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Remote work is reshaping our relationship with the office

Across coworking spaces and home offices and living room couches and cafés, a growing battalion of workers are working remotely — and forcing professionals to rethink their relationship with the office.

Studies show remote workers are growing in number, quickly. While census data shows that 5.3 percent of the workforce works exclusively outside the office, additional research shows almost two-thirds of employees spend one or more days a week working outside the office.

We surveyed 1,000+ office workers to explore how the rise in remote work is changing our relationship with the office and discovered three key things: 

  • A majority of professionals say the flexibility to work remotely is a must-have when considering a new job.
  • No matter where people work, they value a dedicated workspace above all else be it a home office, a coworking space, or an office space.
  • People no longer think of work as something they do in one place, but as something that fits into their broader lives.

The Flexibility to Work Remotely is Becoming a Must-Have

Strikingly, the ability to work remotely emerged as a top workplace benefit with more than 70% of workers calling it a must-have perk.

Part of this comes down to convenience and flexibility remote work offers. But respondents also connected being able to control their work environment with being more productive.

“I sometimes find working outside the office allows me to focus more on my work, and less on the daily distractions of office life,” says Shannon Shankman, a marketing professional in Austin, TX.

The research backs this up. An oft-cited Harvard Business Review study of U.S. Patent and Trade Office workers found remote workers saw their productivity measurably increase. Other studies have found companies that offer remote work benefits see higher employee happiness and lower attrition rates.

Speaking to Recode, Eden Rehmet, a commodities broker in New York City who often works remotely, says, “I’m more productive [and] … have the ability to concentrate and create my own environment.”

Beyond the Office: Where People Are Working Remotely

So where are remote workers setting up shop? In our survey, we wanted to know where people are working outside the office — and how often during the work week they use those remote workspaces.

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Here’s what we found:

  1. Working from Home is Popular, But It’s Not a Full-Time Thing.

    Outside the office, working from home is one of the most popular places for remote workers to set up shop. But while much ink has been spilled on the benefits of working from home, most people don’t see it as a full-time workspace. In our survey, professionals said they spent just 15% of their week, on average, working from home. That means the average person is working from home just under a day a week.

  2. Coworking Spaces are Becoming an Office Outside the Office (Especially with Younger Workers).

    While 18% of people told us they had worked in a coworking space over the past year, those who did spent almost half of their week working there (while spending the rest of their week working at a corporate office or from home), making it the most used workspace after the office.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, coworking is more popular with younger workers, who value the flexibility it provides. 20% of Millennials and a third of Gen Z’ers reported using a coworking space in the past year, showing the popularity of these spaces with younger workers.

  3. People Value Dedicated Workspaces Over Ad-Hoc Setups.

    While people working in coffee shops and other public spaces are a frequent sight, these types of spaces are the least popular places for remote work. In fact, just 10% of people say they’ve worked from one of these places from the last year — and for just 10% of their week, on average, at that. Instead, professionals value dedicated workspaces like traditional offices, coworking spaces and home offices over ad-hoc setups in public spaces and other unconventional workspaces.

The Office is Just One of Many Modern Workspaces

In today’s world, most people are already “working remotely” whether or not they’re at the office.

“In reality, whether you’re nine feet, nine floors, or nine miles away, you’re probably communicating with colleagues remotely,” Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, tells Recode. “The tools to make sure everyone succeeds are the same tools you need for working remotely.”

Those same tools mean most people are “always on” with work emails and Slack messages arriving on their phones during the mornings, nights and weekends. Taken together, the office is becoming just one more place where work happens.

“When I do work in the office, it’s mostly about working with others and getting face-to-face time,” says Justin Winslow, a user interface and web developer in Austin, TX, who frequently works remotely to avoid a traffic-fueled, two-hour commute. “But sometimes it’s just about having another place to work. Sometimes I need to get out of the house to focus, so I’ll head to the office or a coffee shop to change things up.”

The big thing, Winslow says, is making his work life work around his personal life, and not vice versa.

[Learn how to successfully manage remote teams and distributed workers in our guide.]

It’s something Shankman echoes. “Working remotely is convenient when I have an appointment or something else I need to tend to,” she says. “Plus, I have access to email and Google Hangouts wherever I am, so I can work from anywhere.”

But while she enjoys the flexibility, Shankman still sees the office as a place to be. “I value little things like having extra monitors at my desk,” she says. Plus, there’s the value of seeing people in person. “It’s nice to put a face to a name.”

Still, Shankman says being able to work remotely when she needs to is a definitive perk. “Would I give it up? No,” she says.  

Learn more about what amenities, perks, workplace environments and technology top talent wants in the office in Hana’s white paper, Forget Foosball: People Want a Better Place to Work, Not Play. 

Dec 10 2019

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