Work Is No Longer a Place You Go — It’s a Thing You *Do*

As a people analytics platform measuring workplace flexibility, Werk has an obvious interest in where people work. But even more importantly, we’re interested in the how. And one recent paradigm shift upends society’s traditional understanding of work, so much so that I’m hard-pressed to think of a bigger people sciences idea as we head into 2019.
So for LinkedIn’s #BigIdeas2019, here’s our bold prediction: Work will no longer be a place you go, but rather a thing you do.
In this future, success at work will no longer be measured by hours clocked in a single location, but by results. It’s like my co-founder Annie Dean told HP’s Garage earlier this year: “This isn’t the Industrial Age. We’re in a knowledge economy, so having someone sit at an office desk for a set number of hours per day doesn’t help a company’s productivity. In this day and age, it’s crazy to say there’s this work structure, it only works one way, and it works that way for everyone—that’s just not how we operate anymore.” And, to be honest, just because an employee shows up to the office and sits at their desk between the hours of 9 and 6 doesn’t mean they’re actually being productive. To be clear, displacing the place or physical constraints of work being a place that you go applies best to office/creative/services jobs. There are so many jobs that require physical presence like manufacturing, nursing, retail where it may not be possible to use location variety. That being said, I'm already seeing some creative opportunities to give front-line workers flexibility. Even if your job requires your physical presence, it shouldn't mean you can never attend to important personal matters like health needs and caregiving responsibilities.
As we head into 2019, we’ll start to see this one-size-fits-all workday replaced by something much more fluid and flexible, with time- and location-based modifications tailored to both the goals of a company and the needs of their employees. This adaptive workday isn’t an employee perk or a favor, and it certainly won’t be the exception to the rule. For the next generation of workers, it’s table stakes; for businesses, it’s a strategic imperative. As we wrote for Harvard Business Review in June, “In an economy where productivity is stagnant across the board, largely owing to a culture of overwork, flexibility is a key disruptor for improving productivity.”
This all might seem a little abstract, but the payoff of workplace flexibility is backed up by evidence both anecdotal and quantifiable.
Last year, Gallup found that 43 percent of employed Americans spent time working remotely as of 2016, a 4 percent increase since 2012. Additionally, the percentage of U.S. workers who worked away from the office at least 80 percent of the time rose from 24 percent to 31 percent over the same 4-year span. "Gallup consistently has found that flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee's decision to take or leave a job," the agency reported. "Employees are pushing companies to break down the long-established structures and policies that traditionally have influenced their workdays."
An IWG survey released this year provides even more compelling statistics : 70 percent of professionals worldwide work away from the company office at least one day a week, and 53 percent use location variety for at least half of the week.
The rise of remote and partially-remote work in such vast numbers provides even more proof that reporting to a specific workplace during specific hours—a practice decades and even centuries old by this point—doesn't work for the vast majority of the modern workforce. Werk's own research found that 37 percent of employees in the United States don't feel inspired or energized by their physical workplaces in the current workday structure. We also found that when employees are burdened with strict start times and long commutes, they’re often less able to engage in healthy living and provide adequate care for their children and loved ones.
Even Satya Nadella echoed these ideas in 2015, just a year and a half after he became CEO of Microsoft. "Work is no longer is a place you go to," he declared at the company's Future Decoded convention in London. "Work is about making things happen where you are."
This ideological shift can pay off for employers, too. Not only can employees perform more efficiently away from the company office, but remote work is also associated with lower corporate real estate costs as companies transition to hoteling, desk shares, and various other alternatives to transitional offices. According to our research, companies could optimize a third of their real estate simply by closing the flexibility gap for just half of the 84 percent of U.S. workers who are interested in location variety.
All that being said, it’s unlikely that physical offices will ever go extinct. In 2019, the task for employers is not necessarily to give everyone access to remote options unilaterally; it's to start looking beyond one-size-fits-all flexibility policies and designing new flex programs that are highly customized to their employees' diverse and ever-changing needs. With these evolutions in the way we work, it's clear that the companies who embrace flexibility and move towards an adaptive workday will lead their respective fields in every metric—e.g. engagement, talent attraction, and retention, just to name a few.
The Human Era of work has officially arrived, and the definition of “work” will never be the same.