The way people work is changing radically.
These are good times to feel stuck in a corporate job because now, more than ever, there's the possibility to change the rules of the game.
Digital connectivity is changing the world dramatically. The meaning of the terms office, working hours, boss and many others, are being redefined. The whole business structure is transforming in ways that align with the change in mentality that is happening simultaneously. Depending on what you do, you already know this well, somewhat or barely. I belong to a sector that’s at the front end of the movement, and all of my career has unfolded in the midst of the transformation, so I’ve had a chance to witness it all for myself.
What’s interesting, is that, from a certain perspective, this seems like slightly old news to me. Tim Ferris was saying this eleven years ago in "The Four Hour Work Week". But the more I talk about it with clients and people foreign to my industry, the more I see that this is still a novelty for most, and a topic that needs to be understood better by millions of people who could benefit from it.
BABY STEPS INTO A NEW ERA
I’ve been part of the advertising and marketing workforce for twelve years now (which is most of my adult life). I became a creative copywriter just in time to know what it meant to write a radio script and to experience the feeling of watching “your” commercial come up on TV.
But things started to change fast. It was 2007 and I was a year into my first job in a big, multinational agency. I was already getting a good taste of what a traditional corporate job meant: entry time-control, dress codes, Monday agenda meetings, protocols, cubicle isolation, etc. Basically the opposite to what a creative environment should be which, as a reminder, was what I needed to do my job well.
Twelve months of that got me dispirited enough to celebrate the first change that caused a stir at the office, the introduction of a group laptop. Its purpose was to encourage us to do team brainstorming sessions and get away from our workstations from time to time.
I remember the excitement bubbling inside as I traded my usual white-wall vista for a panoramic view of the street below, settled on a couch and placed the heavy machine on my lap. It was a similar feeling to the one I would get as a little girl when I'd go on school field trips, and find myself roaming the city in hours when I was usually locked up in the classroom.
Another small (but significant) event that happened around that time was discovering a scooter in the office that I'd use to roll down the agency’s polished hardwood floors. Somehow, it really changed the flow of my days, adding a special thrill to the dreadful status meetings and unnerving internal presentations to my boss. The reason why I felt like this and why it's relevant is simple and, yet, very powerful. When people have fun they feel good, and when they feel good they are happier, and when they are happier their work is better.
By then, digital advertising agencies were starting to pop up everywhere and I got dragged into them quickly. Because at the time, the people opening these agencies were hard-core innovators, the shift I'm talking about could be felt more strongly in those environments.
My first office as a “digital” copywriter was a giant loft where everyone, from the CEO to the trainees, would sit together across long tables. This affected the work dynamic significantly. There was a relaxed and comfortable vibe that made me feel inspired to communicate more frequently with my teammates and motivated to share ideas with my boss at any time. It actually helped develop a strong relationship with her that speeded my learning curve quite a lot.
As I upgraded to a senior role, I went into a very progressive agency; where creative outings and home-office weeks were already part of the approach. In came the days of poolside work sessions and picnic-meetings. Contrary to what many would imagine, it only brought good outcomes. We were not less accountable, or productive. Nor did we take advantage of our freedom.
Contrary to what many would fear, it only brought good outcomes. We were not less accountable, or productive; nor did we take advantage of our freedom.
On the contrary, we felt happy and grateful and wanted to prove that it all paid off in good work. We also won several creativity prizes for the campaigns we created during those days.
The final piece of the puzzle became clear when I moved to an agency located in another country without needing to move there. For strategic reasons, they had decided to have their creative department in Buenos Aires, where I was living at the time. So I was working on campaigns that were not even meant to be in English (they were translated after we developed them) and were aimed at a radically different culture. It took a lot of communication and more hours of research, but it worked well. I did Skype presentations for huge foreign clients and even created a campaign for the government of a region of that country, without having ever visited it (and they loved it!)
By then, my mind had been fully shaped to respond to a different way of functioning. Alternative work models, online communications and office-less structures, I knew it was all possible and very beneficial. I didn’t want to be part of the traditional corporate scene anymore. I wanted to produce really good creative work and, by then, I knew that it required being as happy with my job and set up as I could.
So, along with my actual business partner, who was simultaneously going through a similar process, we created Run & Hop; a remote agency that works for clients from every corner of the world. Our first tagline (which I'm still very proud of) was "NO DESKS, JUST IDEAS". Since 2014 we’ve been developing brand identities and marketing campaigns for clients who have already understood the significance of this change. Not only is our work better, but we have lower costs (we barely have office expenses); we are more available and work whenever it's required (the Monday-Friday model is over) and communications are more efficient (we are a text message away from the client all day, every day).
It is true that marketing is an industry powered by innovation, so it’s easier to understand how all of these changes happened. But there are more and more sectors of the economy that, in their own ways, have been moving in the same direction. Adding entertainment facilities inside offices, work environments that look like living rooms, paid work-trips to exotic locations and home-office time, are some of the ways in which companies of all sorts are creating an enhanced sense of well-being and freedom for their employees.
REMOTE WORKING NOW
Co-working spaces are part of what has given remote jobs a more professional face. I remember stepping into Buenos Aires’ first co-working space in 2011 and thinking that it was a bit of a silly idea. As I wrongly interpreted it then, you were paying a monthly fee to use the WIFI, and they’d throw in some filter coffee and cheap biscuits as a cover-up. Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out that these shared office spaces are the integration of two ends of a spectrum and the solution to many problems they have. It offers some of the advantages of working in an office, like socializing and providing a space to focus; without disadvantages like being an employee, paying rent and being tied down to a physical space. At the same time, it solves problems freelancers face when working from home like distractions, spending all day in pajamas, isolation, not having a decent place for a meeting and overdosing on coffee in order to avoid getting kicked out of cafés.
As digital tools evolve, so does the possibility of running companies remotely. The improvement of WIFI and 3G networks has been a fundamental part of this. But also the enhancement and spread of teleconference tools, which facilitate smooth face-to-face interactions between people that are thousands of miles apart. Project management tools, communication platforms and cloud storage, tackle some of the main issues that initially came with remote work. They allow people to connect with their teams, maintain projects organized, keep track of status, store data and more.
Nowadays digital setups can be even more efficient than their analog alternative. And new ideas that solve specific problems keep getting implemented every day. An example is online productivity coaches and accountability groups that help people stay focused and trace realistic goals.
THE FUTURE WITHIN THE FUTURE
It’s hard to predict how this is all going to look in some years. The near future will probably bring more tools and solutions to improve remote workers' performance. We’ve become better and better at understanding needs and how to respond to them, so the setup will be more intuitive, exhaustive and reliable, in every possible way.
The long-term future is a different ballpark (as it was a decade ago). Will remote working become the prevalent model in the world? Will big corporations get rid of their physical offices? Will multinationals give high-ranking positions to people they’ve never physically met? Will we eventually work just by talking into our phones?
As difficult as it seems to give an absolute answer to this, it seems like we are heading in an interesting direction, tech-driven changes keep increasing efficiency, giving us more spare time and more freedom. So it’s safe to say that we can wait for what's coming with optimism. More importantly, we can start seizing the incredible possibilities available to us RIGHT NOW, they have the power to make our jobs easier, our work better and our lives more exciting.
WORK FROM A PARK BENCH, FROM YOUR PHONE, WHILE HOLDING A FISHING ROD OR HAVING A GLASS OF WINE.