Perhaps, this time, “working from anywhere” is here to stay

When people were still debating the future of flexible working and how technology and digitalization are going to change how we work, after COVID-19, that future has arrived much sooner than anticipated. Gartner stated in its report that 48% of employees will likely work remotely compared to 30% before the pandemic. [1]

How has the workplace changed over time?

Back in the days, the workplace was much less tech-oriented, and business conversations were conducted through landlines or in person. Documents and files were all hard copies. Employees were expected to work independently, and cubicles were present in the office. Since the 1950’s, major changes took place and the emergence of teamwork, computers, the internet, and business-oriented software has had a tremendous impact on how we work.

Over the past 20 years, one of the most significant workplace changes has been the technical transformation to a digital workplace. The workplace has undergone even greater revolutions such as telecommuting, zoom, co-working space, and flexible working. The elimination of fixed workplaces first appeared in Silicon Valley technology companies known as flexible working or the upgrade of activity-based working. Basically, employees want more freedom during work and their homes or even a café are gradually becoming their second “office”.

Remote work, who is ready or, more precisely, who is capable?

In an article published by Harvard Business Review, the robustness of digital services, internet infrastructure, and digital payment options were used to evaluate 42 significant global economies in terms of the readiness for remote work. [2] In the survey we can see that countries such as Singapore, UK, US, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, and Germany are placed in a better position while countries like India, Indonesia, Thailand, Chile, Philippines, and China are shown less prepared. However, the readiness of technology is only the external factor triggering the practice of remote work, and it can be influenced with the effort of country leaders by investing in infrastructure and technology.

The internal factor, thus the structure of different industries within a country is the key here. In countries where the main economic activities fall into the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, it is unlikely for its workforce to work remotely because farmers and blue-collar workers simply cannot work from home. On the other hand, countries whose service sectors produce a majority of their economic value, have a workforce, or more precisely a knowledge workforce, that is not attached to the workplace anymore. According to the knowledge economic index (KEI) from the World Bank Institute, countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, and Switzerland, are among the top. [3]

The downsides of remote work

COVID-19 forced companies around the globe to practice full-time flexible working and some countries, where flexible working was not common, needed to adapt to the new situation quickly. For such countries, it is also important to understand the negative sides of flexible working when handled unproperly.

When the time spent in the office is no longer the key factor for being paid, flexible working must have a new pay-related appraisal criterion, hence performance is taken as the new measurement. In order to justify their efficiency and be seen as high-achieving and trustworthy, employees often agree to higher target agreements. This can lead to so-called “interested self-endangerment” causing the detriment of health. Therefore, companies should not ask too much of their employees or else they might risk the utility of flexible working. [4]

Digitalization shifts the boundaries between free time and work allowing people to spread their work across the whole day so they can better combine work and life. However, in a survey conducted in Germany, half of those surveyed said that digitalization increases the intensity of their work. They feel more stressed and their workload has piled up, and they also feel subjected to stricter supervision. [4]

The challenge in the gig economy era

Flexibility in jobs is no doubt one of the key features in the gig economy which is transforming our labor market drastically. The work today is changing towards being more cognitively complex, technology-dependent, collaborative, mobile, and border-crossing. This presents a huge challenge for governments and corporations today to match the right skills and qualified people with jobs and to identify the education and learning gaps to meet future business needs.

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[1] Gartner. 2020. 9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19. URL:

[2] Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi. 2020. Which Countries Were (And Weren’t) Ready for Remote Work? URL:

[3] Wikipedia. Knowledge Economic Index. URL:

[4] UZH Magazin. 2018. Interview: “Working flat out”. URL: