What comes to mind when you hear the word workspace? Is it a corner desk inside a boring multi-storey office with post-its and files or a café surrounded by a thick pine forest cradled in a valley? While the first, the conventional office, has its perks, the latter seems to be the future of work. Let me elaborate.

Workstation with a view

We are all familiar with the concept of work from home (better known as the acronym WFH) but thanks to the pandemic and the lockdown that followed, we now have another option – work from anywhere (let’s call it WFA). A trend that was already gaining appeal with millennials, WFA gained popularity as employees and organisations both realised that it was no longer important to work from an office. Everything could be done from a remote location in fact, many felt that their productivity increased when not confined to the 4 walls of an office space. A majority of the workforce today comprises the millennials, who prioritise work-life balance and find it absurd to limit work to arbitrary specific times, instead of working from anywhere at anytime. This was a generation waiting to grab the opportunity to work from anywhere, be it their hometown, the mountains or close to the sea.

This liberation from the desk is not just an outcome of COVID – 19. It is a movement that was taking shape slowly. It meant wholesome living without compromising on profession. Much like the revolution that campus life of Google, Wipro and Infosys brought to work culture over a decade ago, WFA is now attracting many employees be it seasoned executives or those just starting out. This shift has also made organisations think outside the box to attract and retain talent, like Microsoft’s new Taj Mahal inspired office in Noida.

Microsoft campus in Noida stands out with its amalgamation of history and technology. Its Mughal-era charm reflects in the ivory corridors, domed ceilings and intricate jaali work.

Exodus from city life

No longer does a tier 2 or 3 resident have to stay in a metro to retain a city job. Instead, he/she can hold the same metro job while living in his hometown, close to his family. This also means better standard of living and lower cost of living, thus bringing about a curtailment of brain drain towards cities.  As per a research published in the Harvard Business Review, WFA organizations have the potential to reverse the brain drain that often plagues emerging markets, small towns, and rural locations.

There is also a strong sentiment to move closer to nature, away from busy metros. The concept of “workcation” has caught on, with many properties, be it hotels, home stays or Airbnbs, offering packages to people who want to work away from the noise of the city. Properties have started merging experience and work, and with this the demand for unheard locations close to nature and sustainable living has grown manifold. In fact, this new segment has gained such popularity that it is giving big hotel chains a run for money with the big players too trying to tap into this market.

The concept of ‘workcation’ has caught on, with many properties, be it hotels, home stays or Airbnbs, offering packages to people who want to work away from the noise of the city.

Meanwhile, there are others moving permanently to the mountains, forests or the beach. With cleaner air, lesser people and improved quality of life, many have created their dream homes without having to wait for retirement!

What makes WFA tick

Today we have the technology and tools that erase geographical boundaries. It is possible to stay connected from anywhere. From video conference calls to screen sharing, from cloud to project management platforms and digital assistants, sharing and connectivity is seamless. With this flexibility, employees can allow work hours to respond to the ebb and flow of their energy and personal schedule, thereby increasing productivity. According to a Deloitte survey of millennials, more than half of the respondents said that remote work opportunities boost productivity, and three quarters said they’d prefer to have more opportunities to work remotely.

WFA holds ample organizational benefits too. Remote work has shown increased employee engagement and productivity, both good metrics for organisations. Fewer in-office employees means need for smaller space and reduced real estate costs. WFA also expands the organization’s potential talent pool to include workers not tied to a location. Happy employees also lead to reduced attrition and generate a positive image in the industry.

A prerequisite to effective remote working is quality technology. You cannot do without good connectivity with a stable WiFi connection, a laptop in good working condition and noise cancelling headphones. It is best to go paperless and if you move your workstation from one space to another your office must fit in a backpack. Use scanning apps to keep documents at hand and cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive to keep all your work safe. When working from cafes or public spaces, having a privacy screen on the laptop helps. With everyone working differently from teammates to managers, regular information sharing is critical. Communication is the key to ensuring that everyone feels connected and there are no roadblocks along the way. Given the flexibility that comes with remote working, it is also important to have a schedule to stay on track. But don’t forget to take regular breaks to walk or stretch your legs at regular intervals!

Hurdles to overcome

This model, however, comes with its challenges. No common office space and only virtual communication with colleagues can cause lack of bonding and impact team culture. It makes knowledge sharing tough as colleagues cannot tap each other to ask questions or get help. Employees can feel isolated and managers might find it tough to develop a bond to mentor juniors. Data security and regulation cannot be overlooked and poses a big hurdle. All-remote companies have to work harder to protect corporate, customer and employee data.

No common office space and only virtual communication with colleagues can cause lack of bonding and impact team culture. Employees can also feel isolated.

Remote workforce can be a nightmare for the HR while monitoring timing, flexibility, perks, holidays as well as emotional and engagement needs. Performance evaluation and compensation get tough if you have never physically met an employee. Indicators such as interpersonal skills are hard to gauge and evaluation rests on the quality of their output, virtual interactions and feedback from clients and colleagues. As we go remote, office romance as we know it may cease to exist!

While there are a few problem areas that need to be ironed out, it is clear that the future will belong to more remote work opportunities. Individuals will take more risks and organisations will move to the WFA model to tap the best talent irrespective of the location. Stereotype jobs confined to cities will become a thing of the past and the cushy offices of today will soon be passé. Who doesn’t prefer the sound of waterfalls and chirping birds over traffic jams?