The future is flexible
The current state of work, and why the future is going remote
The current state of work
People are waking up. Many are realizing that there’s more to life than working from an office to do a job under the supervision of a manager. In the modern workplace, there is little room for flexible work arrangements—that’s starting to change.
With a traditional job arrangement, you’re expected to commute to work—time for which you are not paid for. You’re expected to work from 9–5 (or longer), leaving you with little free time before or after work. You’re expected to “be productive” for the entirety of your day, which as we all know, is ridiculous. You’re expected to be comfortable with being interrupted when you’re trying to achieve some deep work.
If companies want to get the most out of their employees, they need to realize that traditional work arrangements won’t cut it as work itself fundamentally changes. In a 2014 article from Harvard Business Review, the author, Nicholas Bloom interviews James Liang, the cofounder of Ctrip, a Chinese company.
Since Ctrip started allowing people to work from home with flexible arrangements, they’ve saved $1,900 per employee. James mentioned that employees were also more productive—making 13.5% more calls than those in the office, experiencing fewer office distractions and working longer hours.
The workplace is slowly changing. In the U.S., the job quit rate has hit an all-time high in 17 years. Talent is starting to flock toward companies with flexible and remote work arrangements — giving those companies a major competitive advantage. By offering flexible, remote work arrangements, you’re opening up your ability to acquire the best talent to the entire world.
Remote work and mental health
A flexible and remote work arrangement doesn’t mean you have to become a full-fledged digital nomad. Last week, Amir Salihefendic wrote a wonderful article entitled “What Most Remote Companies Don’t Tell You About Remote Work” which explored some nasty realities about remote work like isolation, anxiety, and depression.
For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with the article, and we need new language to describe people who have flexible work schedules. Not everyone, nor every company, needs to go 100% remote. Ultimately, companies should be open to remote, flexible arrangements while optimizing for human happiness and the wellbeing of its employees.
Being a digital nomad can be a truly lonely endeavor—I’ve done it and it was extremely difficult at times. When I was 24, I decided to quit my office job in San Diego. I bought a one-way ticket to Asia with no real plan. Digital nomads were starting to be glorified around this time, and so loneliness and mental health weren’t being discussed.
As the weeks passed, with only a few semi-genuine connections, and a lack of shared experiences, I started to get depressed. At first, I thought the loneliness would subside, and that these feelings were a normal part of being a digital nomad. I craved community, human interaction, and anything that gave me feelings of belonging. Since then, I’ve struck a more harmonious balance between having a home-base, and then traveling from out of there several times a year.
As the founder of Mindful Makers, I hope people can become more mindful of their work, life outside of work, and overall health. In fact, I think a flexible, remote work arrangement is better for a person’s overall health, effectively making them more productive. They can:
- Stand, stretch, and take walks without judgment
- Have more time to workout — no more “too tired after work” excuses
- Get more sleep by sleeping longer, and taking naps
Becoming flexible with work
Daniel Pink’s book “When” talks about how timing plays a crucial role in a person’s ability to be successful. Do you work best in the mornings, afternoons, or evenings? By understanding and being aware of the nature of your role and how it fits within the context of your company and clients, you can craft a more flexible schedule. A company that wants its employees and contractors to be successful should optimize for when each individual works best.
Teams of all sorts should also want to meet in person at some point. Human connections are incredibly powerful and we should want to seek them out. So finding harmony between remote work and real-life should be a shared goal for everyone.
Not all flexible work arrangements have to be 100% remote. There isn’t one correct answer or combination, but the following are flexible scenarios that companies can employ:
- Solution 1: Company with offices who offers flexible work arrangements several days per week
- Solution 2: Company with offices who has remote workers and offers flexible work arrangements
- Solution 3: Company C with a small office, but most of the employees are remote
- Solution 4: Company D without an office. They are remote-first, and only offer remote roles (all flexible of course)
If your company doesn’t yet offer remote or flexible work arrangements, there are several things you can do:
- Talk to your managers to see if you can work from home or a coworking space a couple days a week
- Offer to work more hours so that you can take Fridays off
- Find a new job, start a side project, and/or become a freelancer. There are countless opportunities that allow you to work from home on your own terms
Additionally, coworking spaces can offer a tighter-knit community of people with shared interests and work schedules. They can be useful in forming lasting relationships in places you might be traveling or working remotely from. Your company may even sponsor you to work from a coworking space, covering the costs. In fact, I am writing this article from a coworking space in Amsterdam — I am here for a month to explore and hang out with friends.
Where we’re headed
The current state of work is broken. And as the economy rapidly changes, we need to start normalizing more flexible work arrangements that value human wellbeing and dignity.
And automation isn’t making the future of work for humans any easier—but there’s hope. In conversations I’ve had with Pieter Levels, we’ve discussed how work is becoming “generalist” in nature as specialization continues to recede. What this means is that because creativity is inherently associative, people who can bring in ideas from many domains are in a great position for solving future problems, and in a flexible, remote future, they’ll have a competitive advantage.
The good news is that companies are slowly waking up. Many are realizing that by giving their team the tools they need to be the best humans (not just employees) possible, they’re becoming more profitable and sustainable (I’m talking about awesome companies like Buffer, Zapier, and many more). But in order for flexible, remote work arrangements to go mainstream, the freelancers, travelers, consultants, founders, and makers of the world will need to continue to push these ideas forward.