What Is Remote Work?

Woman working remotely from home office

Savvy managers and executives understand that human capital is their company’s greatest asset, and much has been written about how managers can optimize the performance of their employees. But how do remote work arrangements affect an organization’s performance optimization and day-to-day operations? And is remote work truly beneficial for all—both organizations and employees?

To begin answering these questions, it’s necessary to consider the fundamentals. Exactly what is remote work, for example, and what does remote work mean for both employees and managers? Whether you’re a department manager or a C-suite executive, reflecting upon these 21st-century issues can shape your own performance.

What Does Working Remotely Mean?

Remote work is the practice of working outside of a central office location, such as from home, a co-working space or even a coffee shop. Some employees work 100% remotely, whereas others may live close to the central office and visit the office occasionally for employee training, onboarding or meetings. Other employees have a hybrid work arrangement that allows them to work from home a few days per week, with an in-office presence the rest of the time.

Any complete answer to the question, “What is remote work?” must acknowledge the fact that remote work is not a new phenomenon. In fact, through much of human history, people would customarily work out of their homes. In medieval England, it was common for the working class to live and work in the same one-room home, where they might engage in artisan trades such as tanning leather or weaving.

You may have heard the term “cottage industry.” This refers to the practice of producing goods on a small scale within the home. The Industrial Revolution was instrumental in shifting the majority of workers to central locations like factories and away from the in-home workplaces of cottage industry.

In the early to mid-90s, when internet access gradually became widely available in private homes, it once again became feasible for workers to perform their jobs at home. However, the practice didn’t become mainstream until the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the demands of public health necessitated the closing of non-essential workplaces, many organizations shifted to remote work arrangements. This allowed them to keep their businesses running and their employees working in a safe way that minimized transmission of the virus.

After vaccines became widely available in the developed world and precautions were eased, some workers carried on in their remote work arrangements. Similarly, some companies have announced plans to continue with remote work arrangements indefinitely, even after the pandemic eventually subsides. And as new variants emerge and COVID cases rise with the fluctuations of the pandemic, some workers who had returned to the office are once again working remotely.

Exploring the Concept of Remote Work From a Conscious Capitalism Perspective

Conscious capitalism is the philosophy that companies should pursue not only profits, but also ethical operations that best serve all stakeholders, including the community, environment and employees. There are four main principles of conscious capitalism:

  • Higher purpose
  • Stakeholder orientation
  • Conscious leadership
  • Conscious culture

Companies have increasingly turned to these principles of conscious capitalism as a better model of business that allows them to become a force for good while still making a profit. Indeed, thanks to conscious consumerism, some conscious companies have become wildly profitable; profits and ethics need not be mutually exclusive.

This raises an important question: What does remote work mean from a conscious capitalism perspective? Do remote work arrangements support the principles of conscious capitalism? To consider this issue, it’s helpful to take a look back at a managerial strategy first implemented by Best Buy in the early 2000s.

A couple of human resources managers at Best Buy developed the concept of the results-only work environment (ROWE). ROWE triggered a seismic shift in management at Best Buy and other companies that followed suit. Instead of managing the people, professionals focused on managing the results.

When implementing ROWE, Best Buy and other companies gave all employees a very clear set of expectations for the results of their work. The employees were then left to their own devices to achieve those results. They were allowed to set their own hours, work remotely if they wished and take as much vacation time as they wanted, as long as they met their expectations.

ROWE was quite successful, although it eventually fell out of favor over concerns about a decline in collaboration and innovation linked to a greatly reduced in-office presence. However, the lesson from ROWE is clear: Employees tend to work best when they are granted some autonomy.

Conscious capitalism encourages managers to develop a company culture that nurtures and supports employees. It also states that companies must have a stakeholder orientation—and stakeholders include employees. Whether they are hybrid or 100% remote, remote work arrangements are aligned with conscious capitalism.

What Does Remote Work Mean for Employers and Employees?

Remote work arrangements have both advantages and disadvantages for employers and employees alike. On the employer side, some of the benefits are as follows:

  • The ability to hire the best talent, regardless of a worker’s geographic location
  • Reduced overhead costs
  • The possibility of paying employees based on the cost of living in their geographic location (if the company is centrally located in a major city but hires some employees in less expensive, rural areas, those employees will cost less)
  • Fewer staff absences
  • Reduced equipment costs and maintenance service agreements
  • Greater employee retention due to better employee satisfaction

Of course, it’s also necessary to take a look at some of the disadvantages. For example, because remote employees have fewer opportunities to spontaneously connect with each other, collaboration may take a backseat (although digital technologies can serve as a substitute for in-person collaboration). In addition, an ethical company’s leadership must nurture an ethical employee talent pool, or else accountability and time management may suffer.

Some of the benefits of remote work for employees include the following:

  • No need to relocate to work for your dream company
  • Flexible work hours can improve work/life balance
  • The possibility of reduced or eliminated childcare costs
  • No commute
  • Greater autonomy and less micromanagement

There are some disadvantages, as well. Work-from-home employees are responsible for their own home offices and equipment, although some companies provide a remote work stipend. In addition, some employees may miss the casual banter of workplace relationships.

How a Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Degree Can Benefit Executives

The modern workforce will likely continue to evolve over time, shaped by the demands of public health, consumers and the workers themselves. Managers and executives can best serve their organizations by cultivating the skills and characteristics that are necessary to adapt and lead the company through significant organizational change. That’s why, if you’re thinking of returning to school to earn your master’s degree, it may be best to choose a forward-looking degree program that is geared toward adaptability.

The Master of Science in Leadership degree program certainly fits the bill. It instills competencies that enable graduates to adapt and evolve along with the changing workforce. Rather than focusing on a hard-skill area like accounting, for instance, this type of program emphasizes soft skills like leadership development, servant leadership, innovation and organizational change.

If you decide to earn your MSL, look for a program that emphasizes ethical leadership qualities. The success of a remote workforce is heavily dependent on ethical leadership. Through ethical leadership, an organization’s workers enjoy better morale, feel as though they are truly valued and are more likely to embrace ethical values when working away from the scrutiny and micromanagement that often characterizes an in-office workday.

You can prepare to confidently lead both in-office and remote workers when you earn your graduate degree from Grand Canyon University. The Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) degree program offered by the Colangelo College of Business explores modern theories of leadership, the dynamics of organizational change and the strategies for developing and leveraging human capital. Graduates will emerge with strong competencies in ethical leadership and with skills that are immediately applicable within a changing workforce.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.