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Personal Mobility in Information Society

Numbers of employees working remotely across the globe keeps on growing

June 6, 2016

The research company IDC has publicized its estimates of the number of employees working remotely worldwide. They have revealed that during the next two years the number of such employees will reach 1.3 billion. Such a prospect appears to confirm the theory that modern ways of communication will result in the absence of the necessity to commute to work and offices will become obsolete. Thus, a significant part of humankind will cease to experience a daily need for roads and transportation.

Sergey Matsotsky, chairman of the management board of IBS and vice-president of IBS Group

There are a few prerequisites for a conversation about remote work. The first of them is, naturally, development of technologies. Global expansion of the Internet provides access to data practically from any part of the world equally fast. The quality and availability of communications improve exponentially delivering growing speeds at lower costs. Today, channels of communications, including wireless communications, easily deliver the HD quality video exchange. Users ceased to depend on the cable, which allowed them even greater freedom.

“Cloud” technologies radically changed the existing approach to development of applications for working with information. Such IT architecture implies that any data is accessible to the user in principle at any location and from any device.

Development and expansion of social networks have also had impact on the operations of major corporate teams – in particular, from the standpoint of expectations regarding the speed and efficiency of interaction.

The second group of factors that makes us lean toward territorially distributed, virtual corporate structures is business arguments. Thanks to such approach more people can be brought into teams in order to jointly concentrate intellectual and technological resources and achieve high efficiency through larger scale work. Additionally, connecting a greater number of regions via a network allows the possibility of achieving a more large-scale geographical reach for a business. Another advantage is saving on rent, wages (by involving employees, for example, from other regions) and benefits.

People will continue seeking personal communication for solving business tasks

The third factor to be taken into account is social prerequisites. Compared to the previous generation, today’s young generation positions itself quite differently on the labor market: among its priorities are freedom, space, and personal preferences. Today, it is not easy to “entice” them to an office for a typical five-day workweek. There is an apparent reevaluation of values. The modern “theory of generations” states that representatives of Generation Z succeeding Generation Y-ers will refuse to work by “the clock” and to perform an activity that is merely a way of earning money. These people have very high aspirations and aversion for red tape and view work as a lifestyle, passion, and hobby. It is apparent that the majority of them are not willing to spend 1-1.5 hours on commuting to work.

It is significant that representatives of the young generation are more and more attracted to comfortable living in a suburb closer to nature and only a fraction of them will be willing to trade it for the hustle and bustle of an overpopulated megalopolis. Environmental friendliness is one of the buzzwords of the new century; people opt for goods, environment and lifestyle that are organic and comfortable.

In order to keep abreast of the times, employers need to take into account social trends in their recruiting policy. This is why one of the effective ways of catering to the new needs of young employees is to offer them flexible hours, part-time employment and possibility of remote work.

The trends in question have been developing for a few past years. This has already led to significant freedom for employees in many areas (see the graph below). Today, remote work is not a rarity. The question is whether this trend will persist in the future.

Will “remote work” prevail? Representatives of “remote” professions are likely to give an affirmative answer. However, the existing business practice and forecasts of researchers show that it is not as simple as that. In fact, it is not difficult to create a fully virtual environment from the technological standpoint for at least such categories of people who perform office and intellectual work. However, social factors come into play.

Sectors with prevalent remote work schedule

SectorNumber of employees who work remotely (%)
Project management Up to 40
Sales 25
Marketing 25
HR 25
Engineering personnel 18
IT 10
General staff 10
Finance and accounting 7

Source: IDC.

In the post-industrial society, which is sometimes called the knowledge economy, social factors have a great importance since the key objective of a business is mobilization of the team’s intellectual resources. Physical production does not create significant added value. It is not by chance that a large part of material enterprises has been outsourced to countries with low costs of physical labor and will be robotized in the future. The staff’s ability to generate innovations and turn creative ideas into a profit-making technology becomes the core value of a company in these conditions.

Supervision of staff with prevalent intellectual labor and industrial generation of innovations are difficult tasks set before the management at a current stage. Managing people plays the most important role here, and the team of employees serves as the most valuable asset. In this regard one speaks not merely of personnel, but of the company’s human capital. Those who are best at managing, developing and enriching this asset have an advantage in the competition race. On a global scale, a country that learns best to manage intellectual capital on a national scale will succeed.

Despite the fact that most issues are resolved today via communication channels, some tasks can be tackled much faster if the team is present in person. When problems are worked out collectively, for example in the brainstorm format, participants enrich and support the development of an optimal solution in face-to-face interaction.

Additionally, no matter how much one desires to be free, a human being will always be a social being and will have a need of acceptance or rejection of their actions, analysis, help or criticism. This statement, in its turn, is upheld by “the theory of generations.” Friendly, unofficial (horizontal) ties in the company simplify working interaction; a desire for informal approval on the part of the colleagues is one of the most important motivational factors.

All of this means that, most probably, people will gravitate toward working in teams with physical presence, which, naturally, does not rule out the possibility of remote work. This applies first and foremost to greater flexibility in selecting a work schedule.

This is evidenced by the emerging practice of corporate management in modern companies. On one hand, employees are given the vastest possibilities for remote work, efficient remote interaction, first and foremost, technological tools. On the other hand, the prospect of business trips, face-to-face communication, and immersion into a team is maintained. Consultancy companies, for instance, still prefer working by “immersion” into the client’s staff and on its premises.

Despite the development of communications, large organizations introduce the practice of intracorporate mobility. This involves the possibility of moving periodically between the regions of the company’s presence and achieving various tasks while dealing with transfer of expertise.

It is worth discussing separately the category of professions that in principle do not allow performing work remotely. There is no need mentioning trades: automation and robotization, probably, will radically diminish the demand for low-skilled labor in the nearest decade. A totally different issue is the work performed by a top-level surgeon. The necessity in his presence at every moment where his qualifications are required is apparent. It will hardly be possible to place educating and training of children on telecommunications “tracks.”

Ultimately, the trend looks as follows: having the possibility of flexible presence in offices and using the tools of online communication, people will still seek personal interaction in one way or another for achieving business tasks. Thus, from the standpoint of social factors, for full self-realization it is not sufficient for our contemporary to have only the technological possibilities that are given by the infomedia and telecommunications. He or she also needs to meet with people, lead an active social and public life, travel, and periodically change the line of work. This is why it is apparent that in addition to the information infrastructure one will require the new-generation transport infrastructure that would meet one’s requirements and upon the whole – new urban environment for living.

The demand for the new-level transportation exists on the part of the business community as well – this allows engaging new, more high-quality human resources. If high-speed, convenient passenger service offers possibilities for traveling between regions on a daily basis, ensuring sufficient density of coverage with a transport network, this means a different level of competition for jobs and qualified specialists, hence, better business results.

Both social and commercial needs related to the transport system of a new quality level are already there, the problem is implementation.

What requirements from the standpoint of a “new city resident” should be met by the upgraded transport infrastructure?

Speed. On one hand, one is not ready to spend hours travelling somewhere. On the other hand, increased speeds allow involving a greater number of territories and human resources in social and business turnover. Day-to-day interregional migration is becoming a norm.

Comfort. Undoubtedly, the transport system must deliver a high level of comfort. It is more important that comfort in the eyes of the new generation is not only cleanliness and safety; for its representatives the space of the transport system is a continuation of both their home and office; and they want to have an opportunity to use their time usefully while traveling (for example, solving working tasks or communicating with family). Outlets, Wi-Fi, “quiet” zones, good quality food services, etc. – this is not an exhaustive list of needs.

Intermodality. Various modes of transport must be integrated into a uniform system allowing for developing and traveling a route of any complexity. The new city resident who got used to full compatibility and accessibility of the information environment expects similar capabilities from the transport system.

Intellectuality. The focus is on smart technologies: through implementation of new information capabilities a passenger will spend minimum time and energy on selecting a route, paying for services, traveling the distance, etc.

And environmental friendliness, which we have already discussed before.

Low labor mobility of the population is one of the problems faced by the Russian labor market today

It is clear that it is not easy to satisfy these demands in real conditions, although innovative technologies allow achieving this already today. Modern countries meet this standard of quality of the transport infrastructure in various degrees. However, the general vector has this direction.

Among the countries that have made the greatest advances are Japan (MLX01 maglev trains reach speeds above 500 km/h), European systems with similar speeds (Thalys, ICE V), and China (the high-speed Transrapid 08 is operated as suburban transport).

Development of the new-generation transport infrastructure will radically change the physical environment where people live and will create a new social and economic reality. On one hand, high-speed roads will bring closer the houses and apartments of potential workers and the points of their business locations – not only offices, but also places of their collective work and meetings with clients (coworking spaces, hotels, congress centers).

Solely due to high speeds, large masses of people will be engaged in the business process. This will offer vast opportunities for employers that will be able to find more productive employees without having to relocate them closer to the office.

Low labor mobility of the population is one of the problems the Russian labor market faces today. The research conducted by the Ministry of Education and IBS shows that in various regions across the country there is a significant imbalance between certain professions and needs in them from the standpoint of availability of labor resources. The disparity can be eliminated through internal migration. However, relocation in search of work in Russia is not a typical measure due to the existing culture. Should high-speed transportation of human resources between regions become reality, the imbalance will gradually be leveled out.

On the whole, active involvement of a large number of people in business, reduction of their concentration in the center, the possibility for employees to live where it is more convenient for them – these are the benefits that make them more loyal and efficient, hence, they will facilitate the enhanced efficiency of intellectual labor.

Additionally, we can point out an array of other positive changes, such as decreased concentration of population in large agglomerations, improved road situation, more favorable environmental situation, etc. The population will be able to deconcentrate across territories, its distribution will become more “flat.”

It is worth mentioning by far vaster opportunities for social, cultural and scientific interaction, since universities, theaters, museums and research institutions will become more accessible to everyone.

However, the matter of comfortable environment is of greater importance to us in terms of attracting, reproducing and developing intellectual human capital and involving it in business – for creating new products, services, and goods. Today, all countries resolve for themselves the issues of mobilizing human resources from the outside, creating their own national intellectual capital in order to successfully compete on the global scale with their international services in the future. Those who do not do that will be left with the role of a supplier of raw materials or an organizer of physical production with low-skilled labor.

Hence, development of information technologies creates a new dimension of labor mobility that does not replace but supplements the traditional transport availability of resources. It takes a complex strategic approach to achieve the task of mobility of human capital. In this sense, development of the transport infrastructure together with expansion of telecommunication and information technologies can become a catalyst of changes and determine the vector for advanced progress towards development of the social and economic system of the next decade.


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