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Is “work from anywhere” the future of work?

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

April 4, 2022    |     3-minute read (572 words)

A noteworthy outcome of the pandemic has been the emergence and acceptance of new work arrangements. Previously, businesses and companies followed the traditional model of employees coming into a designated office to perform specific tasks. But as the world seemingly came to a standstill yet work still needed to be done, many white-collar positions underwent a “work from home” makeover as employers (and employees) realized they could do their work without being tied to one location.  

Initial research has found that for most roles, the widespread adoption of WFH does not impair productivity. And many people have welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with loved ones by simply no longer having to commute. Some also say they have extra time in their days to perform their jobs by virtue of being outside the traditional office. Still, while WFH and hybrid work models have become increasingly normalized, the new arrangements have both supporters and naysayers.

Some big businesses, like Goldman Sachs, maintain that WFH is an aberration and that the workplace will revert back to normal once the pandemic is contained. But this overlooks the general consensus among many rank-and-file employees as well as businesses and industries, for whom WFH is not only a rare upside to the pandemic, but is also leading to a superior “work from anywhere” scenario. 

WFA is the concept of completely unleashing workers from the location of the parent company, allowing employers to recruit people who might otherwise have been a good fit, but who were out of geographic range. New opportunities for workers free them to join a business without having to relocate. Families can work from lower-cost suburban neighborhoods, or to places with low taxes and conducive atmosphere to raise families, and employers too can set up shop where they see fit. 

In turn, as untethered people can travel and work from anywhere, this has given rise to so-called digital nomads. Many are taking the opportunity to move on to “van life,” for example, where they work from an RV and travel while simultaneously working. 

In the meantime, research conducted by Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj Choudhury on companies that went remote — before the term gained widespread application and acceptance — found that companies and workers alike benefit from such arrangements. For example, Choudhury’s research on the U.S. Patent Office showed a 4.4% increase in productivity for workers in a WFA scenario. He even goes on to say that “hybrid models” in companies that can’t go 100% remote will still confer more benefits, such as greater employee loyalty, higher productivity and less attrition, versus their peers. 

Big firms such as Twitter and PwC seemingly agree, as they have jumped on the concept. Among others following suit are Nationwide, Citigroup, Ford Motor Co., IBM and General Motors, which have all chosen to combine the best of in-office and remote working as their prime return-to-work method.

The role of work culture for remote employees

Developing a model around hours and location is only part of creating a successful remote, hybrid or WFA culture. This is because work culture is a blend of workplace processes, behaviors and beliefs that transcend in-person and remote teams to drive overall employee experience. Successful hybrid workplaces take into account the demands of both (remote and onsite) employees and build culture accordingly.  Assuming they continue to find success, in another few years, “remote work” will simply be deemed just “work.”

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