Work From Wherever: Productivity in a Post-Office World
As the in-person vs. hybrid vs. remote debate rages on, professionals across the globe find themselves in the position of confronting this question: What maximizes my productivity? Most creatives I know measure productivity in terms of quality over quantity, the birth of a great idea, that undefinable silver bullet we all pursue.
Covid-19 had a massive impact on my life, professionally and otherwise. For the longest time, Austin, Texas, was my dream city. As global brand director for Harley-Davidson, I came close to calling the beloved bike brand's headquarters in Milwaukee home, but stayed in Dallas as the promise of an office return loomed.
Ultimately, the advent of remote work on a nationwide scale gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my dream of living in Austin, where I still reside today, in my role as executive creative director at Upwork, the marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent. That freedom changed every area of my life for the better and made me a more productive creative.
Surroundings can become one of the greatest drivers or detriments to creativity, whether in terms of company culture or location. If employers want to retain and attract top talent, they need to offer a variety of truly flexible work models to meet team members where they are in their professional and personal lives. They also need to rethink productivity. Prior to the advent of remote work on a mass scale, a weird fiction existed. It said that people sat in front of their office computers for 10 hours per day. In reality, they stepped out to get coffee, had lunch with colleagues, and discussed strategies they were trying to crack.
If you walked the halls of any creative department pre-2020, you might've come across everything from ping pong tables to puzzles to small gardens. These brands and agencies understood what New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon put so succinctly: "Creative people need time to sit around and do nothing." Great ideas stem from freedom, from conditions rooted in positivity, and the flexibility to fail. Productivity should get tracked not in face-time or hours, but rather performance, impact and results.
To maximize productivity, industries must understand the impact of lifestyles on creative thinking. For me, the physical environment provides inspiration. Austin, as a city, has emerged as a major creative hub. The culture here has always nurtured self-expression and exploration. Similarly, my home is filled with the things I love, from dogs Charlie and Penny, to an oil portrait of zombie CEO Jack McDichael, the star of Upwork's most recent brand campaign, "This Is How We Work Now." I draw constant inspiration from my little universe, and what inspires me won't necessarily inspire others.
Last year, Upwork conducted a study revealing that 9.3 percent of people, representing nearly 20 million Americans, planned to move because of remote work. The study shows that 28 percent of people moved more than four hours away, a distance too far to commute on a daily basis.
Just take a look at Silicon Valley; according to U.S. Census Data, the Bay Area lost a quarter-million residents between 2020 and 2022, marking a 3.2 percent decline. Meanwhile, the U.S. has seen a surge in start-up applications. In 2021, the New York Times reported a 24 percent increase from the year before and "a striking and unexpected turnaround after a 40-year decline in U.S. entrepreneurship.”
For many of the folks who relocated in the wake of the pandemic, the fastidious lifestyle of the office was revealed as stifling creativity. The reduction of that system's impact has afforded more mental freedom and, in turn, what I consider a higher quality of output. As people left the shackles of the cities that housed their offices, they drew closer to their true selves and found the freedom to pursue innovation.
For me personally, living where I choose has made me a happier person, and that happiness has increased my productivity, and my ability to generate ideas. It's led to a life where work frees my potential rather than limiting it.