Every office worker, at some point, has dreamed of working anywhere besides an office. Thanks to the technological revolution, this is exactly what some people have done. They're known as digital nomads, and as long as they have access to wireless networks, they work from beaches in the tropics, coffee shops in Europe, and other locales. One woman worked for Evernote for 6 years from her sailboat.
There is, however, a tradeoff to foregoing the office. Many digital nomads experience a disconnect from their teams. They're not present for conversations that inspire creativity, or the details of product launches. They miss out on the camaraderie the physical office fosters, and for them, company culture is delivered via pixels, losing some of its impact.
There are also corporations such as Aetna and Yahoo eliminating remote worker policies, bringing their nomads back to the office. The reasons vary from a lack of productivity to a stagnation of new innovation, the lifeblood of capitalist competition. Some nomads make the decision to return to the fold on their own, citing family planning, difficulties connecting to coworkers from far-flung time zones, and headaches surrounding the logistics of travel and temporary lodging.
Nomads Coming Home
Whether workers are returning to the office from their home or from a beach on the other side of the world, there's an adjustment to be made to the non-remote work style. Stuffing them back in a cubicle may not be well received, whether their return is voluntary or the result of a policy change. So what's the best way to help them acclimate back to the office?
Some employees working in an office still like to set their own hours. If a worker prefers to work later in the morning into the evening, consider it before dismissing the idea. For example, companies with extended customer service hours, this can give you more phone coverage without hiring more people. There are benefits to custom work schedules, and a happy employee is a more dedicated employee.
Provide a Different Types of Workspaces
Think of them as "neighborhoods" within your office space. For some workers, quiet areas are critical for focus and productivity. A nomad is quite possibly the opposite, seeking a new environment every day to get the job done. If your space is big enough, all your workers--not just the remote ones returning to the office--benefit from choosing the best place to work for their tasks for the day.
Establishing a Third Place in the office is perhaps the perfect idea for re-acclimating nomadic workers who've come home. Not quite home, not quite a desk, the Third Place concept was born out of a need for a break from the same four walls. From restaurant-like eateries to outdoor courtyards that are more like parks, these areas in your company can give plenty of creative boost to your employees.
Structure as a Perk
Some of the greatest difficulty with working remotely is the lack of structure. There's no guarantee the far-flung location will have what they need--peace from distractions, adequate access to the internet, etc. Sometimes, the ease of going to the office and finding a workspace where the network is simple to access, the colleagues they need to speak with are nearby, and meeting rooms are at their fingertips make all the difference.
Giving your employees adequate direction for their day-to-day activities, as well as the physical accoutrements they need to meet deadlines is a perk in and of itself. By also ensuring employees have sufficient paid time off, you can provide them with parameters that spell out when they're expected in the office, and when they're free to indulge their wanderlust. If they feel stifled, however, through too tight a schedule, or micromanaging after they return from the freedom of remote working, that structure could chafe their sense of purpose and autonomy.
Versatile Design that Works for Your Employees
Some of the latest design trends from the Orgatech Exhibition in Cologne, Germany held in October 2017 addressed some of these flexible workspace possibilities. Many of the displays were all about versatility of furniture in communal areas, with well-considered partitions for privacy and the ability to transform office space for presentations and events, much like a sports arena can be configured for different types of shows.
Much of the furniture makes the traditional desk redundant, which may appeal to nomadic workers. By mimicking hotels and coffee shops with their comfortable sofas and plenty of outlets to charge devices, the future of office design is less constricted than ever before. Workers can just as easily find a sofa for a comfortable workspace with their laptop as they once did a desk. It's the technology that needs to be flexible.
In Between Remote and Office Working
Perhaps your company benefits from having employees who are flexible in their availability to travel. The same technology that spawned digital nomads also allows companies to court clients all over the world. Maybe your employee getting to work in paradise is secondary to having the boots on the ground you need to secure contracts, but it's not necessarily appropriate for meetings to be held in bustling coffee shops or hotel lounges.
Enter the coworking space, office buildings that rent everything from a single desk to one worker to entire floors for companies in the market for a temporary location. Most of these places come already furnished, with the technology in place for wifi connections, presentation and meeting rooms, and even stocked kitchenettes or break rooms, all without a long-term lease to worry about. It's still an office; it's just not your company HQ.
Whatever your position on digital nomads within your employee ranks, there are options to make the most of the situation so everyone benefits. By making your physical office space enticing to all employees for a variety of working styles, there may be no need for workers to choose the remote option. On the other hand, there are benefits to having employees whose desire to travel can help you meet your clients' needs on their home turf. Today's flexible offices, technological infrastructure, and our ability to communicate from anywhere mean the whole world could be the real office of the future.