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4 phases we have to go through for remote working to become normalised

Since March 2020 many of us have been remote workers. This fringe mode of working suddenly became mainstream. Now, we’re wondering – how do we make this work long term?

Social movements often go through 4 phases on the road to becoming integrated into our normal way of life.

I’m going to explore what this could look like for remote working and use the 4 waves of feminism as an example of how this has happened in another domain.

(Note: I do not mean to trivialise the struggle of women for equality by making this comparison. Instead, I use it as a very well-known example that demonstrates the pattern – and for those who always wondered what the “4 waves of Feminism” were, this can serve as a brief primer!)

Phase one – recognition

The first wave of feminism (19th to early 20th century) sought to have women’s voices recognised in society, and this culminated in the demand for equal voting and property rights, and education for women.

For remote working this equates to the time before March 2020. In this time remote working grew from something that individuals did on a case-by-case basis with approval from their manager to something that most people recognised as a legitimate long-term way to work. It was still an unusual practice for companies to be remote-first or remote-only and only a minority of people worked this way.

Phase Two – Entering the mainstream

The second wave of feminism (ca. 1960-80) was, in many ways, precipitated by WWII. Women were catapulted into the workplace in large numbers only to be expected to return to domesticity afterwards. The work of this phase broadened the scope of women’s rights, including bodily and sexual sovereignty, and reproductive and employment rights.

For remote working the precipitating event was the COVID-19 pandemic and we are now at the point of workers being “expected to return to domesticity”. The biggest challenges for remote workers and employers now centre around contractual and legal rights, and pay structure and geographical factors.

Phase Three – Stepping into power

The third wave of feminism (ca. 1990-2010) was concerned with destabilising old constructs of “womanhood” and surfacing a more diverse range of subgroups. It was also a time when the enshrinement of basic rights led to growing confidence and empowerment in work, sex and identity – as seen in the popular “girl power” themes of the time.

For remote working, this phase lies ahead and might look like remote workers leveraging their unique advantages to secure better working agreements. It’s likely that the workplace will undergo meaningful and lasting changes to serve remote workers as equally valid and first-class citizens rather than a subgroup to be tolerated and accommodated as an afterthought or “deviation from the norm”. Needs of remote workers to have a suitable working environment provided by employers (e.g. equipment stipend, access to co-working spaces, regular in-person team gatherings) will become table stakes.

Phase Four – Assimilation and cleanup

In the fourth wave of feminism (2012-present) the focus is on addressing the impact of patriarchy and gender norms on all humans, and the systematic de-biasing of everything from language to media.

For remote working, this phase may be quite a long way off but we could see a similar move away from thinking about work as office-centric by default and to considering how old ways of working have hurt us all. Many “accepted truths” about what work is and how it is embodied in our lives may change. We are likely to start questioning many assumptions and re-making work for the next century.

For example, we may think about the role of people managers differently – perhaps rather than thinking that they are there to ensure compliance and distribute work we may see their value instead as being coaches and facilitators. We may stop thinking about contributions as being time-defined and make a radical shift to an output-centred model.


No-one can predict the future but it’s fun to try using different models to reason about how things could turn out. Remote working is here to stay, I can’t wait to see where it takes the future of work!

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