With the growth of the internet and mobile and its continued integration into our daily lives, society has moved its work channels from the physical to the digital, erasing the lines between work and life in the process. And with it, perhaps we have created a unique problem: We are trapped between the demands of the nontraditional and traditional office space.
It used to be so simple. Your work required special tools and processes. These tools were at the workplace. Thus, in order to work, you commuted from your home to the workplace.
Now, according to a 2015 telecommuting statistics report published by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, regular work-at-home employees have grown by 103 percent in a decade’s time with nearly 4 million -- or 2.5 percent of the workforce -- doing their jobs from the comforts of home at least half the time.
At first glance, this should make things easier. Instead, people are working longer hours while still maintaining the ritual of traveling to a designated office.
In researching for Hyper Island’s new “Changes of Tomorrow” trend report, we discovered that current threat of burnout and work-life challenges may come not from our constantly connected lifestyles but from the fact that we are still stuck somewhere in the middle, clinging onto the old ways by insisting that people come into an office for 40 hours while also expecting them to be available at all times.
Instead, we need to recognize that work, for most modern adults, is an integral part of life, and that work-life balance can probably be better managed if not confined to a particular space.
Here are three reasons why it might be time to leave workplace limbo and embrace complete flexibility.
1. Offices are a waste of time and money.
Even in the digital age, the rising cost of renting and maintaining a physical office has been (wrongly) accepted as a given for most companies. But few people also factor in the high costs associated with wasted time.
In regards to just commuting, Census Bureau reports that 10.8 million U.S. workers travel more than an hour each way to work. Of those, around 600,000 endure longer commutes of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles each way.
"In terms of travel time, our national commute has been ridiculously stable," explains Alan Pisarski, author of Commuting in America. In fact, he clarifies that from 2000 to 2011, the average commute time has remained roughly the same. The cost in fuel, not factoring in medical costs of commuting-based obesity, cholesterol, pain, fatigue and anxiety, or the loss of workplace productivity adds up fast.
This is coupled with office-specific malaise, office gossiping, and needless in-person meetings has contributed to vast hours of wasted time as well as up to 40 percent productivity loss in the office according to Time Doctor stats. Many of these costs could be eliminated or vastly reduced if people simply worked from home or traveled shorter distances in an even more flexible working format.
2. Less office means increased productivity.
As technology has made me ever-connected and more available, I’ve come to believe that I’m as productive working remotely as I am when working from an office. But I’m not the only one who feels this way.
In the SoftChoice study, over 70 percent said they would quit their current job for a different company offering the opportunity to work outside of the office more frequently, with 62 percent adding that they’re actually more productive working outside the office citing advances in mobile and cloud technology. Another study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that remote workers tend to get higher performance evaluations.
This trend towards remote productivity is also heralded by the emergence of services like Slack, universal time-tracker Toggl, cross-platform workspace management app Evernote and the flexible working tools provided by customer relationship management solutions giant, Salesforce, which have not only helped boost remote productivity, but have revamped core workflows.
And this trend shows no sign of slowing, signaling a decreased need for a centralized physical hub for workers. At last count, Slack boasted 11 million daily active users and a weekly growth rate of 3 to 5 percent.
3. Increased work flexibility promotes work-life balance.
While tech innovation has spurred a growth in remote workflow, corporate monoliths are also championing non-traditional, office-less working structures to promote a healthier work-life balance for their employees. These companies treat employees more like mini-companies, where their value is their output.
Work-life balance has become a core concern of office culture and overall satisfaction. In a recent study of 1,700 employees conducted by IT solutions / services provider, SoftChoice, 75 percent of those polled also said that remote working allowed them to keep more social and personal commitments, leading to better work-life balance.
A joint study by Working Mother and Morgan Stanley echoes this, finding that women who do not have flexibility are the least optimistic group in our survey about their career prospects, regardless of earnings, title or occupation.
Major companies and public figures have started paying attention. Humana, Apple, GE, IBM and more all allow employees to work remotely, while House Speaker Paul Ryan and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have become unwitting spokespeople on the demands of work and importance of family time.
Another example, Netflix, recently created a stir when it introduced unlimited paid parental leave for its staff. This inspired fellow Silicon Valley mainstay Adobe to follow suit. Fast Retailing, the parent company of global retail chains including Uniqlo, also recently began testing four-day work weeks for a sizable percentage of its workforce. This domino effect is the natural result of big brands realizing that their main value exists not in the structure provided by offices -- but in its workers.
4. The future of offices
It’s possible that the office may never truly fade away. After all, a corporate culture with team-building activities and feedback can help employees feel connected to their team members while sharing corporate purpose and values. Office spaces may remain because we need a place to tell jokes and laugh, share food and talk about our challenges or simply because we don't really know what else to do.
But our core workflows have forever been altered by the rapid evolution of technology and our path to productivity and better personal lives depends on the ability to adapt to a more flexible, less-finite working process. And that might mean leaving the office behind.