Oh, remote work. I started working from home in mid 2017 and for almost three years no one thought I was actually working. Maybe the fact that I was posting pictures from the coworking's pool in Bali didn’t help.
Then in early 2020 Covid happened, and every knowledge worker started working from home. As many had to adjust to a new way of working, while enduring the stress of the pandemic and the lockdown, it surely wasn’t a great first experience. Yet, we collectively learned that remote work is a thing, and that many jobs can be done remotely.
We also learned that we completely lack a culture of remote work and that we should start talking about it.
When you think about it, the heart of the conversation of office work versus remote work is not much about work but rather the social aspect of it. From a productivity standpoint, many studies show that knowledge workers are actually more productive when working from home.
The elephant in the room is that many people meet their need for community at work. Since we spend many hours at the office, our work and social life have become deeply intertwined. The office is not just somewhere we go to get work done, but also a place where you socialize, find a partner, and make new friends. It’s also the social playground where people signal value and status in order to position themselves and climb the corporate ladder.
This is the reason why remote work is so disruptive: it makes work about productivity, results, and getting things done. To a large extent, it strips it aways from many social games of status signaling that people play at the office. For a lot of people, going back to the office is not a matter of productivity. It’s about protecting their identity, which is deeply tied to their work life.
However, there are also many people whose identity is not so tightly attached to their work, and who would rather keep their work and social life separated.
Think about it: most of the time when you apply for a new job you need employment, not a social life. You need capital to build your future and maintain a certain quality of life. You don’t necessarily need the community aspect of it.
However, when you get the job, especially if you have to work in an office, getting along with your new colleagues is a big part of "the deal". To some extent, you will need to get involved in the social life at the office, such as going out for drinks, dinners, or birthday parties.
This is not necessarily bad if you like your colleagues and you're in a good work environment. In fact, it can be fun and exciting. But in many cases, it leads to awkward office environments where people have to pretend to like each other.
The real question is: Why does it have to be that way? Why do you have to physically coexist with your colleagues if you can get work done just as well remotely?
If you really want to couple work with social life, there is a much better way to do it.
Since I’ve been working remotely, I often worked from coworking spaces. Not because I enjoy paying for a desk, but because I also need community and sometimes prefer to work in a social environment.
However, unlike the office, you don’t go there to meet your colleagues or because you have to. You go to a coworking space by choice, to find like-minded people who you might connect with. In the best coworking spaces, you have both access to a professional environment to work from, and a community aligned with your values.
The coworking spaces I’ve been to, such as Outpost in Bali or Heden in Lisbon, organize activities such as community lunches, yoga lessons, workshops, movie nights and adventure trips during weekends. Their community is one of digital nomads, entrepreneurs and creatives. The kind of community I want to be part of. Of course, I understand this is not everyone’s cup of tea.
I believe the next step to build a remote work culture is to have many different coworking spaces in each city, that offer different working environments and curate distinct social activities. We need to expand the coworking culture beyond startups and digital nomads, and make it enticing for all types of knowledge workers.
Instead of feeling isolated at home, or being forced to go to an office, whenever people would want to work from a social environment, they could choose what coworking and community they want to access. In my experience, this approach to work significantly improves your mood, focus, productivity and overall quality of life. It’s a win-win for both workers and companies.
Why not give it a try at scale?