Away from Home and Back: Coordinating (Remote) Workers in 1800 and 2020
This paper examines the future of remote work by drawing parallels between two contexts: The move from home to factory-based production during the Industrial Revolution and the shift to work from home today. Both are characterized by a similar trade-off: the potential productivity advantage of the new working arrangement made possible by technology (mechanization or ICT), versus organizational barriers such as coordinating workers. Using contemporary data, we show that organizational barriers seem to be present today. Without further technological or organizational innovations, remote work may not be here to stay just yet.
Financial support from the National Science Foundation (Grant # 1628866) is gratefully acknowledged. Sebastian Ottinger provided outstanding research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.