February 28, 2023

Remote work is a fad. Just like remote learning, remote shopping or remote publishing.

It is easy to dismiss remote work for all the obvious challenges that come from missing human contact. But the smartest people of tomorrow will be the early adopters today who focus on power of the innovation.

No real bonds, camaraderie or learning by osmosis can happen on Zoom - they say.

Just like no online database will replace your daily newspaper.

Just like no CD-ROM can replace your competent teacher.

Just like no one will buy things without human contact and salespeople.

Or, just like no clunky computer can replace the friendly pages of a book.

Online publishing, ecommerce and online education were all dismissed as just a passing fad by the smartest people 25 yrs ago. And yet today, no one reads a newspaper, Amazon is the king and Internet is the best teacher.

So, why do smart people underestimate the power of the Internet?

Answer – The Innovation Adoption Lifecycle

Early adopters make for only a minority in the early days of any new innovation. A vast majority of the people lack the imagination on how this new tool would be used, because it is still being explored.

This was the case in 1995 when we didn't have Amazon, Google, or the millions of other websites we take for granted today.

Newsweek published this critique of the Internet back then.

Now, it is just laughable.

Same is happening with the Remote Work innovation today.

The democratising power of Remote Work

It is easy to dismiss it for all the obvious challenges that come from missing human contact. But the smartest people of tomorrow will be the early adopters today who focus on power of the innovation.

No matter how skilled you are, your earning potential was mostly limited by the opportunities around you.

That changes with remote work.

Until now, Internet had democratized access to information. With remote work, it can democratise the access to opportunities.

In fact, I believe remote work is an amazing and necessary complement to the equalizing force that is the Internet! That's a superpower for people coming from underprivillaged backgrounds.

Take me for example, I come from India.

~3 years ago, in late 2019, I found my first full-time job, before I had graduated, at a startup based in San Francisco. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with 3 other startups based in some US city, received many more offers - sitting in an apartment outside the city of Kolkata, India.

For the most part, I've read the same things and learned from the same people as a 23-year old in San Francisco might. With the adoption of remote work, I'm able to use that knowledge to access the same opportunities too. I mean it is only fair!

The un-ignorable challenges of remote work

What about networking and making friends?

Yes, it's a challenge.

But we are still in the innovators stage. Challenges are to be expected.

I try to solve it by proactively inviting strangers to "virtual coffee" chats, attending online events like Community Hacked and investing time and money to engage in small, curated online communities. The key, for me, is to lean deeper into the "remote" part of my life.

Is that enough to replace the lost "human touch"? Ofcourse not! I'm also actively trying to meet friends and make new ones in my city.

Even that doesn't feel enough. I often get envious when someone tells me about their friends from office or an office party they attended. But during these times, I tell myself that new problems require new solutions.

In the long term, I believe niche online communities will become more fulfilling, individuals will learn to build their personal brands on the Internet and there will be better solutions for strangers to make friends IRL.

The smartest people will be the early adopters of this new way to work. Employers will focus on the benefits of having a global talent pool. Employees will focus on the benefits of divorcing your income from the place you choose to live.