It’s no secret that flexible workers are generally happier and more productive than their in-office counterparts. There are several reasons for this – working on your own terms and avoiding a long commute being just two – but one of the biggest is also surprisingly practical: they have a secondary workplace. In case your boss still needs convincing, here’s why regularly switching up your workspace can support your productive performance and wider wellbeing.
Once shorthand for slacking off, “flexible working” is increasingly being recognized as one of the most productive work models going. Studies show that flexible and remote workers are 13% more productive and 9% more engaged, take fewer sick days, are more satisfied, feel more valued, and are happier than in-office employees. Having the autonomy to work in the way that suits you best is now such a perk that most employees would rather work flexibly than receive a pay rise.
Part of its power lies in having choice. Flexible working allows people to adjust their working habits according to what they’re working on and what they need from their environment. It accepts that one size doesn’t fit all and that while it’s still “normal”, sitting at the same office desk for the same period of time every day doesn’t always enable your best work.
According to a recent survey by Zapier, only 32% of US workers feel most productive in the office, while 42% find they get more done at home, 11% prefer a co-working space, and 9% find working outside makes them most productive. But why, exactly? What is it about just shifting to a different environment can make us feel like we’re more productive?
While some locations will naturally support certain types of work better than an open plan office can, there seem to be three main reasons why a secondary workplace can aid productivity.
Regularly changing up your workplace can help stimulate new thought, by breaking automatic patterns and injecting refreshing novelty into your week. It can be especially helpful if you find yourself in a work rut, struggling to engage and focus, or feeling you’re not making any progress on a task. When you find your productivity flagging, the act of breaking with your environment can have a powerful psychological effect – introducing a sense of dynamic movement into an otherwise static space.
There’s another, more intrinsic benefit to having a secondary workplace too: it directly feeds our essential psychological need for autonomy. As human beings, we have a basic need to feel we’re the “masters of their own destiny” – that we’re in control over our lives and our behavior. Having the freedom to move between spaces as we wish allows us to feel that what we’re doing is self-initiated or self-determined. It helps us stay motivated, because we know we’re doing something we want to do – not something we have to do.
Relocating work uses the powerful mechanism of "grand gesture", as laid out by Georgetown professor Cal Newport for his concept of deep work. He explains: “by leveraging a radical change to your normal environment... you increase the perceived importance of the task. This boost in importance reduces your mind’s instinct to procrastinate and delivers an injection of motivation and energy.” He argues that having a dedicated secondary workspace – whether it’s in a separate room or a cabin in the woods – can create a huge statement that ultimately supports our willpower. Just by moving to a different location to work, we can help our brains recognize a task is worth the time and effort, which makes it easier for us to focus and get to work.
Having a second workplace doesn’t require companies to adopt an entirely remote way of working. Every company can introduce policies to support flexible working without completely reimagining their work model – for example by offering employees remote days, where employees choose where to work. Even small gestures, like holding meetings outside the office or letting people work mornings or afternoons from home can make a big difference.
More broadly, companies can work to create office environments that enable Activity Based Working. This involves creating a diverse “modular” working environment that offers employees different spaces for different types of work, and the freedom to move between them. Instead of assigning employees a dedicated desk where they do all their work, Activity Based Working provides people with a selection of work areas that can be used for different activities: there can be open and closed spaces for meetings, informal chats, deep work and personal time. Hot desking can have a similar effect, although having a “base desk” you can always come back to may prove to be more practical.
The common ingredient to all these approaches is freedom; having the freedom to choose where to work and how to organize your schedule. When you are trusted and empowered to work in the way that suits your needs, it’s unsurprising that you’ll likely do a good job. Like many things, it’s about getting out what you put in – and if companies want committed, loyal employees invested in their vision, they have to invest in them.