We tend to think of remote work as a perk demanded by picky (or lazy) employees. But the only reason that remote and flexible work is becoming more prevalent is that capitalism itself requires it. We are at a stage of industrial development that requires organizations to become more flexible, a stage that requires organizations to hire from beyond a city-sized talent pool, and a stage that makes it impossible for organizations to predict their personnel and office space needs in advance.
In 1990, Steve Jobs gave an interview discussing this specific point. It was long before the rise of remote and flexible work. But Jobs already understood that something fundamental had changed about what it takes to build a winning business and about the tools available to managers and entrepreneurs. The whole interview is worth watching, but this section addresses the point I made above:
"As business conditions change faster and faster each year, we cannot change our management hierarchical organizations very fast relative to changing business conditions. We can't have someone working for a new boss every week. We also can't our geographical organization very fast... We can't be moving people around the country every week.
But we can change an electronic organization, like that [snaps finger].
And what's starting to happen, as we start to link computers together in sophisticated networks and great user interfaces, we are starting to be able to create clusters of people working on a common task in literally 15-minutes' worth of setup. And these people can work together extremely efficiently no matter where they are geographically and no matter who they work for hierarchically. And these "organizations" can live for as long as they're needed and then vanish.
We're finding we can reorganize our companies electronically very rapidly, and that's the only type of organization that can begin to keep pace with changing business conditions."
Organizations that can live as long as they're needed and then vanish. That's where we're headed. That's what it takes. And it will dramatically change all of our assumptions about the meaning of words like "company," "career," and even "city."