Just last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that many of the company’s 48,000 employees will soon be able to live and work from virtually anywhere—granted that they’re okay with a pay adjustment. The announcement came amidst having its entire workforce working from home since the COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect in March.
Zuckerberg isn’t the only one with this idea, either. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, also announced that his companies are taking steps to promote a work-from-anywhere future. Big players like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have also extended remote work until at least the end of 2020.
What’s with all the commotion about work from anywhere?
The massive, mandated work-from-home experiment due to COVID-19 has sparked a new type of flexible work model among progressive organisations and thought leaders: work from anywhere. To put it simply, work from anywhere is a step above work from home, which implies that employees are still local and present.
Work from anywhere made headlines after the social media giants made their announcements, but the work-from-anywhere idea isn’t unique by any means. In fact, organisations such as Articulate and Zapier established the 100% remote trend in the early-2000s by using technology and the internet in place of traditional office spaces. Even organisations such as American Express were early adopters of work from anywhere for segments of their workforce.
The social media giants, however, did take work from anywhere from a far-fetched fantasy to mainstream discourse. organisations are now contemplating extending work from home, if not adopting fully remote, work from anywhere arrangements.
Should organisations allow employees to work from anywhere?
As COVID-19 restrictions loosen around the country, returning to our offices won’t be as quick and easy as it seems. Modern offices were designed to optimise space and pack employees into confined settings—a quality that doesn’t take highly-contagious illnesses into account. Employee safety is the number one priority for organisations in the recovery phase, and that means possibly reimagining traditional offices.
Understandably, work from anywhere might be on the table, even as a temporary measure. With a virus floating around, employees won’t feel safe enough to work productively in their cramped office spaces. Forcing employees to return to their offices could potentially backfire from both safety and HR standpoints. After all, employees won’t be happy going back if it means risking their health, and unhappy employees are less engaged, productive, and loyal.
How effective is work from anywhere?
At the same time, the work-from-home event has proved how effective remote work really is. Despite many organisations scrambling to piece together remote work technologies at the onset of the pandemic, organisations able to effectively work from home have mostly been weathering the storm—with some even thriving. Business operations continued as remote employees showed equal amounts of productivity at home as they did in the office, if not more.
Research supports the work-from-home productivity boost too. A Stanford University experiment with China’s largest online travel agency CTrip found that fully remote employees were 13% more productive, and showed higher employee satisfaction and lower turnover. Another study found that, on average, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts.
Many leaders have caught on to the work-from-anywhere trend and plan to support it. A recent Gartner survey on 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. Nearly a quarter of those plan to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
The luxury of work from anywhere, however, isn’t a perk every team can afford to offer. Workers such as content moderators, data centre operators, hardware engineers, and even sales representatives have to work with company products and can only operate on-site. Every organisation has unique business needs that only its leaders can assess. One thing is for certain: in the post-COVID-19 workplace—at least for the remainder of 2020—every organisation will have to make a tough decision on whether employees return to the office.
How can organisations adopt work from anywhere?
For many organisations that have the capability to work from anywhere, the challenge is figuring out how to empower fully remote employees and ensure success regardless of location. Headquarters can be in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, while entire teams are scattered across multiple states and time zones. At the same time, remote employees might choose to work different schedules from their teammates and have multiple variables that can hinder collaboration.
Naturally, technology will be pivotal to work-from-anywhere practices. COVID-19 transformed remote work from an employee perk to a business necessity overnight. Employees and managers have undergone a crash course in communications and collaboration apps during the pandemic, not to mention workdays packed with emails, video meetings, and team messaging. Considering that many organisations won’t return to work for several more months, these tools and practices will stick.
Productivity tools like team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud-based phone calling allow employees to communicate and collaborate from any location and any device. What’s more, unified communications solutions combine these essential tools into a single platform where all messaging, file sharing, video meetings, and phone calls happen. Remote employees only need to manage a single app and can effortlessly switch between different modes of communication with a single click.
Management practices will likely need to be revisited as well. Managing fully remote and distributed teams presents a unique set of challenges, such as aligning work schedules, productivity concerns, employee silos, and feelings of exclusion and isolation. For example, managers can’t monitor the productivity of remote teams. As a result, managers will have to evaluate work-from-anywhere employees based on performance rather than attendance.
Driving business success from anywhere in the world
While over 90% of workers wanted more flexible work arrangements pre-COVID-19, the pandemic inadvertently made it a reality—for the better, in many ways. Employees have experienced better work-life balance and higher productivity, while employers have seen its positive impacts on business continuity.
Many of those employees won’t return to the office. Instead, organisations will likely embrace work from anywhere and give employees more control over their professional and personal lives. Whether it’s working from home, in the office, on a family trip to the Bahamas, or even in a hospital as a family member recovers from an illness, work from anywhere is the future of work, and organisations are listening.
As work from anywhere continues to grow in popularity, organisations should prepare for future remote workforces today. Tools like unified communications ensure that every employee in the organisation—whether on-site, working from home, or working from anywhere—has the technology to work from any location and on any device they prefer. Unified communications allow fully remote teams to collaborate as they would in the office, without limiting employees to geographic restrictions. Once work from anywhere becomes ubiquitous, organisations with the right technology will be ready to succeed.
Originally published 11 Jun, 2020, updated 13 Jan, 2023