Can we do [work] whatever, wherever and whenever we want?

We are on the brink of big changes in the workspace realm. The headline of the past 12 months is surely “remote work”. This reality, forced upon us by the global pandemic, has opened up Pandora’s box. Meanwhile, what seemed impossible, unreachable has become imminent.

Not long ago – in early 2020, digital transformation was still an annoying project pushed by your IT department. On one hand, thousands of bloggers preached freedom to choose to do whatever, wherever and whenever. On the other hand, working from home was your manager’s worst nightmare. To our greatest surprise, within 12 months, these polar opposites have met on a common ground called “remote work”. Possibly, your current workplace has undergone this transformation, too. The same workplace that you, perhaps, dreamed of leaving for that same freedom.

There are lots of questions, moments to reflect on in this whole story. But, let’s look at the three W’s (3W) from the perspective of today – bust some myths and reflect at others.

W1 – Whatever

First of all, work is about professional activity, i.e. a product or service we are paid for. Therefore, our scope of work must be “sellable”, and it must contain certain level of quality. This means, what we do should be relevant to our skills, abilities and capacity. Motivation is an important driver, though not something you can put a price tag on. There’s a good saying: “To be successful in a business, you should be in the business”.

Does it mean you are bound with your years of experience in a discipline or sphere that you’re not so passionate about? It depends on your ability to change – transform, learn and how you harness your transferable skills. I have seen many people who have made a big move from one industry or discipline to another and become successful. Some started their own business, others – a new job. Ultimately, it takes hard work and dedication to do whatever, but it is possible, not a myth.

W2 – Wherever

Well, this one has proven everybody wrong. I’ll start from the end here. The myth here was that you had to be in the office to do work, or you had to take the next flight to attend that meeting in London, Tokio or Boston.

However, let’s take a step back and see what we have today. Things are slowly improving in parts of the world, while the offices reopen. Working From Home came unexpected, then we loved it, but have we started hating it? I don’t think so. WFH is here to stay; remote working is here to stay. Meanwhile, people are missing the social interaction, water cooler or coffee-point chit-chat. Managers need the team-building opportunities that Zoom or MS Teams calls have not been able to fully replace.

Where does this lead? Hybrid workplace – the magic, almost a sci-fi phenomenon, which is real as your coffee mug. Truth is, nobody can clearly predict what that hybrid will look like. It may be a 50/50 split between office and home. Or it may be 80/20. It may even be fully remote work with occasional gatherings in random rented spaces. If we throw a pinch of Activity Based Working and a teaspoon of co-working spaces in this stew – oh boy, it is a spicy dish to serve.

The conclusion is that remote work is possible, and we know it now. This inevitably makes flexibility of workplace part of the game and a lot of employers are going for it. With the growing landscape of freelance work in the world, this W gets a Yes*, too (but with an asterisk).

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W3 – Whenever

When can mean [on] time or date. Let’s take these in order.

Time

Globalization brings professionals and businesses closer, literally making the world a smaller place. The planet is round, though (despite what some claim) and nobody has canceled the time zones. Global supply chains of both digital and physical products and services mean non-stop work round the clock. I have personally worked with teams with a time difference of 10 hours both ways at the same time. Frequently we have to take calls, receive or even reply to e-mails after hours.

It may sound fancy, but it is not great for a company culture. Remember the work-life balance? Not good for that either. We should approach “flexibility of time” with precaution. Working hours should still be limited to something around 40 hours per week, agreed and respected by all stakeholders. Besides, depending on the W1 – the scope of work, there should be critical business hours according to a defined central time zone when respective people must be available.

Date

Business means productivity, which means deliverables. Every deliverable is measured by its scope, cost (direct or indirect) and time. The latter and all the others in this triangle depend on certain deadlines or deliver-by dates. Whatever you do (W1), whenever you do that (W2), it must be done by that time. No work around here.

Ultimately, can you really work whenever you want? Not exactly, not always, and when you can – then to a degree. So the hype around this W is a myth busted.

P.S. Business is part of our lives. It adds value, moves our cars, makes our coffee, cooks the food, powers our homes and puts food on our tables. Balancing between work and life shouldn’t be counting days from vacation to vacation, from Monday to Friday or from 9 till 5. We thought kids running in the background in an online call was funny, but it surprises nobody today. Of course, focusing on tasks, having the creative brainstorm in the right professional environment are great and need to stay. So, whatever you do, wherever and whenever you do that, know how to do that in the best way possible. Do it with a smile and always know when to stop for the day.

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