical office. This trend in likely to become more prevalent.

My Personal Experience

I have been working remotely one or two days a week for nearly 15 years. When I started it was a very unusual request and it wasn’t easy to convince the hiring manager. I often had to start working full time in the office and after a trial period switch to partial remote work with strong promises to go back to full time in the office if it didn’t work out. I worked for four companies between 2001 and 2009 and it was the common attitude. The culture was often based on ad-hoc face to face meetings and I sometimes missed important discussions when not in the office. After 2009 the companies I worked for were much more open to the idea. Other employees sometimes worked remotely. Sometimes we had a fully remote sys admin. Chat programs were the main communication device, video chat got better so I could easily participate in meetings even when working from home.

Open Source

One of the main factors in the rise of remote work was the open source movement. It proved that people that never met can collaborate effectively and create great software. Many companies embraced open source and started to contribute, brought in open source developers who advocated their open source tools and practices and one thing led to the other.

Digital Nomads

Today, the digital nomads are developers that travel the world with their laptop, work from exotic places like Thailand and as long as they are productive many companies are happy to hire them. This is often a great deal for the digital nomads that not only enjoy travel and see the world, but often also save a lot of money by operating in low-cost countries.

Working from the Coffee Shop

Many people these days work some of the time from a coffee shop because they prefer the atmosphere to the office. As this became common place more people realized you don’t have to be in the office all the time to do your work

Work on the Way to Work

A similar phenomenon is people working on the train or bus on their way to work. Seeing how productive they can be raised the question of why leave home in the first place.

Ubiquitous Fast Connectivity

Wi-Fi is everywhere. Wi-Fi is fast. It is now expected that you have enough bandwidth to stream videos reliably, which is typically more that you need for standard collaboration and remote interaction.

Distributed Source Control

One of the main technologies that enabled software developers to work remotely is distributed version control systems like git and in particular github and the less popular bitbucket and gitlab. The distributed version control systems solved a huge problem and let developer work efficiently and safely even with spotty and intermittent connectivity. The pull request model became a cornerstone of many organizations and allows remote workers to fully participate.

Video Chat

Video chat is now ubiquitous as well. Skype, Google hangouts and even built-in video chat in HipChat allow remote workers to fully participate in office meetings. The equipment is not expensive, the setup and configuration is much easier and the quality is pretty good over a fast standard connection.

Online Office Tools

Word processing, electronic sheets, presentations all used to it be heavy native applications. But, recently all these office suites migrated to the cloud and are available from anywhere. The collaboration options are much better and remote workers can interactively edit the same document along with their office mates. Google docs leads the way here.

Collaborative Online Development Environments

Collaborative development environment are now much more common. You can edit files collaboratively, access servers remotely. This is important for security too. By using online development environment where the source code is not even present on the remote developer’s laptop you eliminate a potential risk.

The Future Is Coming

The trends are very clear. Even today, people in the same room are often absorbed with their phones and tablets and barely look at each other. Virtual reality will shape the future of interaction. I believe that in 10 years, offices will be obsolete. You’ll be able to interact with your colleagues in fully-immersive environments that replicate (with high fidelity) the important face-to-face interactions we have today.


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