The Surprising Truth about Workers Who Can Be Productive Anywhere

Hybrid and remote work are here to stay for millions of workers, according to experts, but that doesn’t mean employers are any more at ease with the non-traditional concept of managing a hybrid workforce – working mostly out of sight, unbound by location, and on flex time.

As employees know, the reality of working from home is… going pretty well, actually. Most of us are still working in our basements, sheds, or spare rooms while monitoring our Wi-Fi connectivity, adjusting our work hours to meet with trans-global colleagues, devising a smarter work-from-home setup, and advancing our digital fluency to make use of new productivity tools and apps. Overall, we’re happier and healthier, as study after study confirms.

The Future of Work Is Not Location Bound

When asked about their preferred work model for the future of work, 83% of workers said they want a hybrid work arrangement, according to the Future of Work Global Report by Accenture. In the study, Accenture interviewed more than 9,300 workers in 11 countries across 12 industries to understand workers’ mindsets toward three different work models – on-site, remote, and hybrid – and the resources they require for their health and productivity.

Published at the height of the pandemic in April 2021, the study classified employees into four mindsets along a spectrum: thriving (42%), ambivalent (12%), apathetic (15%), or disgruntled (31%). While those who were disgruntled worked largely on-site, those employees who were thriving were mostly working in hybrid arrangements. They experienced less burnout and reported feeling net better off across six dimensions of well-being: financial, emotional and mental, relational, physical, purposeful, and employable.

Three years into the pandemic, we are now capable of managing the virus with vaccines. Despite existing research on work models, many employers continue to struggle with developing a cohesive set of policies for hybrid work. Instead, they opt for one-size-fits-all solutions that fall short in the face of reality. Too many are still narrowly fixated on the question of location: “Where should we work?” However, a surprising outcome of the Future of Global Work Report has potential to reframe this discussion.

During the study, Accenture researchers identified a segment of workers (40%) who felt they could be productive anywhere. For this group, work location did not matter because they could be equally productive on-site and remotely. How do they do it? The researchers studied this group more closely to find the answer.

“We were initially interested in that location question – what helps to drive worker productivity remotely or onsite,” says Gabriela Burlacu, PhD, talent researcher at Accenture. “But actually, what was far more interesting and far more impactful on a company’s bottom line was this idea of a segment of workers that felt they could be what we called ‘productive anywhere.’”

Traits of Workers Who Are Productive Anywhere

That many workers can be productive, happy, and healthy in whichever setting should be welcome news for any company trying to hammer out an intentional policy for hybrid work. “It’s location agnostic,” Burlacu says, regarding the impact on the future of work. “It’s also a precursor to effective hybrid work, because if you feel you can be productive anywhere, then you really could work comfortably in both places.”

Much more important than work location seemed to be an employee’s individual potential and the resources available to support their work. The Accenture team found some commonalities among the “productive anywhere” cohort that can be carried over to other organizations as well. These workers had more autonomy, positive mental health, a desire to participate in learning, advanced digital fluency that enabled them to evaluate and adopt technology to get the job done, strong social bonds at work, and work-life enhancement, which means that they felt their work added to their ability to enjoy other areas of their lives.

The organizations that these workers belonged to also had interesting commonalities. They tended to be agile, intelligent, digitally mature, and have supportive leadership. They also have beneficial health policies that signal that employee health and safety is valued by the company.

Autonomy is a key theme in any discussion about hybrid work. It takes steady effort and awareness to balance autonomy and organizational goals for business success. Burlacu has some suggestions. “The ways that we measure productivity have to look a little different. Giving people some level of freedom to manage their own time and how they complete tasks is important,” she says. “But another side is also giving manageable feedback that’s really clear in terms of what the expectations are and how to improve. It’s an often-overlooked part of autonomy. Workers don’t always know if they’re working on the right things for the company’s success; whereas being really clear about the objective can actually help drive autonomy.”

Resources Prove Essential to Fight Workplace Stress

While the research shines a light on workers who thrive no matter where they work, it also uncovered another 8% of workers who experience the same disconnection, frustration, and inefficiency regardless of location. These workers were, in essence, productive nowhere. Researchers assumed this group had endured hardships and stress during the pandemic. Instead, they found that what separates the two groups is not stress.

“Our ‘productive anywhere’ group was actually more burned out than our ‘productive nowheres.’ They had a host of other negative work stressors as well. But what really differentiated them and their work experience is they had much higher levels of resources,” says Burlacu, indicating that this is something within companies’ power to address so that all workers can fulfill their potential.

The Future of Work Starts with Mindset

Perhaps some of the best news of the study is that researchers found that 63% of high-growth companies have already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model. This suggests that a future of work that looks beyond where to work may be just around the corner.

“We were able to identify what aspects of a company’s environment and work experience really help workers be productive anywhere,” says Burlacu, “Because that should be the goal – not more seamless remote work, not better on-site work – but enabling people to have this ‘productive anywhere’ mindset.”