The pandemic changed how people work, and they’re not going back

By Pamela Tanase

As the founder and chief operations officer of Workzones, a coworking business club, for almost 10 years, I’ve had a front-row seat to the dramatic changes in how and where people work. Those changes accelerated during the pandemic and have now solidified. What lies ahead are exciting opportunities for workplace innovation, and also challenges balancing the desires of employers and employees. 

When my cofounders and I began our journey toward launching Workzones more than a decade ago, we were entrepreneurs working from home. At that time, working from home was unusual. Most people worked in jobs that required them to report to a company-run office location during standardized hours.

For entrepreneurs, particularly those in the early stages of business development, leasing an office space required a significant level of investment, one that I couldn’t afford.

I worked from home out of necessity, and because I believed it would allow me to have it all. I would have a career, be a “stay-at-home” mom, and be close to my husband, who was also my business partner. I worked at a desk in the kitchen and he worked from the garage.

But as time went on, the novelty of wearing our pajamas and multi-tasking wore off. We grew tired of being disrupted by kids, dogs and leaf blowers during calls with clients, and with the lack of boundaries between work and home life.

Now, two and a half years into the pandemic, we are all keenly aware of how work as we know it has forever changed. Today it’s not just solopreneurs and professionals who work remotely, but almost all knowledge workers. Many are employees rather than in business for themselves.

And as demonstrated by the Great Resignation, knowledge workers want flexibility to decide where and when they work. Employers want to give them that freedom but also want them to be productive. Most seem to have settled on a hybrid work model, allowing employees a degree of flexibility while still requiring some in-person workplace attendance. 

Yet even with the freedom to choose where and when to work and the technology that allows it, humans are social beings. For many at-home workers, the honeymoon has ended.

At Workzones, we’re seeing a resurgence in people looking for a place to work outside the home. This trend is marked by inequities. For example, we see more men than women looking for an office, possibly because many women are still struggling to find affordable childcare.

Others are young, early-career professionals unable to secure fixed office space through their employer. Many live in cramped apartments and don’t have space for a dedicated home office.

The pandemic also led to a rise in remote workers moving to attractive locations. At Workzones, we routinely see professionals coming to Santa Barbara for “bleisure” (a combination of business and leisure).

And we’ve witnessed a resurgence in business travel, with companies using our conference rooms to bring their teams together for meetings. Others take advantage of our hybrid meeting technology to include people unable to attend in person.

The rise in remote work has undoubtedly become the new normal. And while there is some tension between the desires of employers and employees, there is also common ground. Most want to feel part of a larger culture and community. Good leaders recognize certain types of work are best done in person and some employees benefit from more in-person time. It’s important to meet on a regular basis to build trust, reinforce company culture, and to provide mentorship and connections for younger employees.

We’ve seen how businesses and employees from a variety of industries and backgrounds have successfully adapted to the pandemic challenges and found new opportunities for work/life balance. They share with us their stories, hopes and dreams. Some half joke that finding a space to work outside the home has saved them from divorce.

Above all, they exalt the benefits of a more flexible approach to working life, one that offers productivity and connection without the rigidity of 9-to-5 office hours and expensive rental costs. For them, and for many of us, work will never be the same.

• Pamela Tanase is the chief operations officer and co-founder of Workzones in Santa Barbara.