Testing the flex: what is the real future of flexible living and remote work?

What remote work looks like in the new world - Zoom, Webex and Teams collaboration

I feel there’s a perception that remote work or flexible working arrangements are only valuable for parents or carers. But, the truth is that many groups of people value flexibility and the freedom that comes with it.

I’m not what you’d call a ‘typical’ candidate who ‘needs’ flexibility, but here, I’d like to share why flexible and remote work arrangements are now so important to me. I’m willing to bet, some of you will relate.

Also, within this piece I explore the future of remote and flex work. How close are we really to being able to easily base ourselves anywhere in the world to work? Find out what global companies are doing about this now 👇🏻

As we mark International Women’s Day, it’s come to light that a hot talking point in 2022 is ‘flexibility’. Adjusted start/finish times, or a working from home day, were once considered a ‘luxury’ or a ‘favour’.

Since COVID, flexible arrangements are now ‘normal’, if not expected in roles where it’s possible to work remotely.

Working from home and flexible work is for everyone - read on to find out why

Flexing my professional options

For over ten years now, I’ve tested flexible and remote working models in several roles.

At my last workplace I was an early adopter of a compressed work week trial (four days, 10 hours each).

I was granted approval to work a compressed work week, so I could have an extra day in the week to pursue other personal and professional interests. These pastimes had the potential to enhance my productivity in the workplace.   

I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working for open-minded employers who were happy to grant ad hoc working from home days.

This has enabled me to strive for better work-life balance and to take care of my mental health and wellbeing.

In some of my roles, such as editing magazines like Get it, I supported in establishing fully remote teams. We set up staff around the globe and implemented collaboration tools and ‘keeping in touch’ strategies. Together, we successfully rolled out new publications each month based from our home offices.

A typical work from home or remote work setup

Remote working: how I learnt to see things differently

The early days of my career were forged within traditional 9 to 5 environments. In 2012 though, through attending conferences with other comms and marketing pros, I met people who called themselves ‘digital nomads’.

I was inspired by their “work from anywhere” approach.

Of course, there are caveats to this remote work arrangement. It is imperative to meet deadlines to keep and attract clients, and the quality of your work must be excellent.

I learnt from digital nomads that as an employee, contractor or freelancer working remotely, trust is key. If they were trusted to return high quality work, on time, every time, it didn’t matter to their employers where they were.

I took this insight on board, and firmly believe it to be true to this day.

Remote work arrangements mean we can work where we're inspired

…Then along came COVID

I found it fascinating to watch the media stories ramp up in 2021 around the “flexible and hybrid working revolution”.

COVID forced businesses to change tack, but I’ve known these arrangements to be alive and well for many years.

Forward-thinking companies have operated like this for years, with people based everywhere from Prague to Bali to Medellin.

These employers know the secret. Keep your best workers engaged by empowering them to feel inspired an energised.

One of the few silver linings out of COVID is that more businesses appreciate the value of implementing flexible work arrangements. Or, in the very least, they’re now open to the conversation.

Remote and flex working is multitasking and managing multiple stakeholders: trust is imperative

To flex or not to flex? That seems to be the question

While it must be obvious that I’m an advocate for flex, it would be remiss to ignore the downsides.

For anyone ‘forced’ into a working from home situation, they face very real risks. These include experiencing loneliness and loss of motivation.

Having the choice however, I find that scheduling a regular work from home day(s) enhances my wellbeing.

I know that ‘balance’ works best for me, here’s why: over the past year and a half I’ve been making my mark with a new employer (my current employer). If I had not had the opportunity to meet and work with colleagues, leaders, and stakeholders in person, and to develop the working relationships that I enjoy today, I would have possibly missed out on several significant points of recognition and opportunity.

I understand this is what Australia’s Productivity Commissioner Peter Achterstraat was alluding to in media statements earlier this month.

He was quoted as saying that “working from home is bad for your career”.

I don’t believe his argument extends so far that it supports us reverting to old fashioned ways of working.

However, there is something to be said for ensuring you balance traditional and contemporary approaches. This is especially true if you’re new to an organisation or your valuable networks have diminished.

Remote work city living: work from anywhere

Demand for flexible living and working

Recently, Airbnb has seen a serious spike in the number of guests booking stays of 90 days or longer. Over 100,000, in fact, between September 2020 to September 2021. Many of these bookings were specifically for ‘work friendly’ accommodation.

At the beginning of February, Airbnb published some interesting insights about ‘flexible living policies’.

👉🏻Businesses get creative with flexible living policies as remote work becomes more permanent.

Amazon was featured supporting the rise of ‘flexible living and working’. The company actively empowers corporate employees to choose working arrangements that best fit with their lifestyle.

Salesforce too, were highlighted for the introduction of their ‘Success from Anywhere’ policy. The initiative enables staff to choose where, when and how they work, and supports safe meetups with colleagues whenever possible. Just this week, Reuters reported that Salesforce is enjoying “upbeat results on hybrid work boost”.

The article goes on to share that global communications agency Weber Shandwick has also announced a permanent hybrid model. Their policy allows staff to work remotely for one month a year, whether from home or a new location.

And tech company, Paddle, through their ‘Navigate’ program, allows every employee to work from anywhere for six weeks per year. They even give their team members US$340 each to cover Airbnb costs for their remote work experience.

Remote work predictions, in summary:

“What was a temporary solution to the onset of the pandemic has become a permanent reality for millions of professionals. It’s the ability and desire to live and work from anywhere.

Survey after survey shows employees’ desire for workplace flexibility even after the pandemic recedes. A 7,500-consumer survey we commissioned across five countries found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of all respondents have come to expect more flexibility from their employers – and employers around the world are taking note.”

–Airbnb
Remote work and lifestyle balance: what the future of 'liquid borders' might feel like

A future of ‘liquid borders’ and a global workforce

According to Relocate.World, we’re headed towards a future with “liquid borders”.

They say, “as skills gain mobility, so do those who possess them”.

Two facts:

  1. The European Commission has published research that found over 18% of global roles can be performed remotely.
  2. Labour and skills shortages and an ageing population means the current active workforce will shrink by 50 million in the next 30 years.

Higher demand for the right people will inevitably mean those people will want the work on their terms. We’re already seeing this trend, as mentioned above via insight from Airbnb.

Putting the ‘flex’ in flexible

It’s exciting, all this talk of a flex work revolution.

I don’t have children, but I appreciate that flexible working arrangements make parents’ lives so much better. Similarly, those caring for ageing family members (and often kids too) need flexibility. It’s a game-changer.

For me, I value flexibility as it enables me to work in environments where I’m motivated and inspired. This isn’t a pipedream, it’s absolutely possible.

The key term for me in all of this really is ‘flexible’.

One size does not fit all.

Whatever ‘flex’ might look like for you, I’ll bet that you feel a sense of freedom because of it.

It goes to show that freedom (and associated balance, wellbeing and ease) is attainable. If we can continue to design our lives and working arrangements to benefit all involved (ourselves and our employers), then I see that flexibility is, happily, the future.