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Work from home, the future of work?

by Melvin Methe, on Jun 16, 2022 3:00:00 PM

After time spent in lockdown and under restrictions, remote working, or working from home (WFH), has been hot topic. It isn’t a recent one, though.

Trends of a cultural shift towards WFH have been noticeable for a couple of decades: on one hand, new technologies provide workers access to new tools, processes and resources; on the other hand, economies are more decentralised, on national, regional and global levels. There are less reasons for someone to live in urban centres and more opportunities for people to move around the world. And so, people aren’t afraid of doing so anymore!

The Covid crisis has mainly accelerated the digitalisation of workspaces. Before setting our eyes towards the future, let’s take a look at the ways us creatives can work.

Office Work

Being the traditional way of working, going to the office is the proven, stable solution and is still the default option. This is mainly due to our social needs: seeing people in person greatly facilitates communication. It is easier to get a feel of the company, of its culture, and subsequently adhere to its vision. Access to colleagues outside of our team or department is also simpler, so is networking. The idea generation process is also smoother when people are together in person as body language is our main way of communicating. Unfortunately, teleconferences, especially with closed cams, only provide us a small part of our communication toolkit.

Office working has its issues: productivity and commuting. Being social helps foster company culture but makes it hard for us to be as productive as we can. Deep work sessions are easier to achieve in a calm, controlled environment. Let’s get to the main issue of office working: commuting. With an average of almost an hour per day for European workers, it makes for more than 10 days per year! It also has a cost: most Europeans living in capital cities spend at least 3% of their monthly wage on commuting.‍

Remote Work

WFH solves office working issues: is going to the office worth this amount of time and money? There is a big appeal in saving them for other purposes. Flexibility is the keyword of remote working. By defining a schedule that caters to our own process and the needs in our own lives, we are more productive at work.

However, the lack of socialising makes it hard for us to feel  a part of a company. Also, finding a healthy work-life balance can be harder for remote workers, especially independent ones. A stunted social life negatively affects mental health: teleworkers suffer more from loneliness, anxiety, higher levels of stress and sleeping disorder.

Hybrid Work

So why not mix the office and remote work? Both parties triumph in this scenario. Workers win by managing their schedule as they like while companies save on rent, electricity and (mostly) useless perks. Actually, industry leaders in major European economies plan on a shift towards a hybrid workforce.

Frictions mainly come from management. The abrupt transition is harder for some managers to deal with: their lack of self-confidence in their remote managing skills negatively impacts their trust in the employees’ abilities to do the job. Ultimately, I believe anti-WFH managers will slowly accept this new way of working by becoming better at managing people remotely.‍

Ongoing Cultural Shift

Hybrid working is the result of a combination of paradigm shifts: the globalisation of the creative market, the development of independent work, and the democratisation of workers’ well-being.

For decades, globalisation has connected companies, workers and clients beyond geographic restrictions. Clients aren’t afraid of reaching out to service providers based across the world. Let’s take the example of the United Kingdom. It has surely one of the strongest creative economies, contributing for 6% of its economic growth, which contributed for 12% of UK’s total service export in 2018. Its capital city is home to industry leaders in design, marketing, fashion, architecture, culture and fine arts collaborating with entities all over the world.

Staying in Europe, independent workers are the fastest growing professional demographic with more than half already used to remote working.

More recently, workers’ well-being is being more considered. Open discussions between workers and employers around the 4-days work week, work-life balance, personal growth, and mental health are now regularly exchanged on social media.

What do I think about it?

What is my stance on WFH? It is here to stay. We, creatives, are already accustomed to this way of working, which fits us perfectly: it gives us options to move wherever we want, work how we want and collaborate the way we want with companies. Basically, it gives us freedom.

As an independent creative, I see full-time office work as a relic of the past. First, a hybrid workforce is a win-win scenario for both workers and employers. Then, full-time work can be constraining because of non-competition clauses, especially during slow months. I see jointly defining office and remote workdays, as well as scheduling meetings with the companies we are working with, as a healthier way of doing business.

Loneliness is a serious issue in the independent worker community. Co-working spaces are an alternative to WFH, or working at a café. Being surrounded by other creatives helps us in our process, by exchanging feedback but also growth, by exchanging knowledge, know-hows and networking. To fulfil the growing need for such spaces, people are launching more and more locations throughout the globe.

To conclude, I see WFH and hybrid work as a way for us workers to get more control of our lives. But freedom isn’t free: it is our role to balance responsible productivity, well-being, social life and growth ourselves. This way of working requires drive, self-discipline and time management skills. Ultimately, doing WFH the right way gives so much space for us to grow as creatives.

Melvin Methe studied at PCU's School of Art & Design and is the founder of Agora. His article was first published in August 2021 for Agora. This article has been reproduced with permission.