The Nowhere Office: “The office of the future is going to be a place that could be anywhere”

Since Covid-19, we have seen the rise and fall of Remote working in South Africa. A new term has since grown in popularity as many predict the future of where professionals will work. This term is the Nowhere office.

A 2022 McKinsey & Company study researched the growing popularity of remote working among employers and workers and found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans have been given the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week. A World Economic Forum study in 2021 found that two-thirds of workers wanted the freedom to work remotely. More than a third had the option to work from home five days a week. 87% said they had taken the opportunity for the flexible working arrangement.

Depending on where you stay in the world, the decision to work remotely can be considered a right. The UK announced they would cut down the 26-week qualifying period and make it a day-one right when starting a new job. However, this right to remote or hybrid working is not valid for South Africa. What is stated in your Employment contract takes precedence, and an employer has the right to ask their employees to return to the office after verbally allowing for remote work. Not having the right to remote work is also true in America, as BBC reported that at the end of 2022, Elon Musk told staff at Twitter they must return to the office. At Tesla, another of Musk’s companies, staff were told they must work at one of its main offices.

There are a few notable downsides to remote working. In a 2022 study by a social media management platform Buffer, just over half of the employees studied said they felt less connected to their colleagues. About 45% believed it was harder to progress in their career as they said their organization was not providing career growth opportunities. Although most felt they had little struggles with working remotely, there was a concern that they could not unplug from work and loneliness, some felt they were working more, and others felt it was difficult to focus when working remotely. Within the South African context, we must consider the load shedding that disrupts communication, internet connectivity and power supply. We must also consider the psychological implications remote working has on personality. Introverts and extroverts may experience positive and negative effects when working from home and having less face-to-face engagement.

On the other hand, The World Economic Forum has written on Digital nomads. What is this, you may ask – “Some, especially those whose jobs – like programming and digital design – can be done from anywhere with a half-decent internet connection, have taken remote working a stage further by moving to other countries. At the last count, 49 nations now grant visas to allow remote workers – known as digital nomads – to move to their country, with some, like Spain, offering generous tax breaks. Others offer financial incentives for remote workers to move to rural areas to revive communities.”

Although the Nowhere office has not yet hit South Africa’s shores, is this something we may see in our future?

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