Work in an office? Or anywhere? Here's why 56% want both options at once

For outdoor adventure, it's hard to beat Bend, Ore. You're always just a few minutes away from hiking trails, river kayaking, fishing or daredevil mountain-bike routes. But if you swing by 1001 SW Emkay Drive, you'll see a thriving new Bend activity that never shows up on Instagram. 

This serene office building is the home of BendTech Coworking, a haven for people who want the combined pleasures of vacationland surroundings and a big-city paycheck. According to BendTech's community manager, Brian Lindensmith, at least 70% of his patrons are clicking away at laptops all day -- getting it done for faraway companies such as AmazonTwitterVisaStarbucks or Oracle

Can you have it both ways? Increasingly, that seems to be what people with portable jobs are seeking. The professional world’s 15-month mass experiment with working remotely isn’t about to vanish from sight. Having the freedom to pick one’s own workplace, at least part of the week, is more alluring than ever. 

Yet even in outdoor paradises like Bend, people aren’t totally shunning old routines. Some prefer the office-like tempo of a co-working space -- or periodic trips back to corporate hubs in cities such as Seattle or San Francisco. For all the apparent convenience of working from home, sometimes the combined chaos of Legos, laptops, laundry and laser printers just becomes too much. 

LinkedIn’s Glint unit has surveyed more than 300,000 employees around the world, asking what type of work environment they want most, assuming the flexibility to choose between traditional workplaces and more personal settings.  

The majority, 56%, voted for a hybrid option, allowing them to shuttle back and forth. Another 31% wanted a purely remote setting; only 13% chose what amounts to all-office, all the time. 

As the chart above shows, each of the single-focus choices has its unique pros and cons. At organizations with greater investment in remote work, employees are more likely to recommend their manager and have confidence in their overall leadership. Glint also has found signs that such organizations have more inclusive cultures. (Employees report greater comfort speaking up; they also say their leaders value diverse perspectives.) 

 On the other hand, employees at organizations with higher levels of remote investment are less likely to feel positive about their level of work-life balance.

 By contrast, boundaries are stronger -- and attitudes about work-life balance are more upbeat -- at employers where remote work hasn’t been a common option. Such settings, however, don’t score as well in terms of overall confidence in leadership, comfort in speaking up, leaders valuing diverse perspectives or inclination to recommend survey respondents’ immediate manager.

 It’s important to note that in many industries, working remotely isn’t an easily available option. Construction workers need to be onsite, as do bus drivers, bartenders, golf caddies, pilots, flight attendants, hair stylists and dentists. McKinsey consultants recently estimated that remote work is an option for less than half the U.S. workforce.  

There’s growing evidence that 2020’s sudden adoption of work-from-home boosted output, especially in terms of predictable tasks. (By Microsoft’s tally, the volume of email sent in 2020 climbed by 40.6 billion messages.) Could some people have let their work hours stretch to the point of fatigue? That’s being studied, too.  

Looking ahead, the enduring productivity gains of “work anywhere” may be as large as 5%, especially if time saved on commutes is counted. according to a recent analysis published by the National Bureau for Economic Research. 

Noelita Lugo, an Austin-based social-services expert, says she appreciates the greater flexibility that working from home provides. People build their daily schedules so they can get everything done at appropriate times, she says, rather than being trapped in a 9-to-5 routine that mistakes attendance for accomplishments.  

What’s appealing to workers, however, isn’t always what bosses want -- especially in the government sector. “Some employers are moving very quickly back to an all-in person staff,” Lugo says. “I hope we’ll be able to absorb the value of what we’ve learned about the hybrid model.”  

Lugo currently is a management consultant for Public Knowledge, handling engagements with state and local governments around the country. Some meetings are best done in person; others can be carried out faster via Zoom, Teams or other remote-friendly technologies, she observes. As she sees it, hybrid approaches give both her and clients the flexibility she needs. 

Chere Estrin, a Los Angeles-based legal recruiter, is fascinated right now by big law firms’ struggles to decide what their attitudes toward hybrid work should be, going forward. Some are eager to get everyone back in the office, on the belief that in-person contact is how unique work cultures stay strong.  

Others -- especially ones in high-cost housing markets such as San Francisco or Seattle -- are finding that they can hire new talent faster and more affordably if they relax old rules about how often people need to be in the office. One tweak that’s gaining favor: hiring associates or paralegals in southern California to support key partners in New York -- but having the Californians spend part of their time in the law firm’s regional Los Angeles office. 

A few weeks ago, LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey found that as employees contemplate a full (or partial) return to the workplace, they’re most excited about the chance to do collaborative work or to mingle with colleagues and clients.  

They’re slightly less enthusiastic about the traditional workplace as a site for sustained, task-focused work. And they aren’t jazzed at all about conforming once again to the official -- or unwritten -- rules of what you’re supposed to wear at work. 

Brian Lindensmith, the Bend, Ore., coworking specialist, argues that facilities like his are well positioned to give (slightly) nomadic workers both the flexibility and cohesion that they want. 

“Working from home can have a ton of distractions,” he points out. Coworking spaces make everything seem more scheduled, while also allowing for some light-touch collaboration and idea swapping with workspace neighbors, even if they aren’t employed by the same company. 

Everyone’s experimenting. No one is certain what the new work tempo will be, or how much it will vary by industry and situation. Today’s keen interest in hybrid work may simply be a signal that employees want to keep their options open.



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