Why Work Location Matters, But Not as Much as You Think

/ Thoughtspace - Workplace Culture

A lot of attention of late has been focused on the binary choice of work from home vs. work at the office.  Many companies have split the difference and advocated for a hybrid work model, in the name of flexibility.  And for good reason… when they survey their employees, opinions split vastly by age, gender, parental status and seniority.  But this isn’t a binary choice, as many knowledge workers have the power to work not just from the home or office, but from anywhere.  It is not just executives anymore that have the luxury of typing thought pieces from an airport lounge between flights or finishing new business presentations over a nightcap at the hotel bar.  The definition of the ‘office’ is changing for many, with co-working spaces or coffee shop networks replacing a stand-alone office space dedicated to a single company.

Work from anywhere isn’t new.  Our friends at Zapier have been doing it since their inception in 2011.  It doesn’t take an expert in workplace psychology to see some of the potential benefits, like commute times. However, people that work exclusively from home experience the highest level of employee exhaustion, compared to in-person or hybrid employees, according to a study from our partners at TinyPulse that surveyed over 700 HR professionals.   For creative workers, inspiration and creativity often don’t come by staring at the same four walls all of the time, whether at the office or at their homes.

A work-anywhere policy doesn’t have to mean fully remote

Forrester estimates that, post-pandemic, only 18.2MM people will be eligible to work from home 100% of the time, which is less than 12% of the US workforce.  Many companies are opting for a hybrid model to meet somewhere in the middle. Working from anywhere is a “people first, place second” mentality that translates trust and value to employees from a corporation.

How to reverse engineer where you should work

1. Define ideal in-office frequency

Leadership needs to define the frequency for in-office work is ideal for company or department-wide priorities to be achieved.  All staff meetings, overarching training exercises, culture or volunteer events, off-site retreats, may all be part of the equation to achieve the right balance for their specific business.  For brick-and-mortar businesses, this is probably (but not always) everyday.  For businesses that have been fully remote for some time, this could be quarterly or annually.  For many though, these could be designating one or two days/week or month of mandatory office attendance.  If your company mandates some in-office time, focus those days on tasks where collaboration is important.

2. Identify optimal workspace for different job functions

More importantly, where should you work on non-mandated days when you have more flexibility? Is it always your home office?  Take your company or department goals and apply them to your own.  Divide your week into percentages, based on the discipline, and choose your location accordingly.  Innovation, client management, research, thought leadership, mentorship/training, building reports, creative endeavors, brainstorming.  Where can you work to maximize the output of each of these functions? This is your base, your ideal working schedule.  Here is an example of how I like to lay out my hybrid work week to optimize different buckets of work and key tasks.

3. Consider the needs of others

Tailor your schedule to balance the needs of others in your circle – your teams, peers and your family.  Understand the communication styles of the people you manage, and the peers you work most closely with.  Are they spontaneous or scheduled?  What functions do they focus on?  If your direct report wants to have a stand-up meeting first thing on Monday, know what location best suits you and your team for that meeting.  What non-work needs might affect your schedule?  Work from anywhere may allow you more flexibility to schedule health-related activities before/after work or over lunch breaks, for instance.  As a new dad, my son splits time between daycare and grandparents during the work week, so I’ve tailored his ‘daycare’ days to align with in-office days, giving me greater flexibility on drop off times.

Incorporating flex work at Coegi

At Coegi, we smoothly transitioned from an  in-office company with flex time options to completely remote during the pandemic. Now, we request employees work in the office every Thursday to participate in team training and activities, but allow the flexibility to choose to work from home 2-3 days of the week, if they so desire. This truly seems to be the ideal scenario as it ensures some level of in-person interaction and collaboration, but gives a large amount of freedom on an individual level to balance their work and personal schedules throughout the week.

Some of the specific benefits we’ve seen from switching to hybrid work include a greater sense of community, decreased feeling of burnout, and improvement of inter-company tools and shared resources. It forced us to become aware of and fix some of the communication gaps previously existing in our company.

Stop being afraid of work-anywhere models

At the end of the day, companies need to stop being afraid of work-anywhere models. If you set strong frameworks from an organizational level and empower employees with the tools and ability to reverse engineer their work to be optimal for them, work-anywhere can work, well, anywhere.

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