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Surprise? “Work Anywhere” is Not So Appealing in Dense Countries

by Craig Roth  |  July 18, 2018  |  Submit a Comment

“Work anywhere”, as the term goes, is a core component of the new vision of work since it allows for more fluid teams, geographic expansion, improves employee choice, may increase workforce diversity (women and workers with disabilities), and reduces strain on public transport and roads. While all of those benefits have potential counter arguments, added up the general consensus seems to be in favor of more flexible work arrangements.

According to the World Economic Forum’s report The Future of Jobs “44% of global business and HR executives identify changing work environments and flexible working arrangements as the biggest demographic and socioeconomic driver of change across industries.”

But sometimes, as much as a manager or CEO might want to get employees away from their desks, external factors get in the way. One of the findings from my work on the digital dexterity index (a measure of how likely new ways of work are to take hold based on workers’ readiness) was that the practice of working outside assigned office space varied significantly by country.

Take a look at the rightmost “work anywhere” bar in the chart below, which shows scores from a high of 18.9 in the U.S. to a low of 3.8 in Japan.

DDI by Country

The “work anywhere” score is the percentage of workers who responded that they primarily work in a nomadic (no assigned space) fashion or out of the office (such as working at home). There are many factors that could explain that figure, but I suspected one in particular and just completed a bit more research:

DDI v living space

Yes, that’s a whole lot of data to come to an unremarkable finding: in denser countries it’s more pleasant to work from your own spot at the office.

This graph charts the previously mentioned “work anywhere” score against the average living space per person in that country. A linear trendline is shown with a dotted line. These figures are for the country as a whole, but for the cities – where information-centric jobs are more common – it can be an even tighter squeeze. Average living space per person in Tokyo is 19.1 sq meters per person.

Note this is based on the average home size, not how big the country is. Australia has enormous amounts of open space you could work in – if you don’t mind working in a 110 degree desert packed with venomous spiders and snakes. I’d rather live in Sydney and go into the office myself.

A country where living space is scarce and precious probably doesn’t have big, comfortable, half-empty coffee shops (or other “third places”) either. As I wrote in Finding a Place in a “Third Place”, where I live the “prime” spots at coffee shops and cafes (a small table all to yourself, close to an electrical outlet) are giving way to “junky” spots (like a shared counter where you’re crammed next to neighbors and don’t have access to an outlet).

So, enabling “work anywhere” is up to more than just the willpower of a company or manager. If you’re a global HR or IT leader you may want to acknowledge significant regional differences when setting “work anywhere” goals and policies. If you’re a technology or service provider you may want to allocate sales and marketing resources for offerings that depend on “work anywhere” accordingly.

And if you’re a lowly information worker planning to bring your laptop to a coffee shop, you may want to get there early and have a backup plan in case you can’t find a spot.

Category: digital-workplace  

Craig Roth
Research VP, Tech and Service Providers
7 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a Research Vice President focused on cloud office suites, collaboration tools, content management, and how they are being impacted by digital workplace and digital business trends...Read Full Bio




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