The History, Evolution and Future of Remote Work.

How Did We Get Here?

Remote work isn’t new; it’s just growing in popularity thanks to technology and the exposure to hashtags like #DigitalNomad and #WorkFromAnywhere on social media.

Remote workers weren’t born overnight when the internet was first created in the 1980s. Working remotely was the norm long before downtown offices and commuting even existed.

Before the Industrial Revolution, everyone worked out of their homes. Skilled blacksmiths, carpenters, leather workers, and potters each set up shop at their residence and sold their goods from there.

With the Industrial Revolution came a need for automation and the creation of factories. Huge machines and large scale productions required employees to be present in-house to complete their work. This is also when people started commuting to designated “office spaces.”

But even this didn’t last forever.


From Factories to Cubicles to WiFi

Fast forward to just after WW2 and the story changes even further.

As the US economy strengthened, so did the rise in corporate headquarters, larger office spaces, and aisles of drab cubicles. The 8-hour workday was also born during this same time.

With this economic expansion came advancements in computers and technology that paved the way for modern day remote workers as we now know them.

More people started to own personal computers and even more were connecting their homes to the world wide web, two events that would later pave the way for remote work to thrive.

So the internet and public WiFi turned the workplace tide yet again.

Whether working from a home office, laptop at a coffee shop, or even a smartphone, the internet gave employees access to cloud-based applications which let them do everything they would in their cubicle… outside the office.

Now virtual employees work all hours of the day and can stay in touch with their coworkers from all over the world thanks to the internet.

And that’s just one reason why remote work continues to be so popular.


So How Common is Remote Work These Days?


“43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely,” according to one Gallup study[*].

Because remote workers get to complete their job duties out of the office and generally on their own schedules, they also tend to have higher engagement rates and increased productivity levels as well.

And that makes them attractive candidates to hiring managers.


“People who spend between 60-80% of their working hours remote for at least 3-4 days out of the week report the highest engagement rates compared to those who never work off-site[*].”

“People working from home completed 13.5% more calls than the staff in the office did,” which turned out to be another full day’s worth of work, according to a different case study[*].


Most remote workers have no intentions of leaving for greener pastures. This means companies maintain higher retention rates and waste less money training new recruits.


And once employees switch to remote work, they almost never want to go back as “90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers[*].”

They’re so happy with this arrangement “94% of remote workers surveyed said that they encouraged others to work remotely” too[*].


But if all these people are now flocking to remote work, does that mean there’s going to be a shortage of jobs that offer this kind of flexibility?


The Future of Remote Work: More Companies Are Adapting to Fully Distributed and Remote Workforces

Because remote workers get to complete their job duties out of the office and generally on their own schedules, they also tend to have higher engagement rates and increased productivity levels as well.


“Nearly half (48%) of companies are currently using freelancers, up from 43% in 2017[*].”


And many are seeing positive results from expanding their workforce to include off-site team members.


"When Coso Cloud let some of their employees work remotely[*]":

  • They were 77% more productive than those working in-house
  • 30% of remote employees admitted they accomplished more in less time
  • 23% preferred working long hours remotely versus on-site
  • 52% were less likely to cash in their vacation days than in-office employees


The company from the case study mentioned earlier, which reported 13.5% more calls from remote workers, also saved an average of \$1,900 per employee[*].


Hiring remote workers gives companies competitive advantages like:

  • Better mental and physical health for employees. Swap stressful commutes for early morning exercises and employees have more time to focus on their health, which can increase productivity and overall feelings of happiness.
  • Improved work-life balance. Since remote workers have greater flexibility in their schedules, they have time for family, personal obligations, and their career. And with fewer breaks by the water cooler, they get more accomplished faster.
  • Lower overhead, which means more money can be spent on team building activities and retreats rather than extra phone lines, snacks for the break room, and office supplies.


With these positive results, it’s easy to see why hiring managers are 4x more likely to hire freelancers in 2018[*].


Thanks to a growing suite of tools to help make remote work life better for both employees and employers, it’s never been easier to stay connected and accomplish more together.


Technology Keeps Remote Workers and Employers Connected

Team collaboration tools like Slack combine the virtual office and water cooler in one. Here anyone on the team can touch base with other employees working across the globe just as easily as sending a text message.

Project management tools like Trello also create a digital to-do list that keeps everyone on the team on the same page, despite never being in the same physical location.

And virtual conference calls ensure no one remains a stranger behind a computer screen. Coworking on collaborations and “face-to-face” meetings still keep the virtual workplace more human than AI.

With so many ways to interact with each other online, it’s as if everyone in the company is still working together under the same roof.

Except so much better.


How Technology Transformed Remote Work & What the Future Holds

Check out this timeline of how technology opened the doors for remote work and helped shape the virtual workplace we have today:


1975: The first “personal” computer is introduced. Employees are finally able to work remotely outside of the office and eventually get to take their work on-the-go with a laptop or tablet.

1990: The internet is born and the World Wide Web helps connect remote workers with email and virtual office tools.

1990: The Federal government conducts a telecommuting study on 2,000 federal workers. People proved to be more productive, had a better quality of life and work life balance, and cut both expenses and commuting time when telecommuting. Remote workers see these same benefits today.

1994-1995: Companies like American Express, IBM, and AT&T start allowing their employees to telecommute. With continued success, the idea quickly catches on and spreads.

1997: Google launches the powerful search engine we know today. Google Search breaks down barriers and creates a place where employers and employees can find each other no matter where they live. You can still locate remote work or workers anytime today, all from performing a simple Google search.

1999: Centralized project management tools like Basecamp (originally named 37signals) give both management and employees one centralized place to manage workflows remotely. This keeps everyone on the same page, despite living in different zip codes, so everyone’s on the same page when it comes to deadlines and open-ended projects. Over 100,000 companies still use this project management software[*].

2000s: Wireless internet and broadband open the floodgates. Remote employees can finally work without being tied to a physical location for their ethernet internet connection. This also makes slow speeds from dial up internet a bad memory of the past.

2002: LinkedIn launches and connects millions of professionals across the globe. You can still network with old friends or coworkers, reach out to potential employers, and follow your favorite companies to see what’s new on this professional platform boasting 562 million users across 200 countries and territories[*].

2003: A surge of remote workers inspires Skype, a better communication tool for virtual employees. This video conference software helps organizations maintain genuine face-to-face connections with employees even if everyone’s working remotely. It’s also used heavily in remote interviews to put a face and personality to each candidate behind the screen.

2004: Virtual meeting software GoToMeeting (GTM) helps employees “meet” in a virtual conference room to share presentations, files, and brainstorm together. GTM currently has 2 million active daily users[*].

2006: Time tracking software Toggl makes it easy for employees to submit timesheets without much effort. This helps remote workers track their work hours and get paid accordingly.

2009: Slack, which is also the fastest-growing business application in history, creates a way for teammates and managers to communicate from anywhere[*]. Slack continues to be the glue holding entire remote teams together. It supports 8 million active daily users and has over 70,000 paying customers[*].

2012: Google introduces its suite of office tools and digital file storage, known as Google Drive. This becomes the modern day workspace where employees, both in-house and remote, access important documents and files while also collaborating and giving feedback in real time.

2016: Dell reports an annual savings of \$12 million since expanding its telecommuting and remote work programs[*]. Reports like these prove remote work is beneficial to employers just as much as remote employees.

2017: Major tech-heavy cities like Austin and San Francisco report 60% and 30% of their job offers went to remote workers, respectively[*]. Now many employers would rather have access to top talent, even if it means going outside of their corporate zip code to do so.

2018 and Beyond: “4.3 million people currently work from home in the United States at least half of the time,” and this figure has grown 150% in the last 13 years[*]. The future of remote work continues to explode, and the technology to support these needs only gets better.


Your next remote job interview could be through a Facebook Portal chat that follows you around the room, or a robotic iPad that gives you a tour of the interviewer’s office as if you were standing right there in person.

It’s also even easier to find jobs as a remote worker these days.

Thanks to sites like We Work Remotely, you can connect to the top employers who already know the benefits of hiring remote talent and are ready to do so.

So if you’ve ever considered remote work, now’s the time to jump on board, even if only part-time to start.

You’ll get ahead of the learning curve and eventually become more attractive to employers looking for experienced talent.

And that’s way better than settling for whatever job is closest to your house.

Check out our current remote job listings now to find your next position!


The Proof is Clear: Remote Work is Here to Stay (& Growing!)

While remote workers of the pre-Industrial Revolution days may have nothing in common with remote workers of the present, it’s still proof that remote work has been quietly evolving since the beginning of the workforce as we know it.

And since the benefits outweigh the cons, remote work shows no signs of fading away.


“Flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job now”[*].


Thanks to advancements in technology, which only continue to get better and faster, it will only become easier for employees to work remotely and collaborate virtually -- and employers to hire more of them.

But this also means both parties will need to adapt to the changing times.

Employees will need to get comfortable with remote tools and have the discipline required to be productive out of the office. Without mastering these crucial skills, remote work will not be as enjoyable or fruitful.

And employers who create policies promoting remote work must foster an environment that ensures virtual employees can thrive. Doing so will also attract top talent from all over the world.

So if you’re ready to add more remote workers to your team, check out this page next.

And if you’re a remote worker looking for your next job, head over here to see a complete list of current openings at companies welcoming virtual employees with open arms.