Remote work is not only a “passing fashion” unlike the demands for more fruits, foosball tables or ball pits in the office that relate to the container term New Work. It is rather the consequence of a larger change in society, which we are now experiencing.
I am firmly convinced that mankind is in an epochal change of civilization, a “quiet revolution”, one that we have last seen 250 years ago, when the feudal agricultural society has been superseded by the industrialized society. Today we are in a transition from the industrial age to the information age. The ever-globalizing world of demanding markets, in which IF-THEN conditions are prevailing, will replaced by a worldwide economy that is determined by customers and characterized by surprises, exceptions and a vigor dynamism. Welcome to the world of VUCA!
The industrial age has brought us Taylorism
While the brilliant concept of Taylorism has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of previous times and therefor helped to acquire the highest possible form of industrialization with its causal driven value creation approach (so called blue), leading to unimaginable efficiency and productivity in addition to banning redundancies, this model has become more and more obsolete. Not only production, entrepreneurship and work have been streamlined to match this model, but also the entire social life. That way, in about 250 years of mankind, a world was created in which following rules is the base of a perfect division of labor. This has led to phenomena such as “work to rule” and top down hierarchy imbedded in all of value creation as well as social life. One has thought and the rest acted. People turned off their brains when entering the workplace and children have been trained like soldiers to follow the rules. All this has been passed on over multiple generations! Therefrom, management schooling and business structuring have followed suit.
The information age creates the VUCA world
And now, in a world of VUCA, a more and more contingent-complex (so called red) value creation is required. Teams must be quick-witted to solve unexpected costumer needs and do so by providing saleable added value. The matrix organization, that has been optimized to serve the Tayloristic approach, is unable to cope with that. Formal waterfall like hierarchies have become obsolete because they thwart the ability to be creative and work in teams. Agile structures, less circumscribed workspaces that allow knowledge transfers, project orientated teams with nomadic leadership as well as deformalized decision making is becoming the differentiator to a satisfactory costumer solution and therefore the key to success.
Aggravatingly, in the current shift from one stage in our evolution of society to the next, both concepts have their validity in different fields. Blue or red value added are both part of todays economy.
The contingent complex form of value creation and the information age are inseparable and mutually dependent, making them an integral part of a new epoch of civilization.
Remote work is an essential part of contemporary value creation
What does all this have to do with remote work?
For the Tayloristic way of production “work to rule” is the biggest success that can be achieved. Processes are defined down to the smallest detail and the product is already completely known.
There is no need for the human being in this system to see a purpose and sense in its work. It is more important that the given work schedule is followed.
The global, complex and customer-driven economy of today however requires firms to have an organizational design in which creativity, self-responsibility of employees and self-management of teams is possible. It is not knowledge that is the basis of a costumer solution but skill. Hence, only people who see a purpose and sense in their work can meet those needs. Meaninglessness of work on the other hand will lead to frustration and systematically poor performance.
Remote work is worthwhile because in our digital times made it possible and the necessity to work in a fixed location (office, factory, department), the burden to commute to work and the inability to fulfill private and work related things alternatingly is precepted to be pointless.
That is why remote work – home office or work that is independent on the location – is not a concession to their employees, but necessary regarding the current requirements of modern value creation.
Firms that neglect to accept this are ought to lose in the battle for the best and creative talents.