The Economic, Social and Cultural Implications of Remote Work

By Tim Rod on January 4, 2021

Before the Industrial Revolution, nearly the entire world’s workforce were remote workers.  Work product was individually created, then sold or traded.  The industrial revolution created factories, which required workers to live closer to work, and commuting was born.  Eventually, factories created paperwork, which required manual processing in an office.  Thus, the evolution of cities, where people could easily commute to work, and where employee density was an imperative. 


The reliance on the processing of paper is nearly in the history books, and now it’s about processing data, which can be done from nearly anywhere.  Yes, I know this is a simplified view of the world, but it helps us understand the overall model – the structure of the workforce should cater to the desired outcome, not to tradition or routine.  The Coronavirus pandemic has forced companies to allow remote work, and although many see this as a compromise, there are many times when it simply drove companies to do what they should have already been doing: structure the workforce for the highest level of efficiency of production. 


The impact on the economy from the pandemic comes largely from the service industry, in places like restaurants, bars, and hotels, where being in-person is essential.  However, there is tremendous economic benefit from the rest of the economy that gains productivity from working remote, due to the elimination of a commute, among other things.  I project that we will see a stronger-than-expected recovery from the pandemic, supported by the incremental productivity from remote work.  The caveat is that the economic benefit will only be realized if we address remote work properly, and don’t disregard the social and cultural implications of remote work as well. 


Working together with others in an office setting, meeting with customers face-to-face, and having impromptu hallway conversations do more than get work done.  They fulfill a social need that people have to engage with each other, and many think that the social aspect gets lost for those working remotely, which drives down productivity, and undermines the pursuit of an economic benefit.  Further, when people can’t get together in person, there is a prevailing thought that culture gets watered down, followed by motivation, and (you guessed it) eventually productivity.  Therefore, social and cultural implications of remote work need to be addressed to maintain, and grow, the bottom line. 


How do you achieve this?  How do you replace the social and cultural elements of human interaction when remote work becomes the standard operating model?  It takes conscious effort, and sometimes good technology.  In other words, you have to specifically try to address social/cultural topics, and good technology tools make it better. 


At Red River, we have enjoyed tremendous growth, and very positive financial outcomes for our company and our customers.  A major reason for this is the continued focus on social and cultural aspects of remote work.  We use collaboration tools from Microsoft, Cisco and others to have internal, partner and customer meetings, of course.  We also use those tools, though, to host happy hours and other social gatherings, hold town hallsparticipate indo trade shows with our partners, and other events that are specifically designed to keep people socially connected, so we can continue to propagate our fantastic culture.  In short, since we care so much about the culture, and the belief in the positive outcomes that are derived from it, we make the effort to measure and maintain it.  We are fortunate that we have this culture, and that we’re experts in the design, implementation, and management of these technologies.   To reap the benefits of increased productivity described above, while working remotely, you must focus on culture, and make the investments in the tools to make it work. 


When the culture and technology are combined, great things happen! 


Until next time... BE BOLD