The debate revolving around work from anywhere plans is fierce. However, how does working anywhere stack up against the traditional office setup?
Working from anywhere versus in physical offices offers benefits and drawbacks, with workplace autonomy and flexibility being the main differentiators. Employees and employers must be open to emerging work trends and consider both options to make informed decisions about working from anywhere.
Whether a company decides to require employees to return to the office or not, it is clear that working from anywhere will remain relevant in the future. Knowing how the debate emerged and analyzing the arguments for each setup should help employers and their managers make more informed decisions.
Work from Anywhere or Return to Office: The New Normal
The debate about working from anywhere has been raging for a long time. However, the rise of technology and the increase in knowledge-based work has gradually converted the concept of working from anywhere from science fiction into reality. According to Blair Heitmann of LinkedIn, “working from home has been on the radar of professionals for years.”
However, part of the reason it didn’t take off is because of the benefits of being in a physical space; many company leaders believe that being in an office fosters a sense of belonging. Being together in a physical environment also helps create a company culture that managers and employees can cultivate to improve productivity and creativity and inspire innovation.
Employers now understand the merits of working from anywhere versus returning to the office policies. Understanding how we got here is essential for navigating the new rules of work.
Technology Enabling Work From Anywhere
Since the advent of the Information Age, various technologies have decoupled many office tasks from the physical office. Cloud services allow multiple employees to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other files. Videoconferencing software such as Microsoft Teams has reduced the need for physical meetings.
The nature of work has also changed, with white-collar job types relying increasingly on information technology management as their key work component. For example, a research job requiring physical access to documents can now be done anywhere with an Internet connection.
As technologies continue to grow, more employees are questioning the traditional model of working in offices. As a result, by the start of the 21st century, some companies started to formally allow employees to work anywhere. Since then, the increase in Internet speeds and personal computing power has only fueled the growth of work from anywhere.
Nevertheless, there are still fierce debates inside boardrooms and on the Internet on the best workspace setup for productivity. As such, many companies were reluctant to expand work from anywhere policies. Instead, working in an office remained the unquestioned norm.
Many employees and managers observed the numerous benefits of working anywhere other than the office. But, more importantly, companies realized that employees could be trusted to perform their work duties even without the constant supervision of their managers.
It’s essential to realize that as technology advances, so too do the tools we use. For example, consider how the computer replaced handwritten reports — digital tools can render older methods obsolete or augment an employee’s workflow. Increasing efficiency with digital tools also decreases costs for the employee and the company.
The Return to Office Trend
In 2022, some companies like Tesla require employees to resume working at their offices. Others were willing to accept a hybrid model where employees can choose a certain number of days to work at the office, allowing them to work from anywhere on other days.
Unfortunately, the trend of requiring workers to return to the office is at odds with what many employees prefer. According to a Pew report, 61% of employees who had access to work from anywhere would like to continue working.
The Future for Office Workers
The debate over work from anywhere will only continue to escalate. Many companies have committed to further support for work from anywhere practices, given their benefits on employee productivity, freedom, and agency. In addition, some employers like Twitter have also committed to indefinitely allowing work from anywhere schemes.
Improvements in technology, especially virtual reality, also mean that the metaverse concept may become increasingly widespread in the next few years. Expectedly, the rise of the metaverse is starting to raise questions about the future of jobs. We also have an article that talks about the hybrid workplace and the metaverse in the context of work, “Hybrid Workplace VS Metaverse: Choose the right model for your organization.”
The debate on the ideal workspace setup will continue, but there is no doubt that work from anywhere will be here to stay. Being able to set up work from anywhere systems adequately might be the deciding factor between attracting the best talent and shunning them.
Whether a company decides to pursue work from anywhere strategies or go back to the traditional setup, being open-minded enough to consider all options will be its differentiating factor. As Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot says, “the conversation needs to move past tired cliches.”
Learn more about how future work tends in our detailed article, “HR Trends, ” learn more about how future work tends.”
Benefits and Drawbacks of Work from Anywhere
Since work from anywhere is an essential consideration for today’s workspaces, it pays to know how this setup can benefit employees and employers. However, it’s also crucial to know about this job setup’s common pitfalls and limitations so that companies can optimize their transition to work from anywhere.
Advantages of Work From Anywhere
For many employees, working from anywhere is the greatest advantage of work from anywhere schemes. Instead of being constrained to an office, employees would have many workspace options. While some prefer to work at home, others might like to work in coffee shops or coworking spaces. These workers could then switch work locations every few days, preventing their work environment from becoming stale.
Office employees usually have a fixed 9-to-5 schedule, whereas work from anywhere workers can work outside the typical workday. Working in the early morning or even close to midnight is a possibility for workers who work from anywhere. They can fit their work hours based on when they’re most productive, leaving them free to do other tasks in other hours.
The advantage of flexibility and employee autonomy cannot be understated; according to Gerri Knilans, managers and employees experience increased productivity in work from anywhere setups due to having “fewer distractions and more autonomy in creating a feasible work schedule.”
In-office employees can typically personalize their desks. However, many organizations limit the degree of customization to maintain a professional look for the office. Dress codes apply, especially for high-visibility workspaces that require employees to dress in business attire. Violations of these rules can lead to punishments from reprimands and demotion.
Outside the office, no one is watching. Employees would then have total control over their workspaces and customize them as they please, even if it means going against corporation norms. Business attire is also mostly optional for work from anywhere workers, which helps maintain comfort while remaining productive.
Physical spaces should have adequate facilities to accommodate workers with disabilities. It should be the responsibility of the employer to ensure that offices are equipped with accessibility features. However, the necessity of commuting and the difficulties of customizing an office workspace can prevent those with minimal mobility from performing well at the office.
Flexible work also equalizes opportunities since it can cross geopolitical boundaries. For people residing in third-world countries, being able to choose from many employers abroad is made more difficult since they need to acquire a work visa and be able to relocate overseas. Work from anywhere allows these workers to access more opportunities abroad without leaving their location. In addition, employers gain access to a more diverse talent pool and employ multicultural teams to improve work outcomes.
Disadvantages of Work From Anywhere
Unfortunately, working anywhere also increases the number of distractions that can interrupt workflow. Unlike in controlled environments such as corporate offices, remote workspaces tend to have highly distracting elements. Many knowledge workers who work at home report that their family members and friends often disrupt their work. It can be difficult to refocus once someone disturbs their workflow, leading to lower employee engagement.
The situation might be even more difficult for workers who choose public spaces such as coffee shops. While strangers are unlikely to disturb your personal space directly, their mere presence and their movements can be enough to distract you from work.
There are effective ways to filter out distractions, especially in co-working spaces. Blair Heitmann of LinkedIn advises work from anywhere workers to “try to create a dedicated office area.” However, it’s hard to beat the office to prevent intrusions.
Difficult Work-Life Balance
The same flexibility that remote workspaces espouse can lead to difficulties in balancing work and personal life duties. For comparison, workers can expect their workload to remain within their work hours. In addition, activities such as commuting provide psychological barriers that clearly define when work starts and ends. However, work from anywhere reduces the salience of these barriers, making it more difficult to adhere to work-life boundaries.
It’s not unheard of for work from anywhere employees to attend meetings and render work outside their work hours — sometimes even on their days off. Sometimes, a simple prompt to check an email message turns into a full-fledged work session. Unfortunately, allowing work to bleed into personal time can cause increased stress, strain personal relationships, and impact mental health.
Humans are social creatures that thrive on interpersonal relationships. Having colleagues under one roof makes it easier to develop a culture that espouses camaraderie. In addition, daily face-to-face interactions with workers and employers ease any awkwardness and forge stronger bonds between employees.
The social aspect of the office is difficult to replicate in a work from anywhere set-up. Harvard Business Review says, “Digital communication leads to misinterpretations that create costly anxieties.”
Managership might also perceive work from anywhere setups as an obstacle to onboarding workers, preferring face-to-face interactions. Furthermore, interacting in a physical environment makes collaboration, innovation, and socialization easier to cultivate between different teams. Cross-team interactions are a boon to most companies as employees with varying backgrounds can share their knowledge. However, building inter-team communication can be challenging in a work from anywhere setup due to the physical isolation, especially if teams digitally isolate themselves and groups.
Pros and Cons of Returning to Office
The rise of work from anywhere is starting to encourage employers to reconsider the tradeoffs between working from anywhere and in the office. Analyzing both options is crucial for employees and companies as the world gradually transitions to the new normal.
Advantages of Return to Office
The schedule rigor that the office provides is usually seen in a negative light. However, some people prefer having to clock a 9-to-5 schedule. The regularity of work hours in the office imparts a transparent psychological barrier that separates work from personal life. Office workers can be assured that their job starts and ends on a predictable schedule, and they can use the rest of the day for personal activities.
Employees and employers who work in the office also develop more stable routines. Their typical work day can be summed up as a regular schedule of events that they do every working day. While this regularity can become boring, some people prefer predictability over the flexibility that work can provide.
This steady routine also makes it easy to form beneficial habits regarding work ethics. For example, it’s easier to prime yourself for optimal productivity if you know the exact times you’ll be working. In some organizations, this results in better work-life balance.
Improved Sense of Belonging
Working in an office also brings a better sense of belonging, especially with face-to-face interactions being the norm in offices. Human communication relies on both verbal and non-verbal cues. Being physically in the same room as other colleagues allows you full access to these communication tools, making for a richer experience.
Even mundane interactions such as meeting colleagues in the corporate canteen create opportunities for socialization with other colleagues. In addition, collaborating with teams and attending meetings can also be more enriching.
Access to Facilities
Offices are designed to give employees access to tools to promote productivity. Many businesses avail of corporate Internet plans that provide faster and more stable connectivity. Most employees also get access to suitable computers that are optimized for work performance. Specialized equipment such as copy machines, shredders, and answering machines also provide greater convenience, allowing employees to focus on more productive tasks.
Employees can also ask for assistance from IT personnel to fix issues with their devices, a service that is harder to access in work from anywhere workspaces. In addition, other organizations might have additional valuable facilities such as pantries, gyms, entertainment centers, and even sleeping quarters.
Disadvantages of Return to Office
Energy and Time Costs
One of the biggest grips about returning to the office involves commuting. Employees might have to spend significant hours of their day stuck in traffic or waiting in line for public transportation. For busy cities, the delay can easily exceed an hour or more. With hours lost each day, employees risk arriving late at work or not having enough time to rest after arriving at their homes. Daily commutes can also sap money and energy, making employees more tired and less motivated.
Working at an office may also mean buying food, which can be expensive if the company doesn’t have a canteen.
It is more cost-effective for a company to buy office equipment in bulk. However, this means that office workspaces tend to become homogeneous. Many people dread working in offices full of drab cubicles or desks. Furthermore, some establishments don’t allow much freedom in customizing desks, so it can be challenging for someone to design a desk suitable for their preferences.
Going to a physical space also makes the daily routine more difficult for people with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues. While most companies make an effort to support accessibility features, nothing beats working from anywhere and skipping the commute altogether.
Returning to the office would strip many employees of the freedom they enjoyed in work from anywhere. While this might be a suitable outcome for some, others are willing to switch to a different job if it means they can continue working wherever they desire to.
Why do office workers prefer to work from home?
One of the most cited reasons is that working at home gives parents more time to care for their children. In addition, other employees report being more productive at home since they get to save time from not commuting. They also enjoy greater flexibility in structuring their work hours based on their daily schedule.
Can work from anywhere replace returning to the office?
Since we know the benefits of work from anywhere, do we need to return to the office? Learn more in our article, “The Future of the Workplace – Do we still need a physical office?” Both workplace setups have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. While some job types cannot be done remotely, others can benefit from allowing knowledge workers to work virtually anywhere.