Where do people work in a world where you can work from anywhere?

The Boston Globe

People park their laptops in climbing gyms, breweries and arcades and reconsider what an office can do in a hybrid work landscape.

Laura Macdonald, youth program manager at the Boston Bouldering Project, works at a co-working table near the bouldering wall on August 4, 2023.

Laura Macdonald, youth program manager at the Boston Bouldering Project, works at a co-working table near the bouldering wall on August 4, 2023. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Directly across from the Boston Bouldering Project’s co-working space, rock climbers scale multicolored slabs of rock. On the floor above, runners are sweating while exercising on the treadmill, and a summer program full of loud children is in full swing.

But in the small, glass-walled room where a handful of people parked their laptops on a Friday afternoon, the focus — at least for now — was on work rather than training.

“Working at home alone all day gets boring,” said Melissa Ewing, a software engineer working remotely for a meditation retreat center in Virginia. Ewing said she works out in the gym two or three times a week, and as the clock hit 5 p.m., she got ready to hit the wall herself.

A 40,000-square-foot climbing gym in Somerville might not have the usual conveniences of an office environment, but in today’s work-from-anywhere world, it meets two important criteria: good WiFi and a place to sit. Breweries, museums, and even beaches all fit the same criteria — and in the past three-plus years, Boston-area workers have congregated in all areas.

Melissa Ewing, center, works in a co-working space at the Boston Bouldering Project on August 4, 2023. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF

Of course, telecommuters and freelancers have long settled into public libraries, coffee shops, or formal co-working spaces like WeWork. (Even the co-working space at the Boston Bouldering Project isn’t new; it’s been around since the gym — formerly called Brooklyn Boulders — opened in 2013.)

But during Millions of knowledge workers have adapted to working from their kitchen tables in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreakmany of those people are now Getting used to seemingly permanent “hybrid” workflows. Some are untied from their offices and tired of being cooped up at home. They are looking for work environments that fit their lifestyle – and not the other way around. And when it comes to what an office can be, they embrace something of a mindset where they can choose their own adventure.

“I think that’s the direction the world is going – by letting people choose their jobsSpace and her workLocation“Prithwiraj Choudhury, a Harvard Business School professor specializing in the geography of work. Not everyone can or wants to up and move into completely new regionsMany people working from home have decided to experiment to “break the monotony of being in one place,” Choudhury said.

Around here, These experiments have run the gamut, with people placing laptops everywhere from saloons on Newbury Street to the Boston Harborwalk. William Addison, who runs a video game events organization company, likes to work in the arcade behind Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Central Square – while he works he likes to listen to the chiptunes from the retro machines.

“If I’m a little burned out at work, I can take a break and then turn on the Xbox, play a little bit and then go back and do something else,” he said.

“These makeshift offices can offer workers the best of both worlds—the social benefits of an office with the autonomy of working from home,” said Connie Noonan Hadley, associate professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business and founder of the Institute for Life at work.

Hadley was one of the researchers on a 2022 survey looking at loneliness and remote workIt found that 42 percent of workers who had the opportunity to work remotely said they felt most socially fulfilled when working from a “third room” — a place that wasn’t an office or home is. (Compare this with the 33 percent who felt most fulfilled in the office and 26 percent at home.)

“I often get frustrated when ‘remote work’ is described as synonymous with ‘working from home,'” Hadley said. “Those who are more comfortable working remotely continue to refine what it looks like to them.”

People work from laptops at Shy Bird in South Boston on February 16, 2023. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF
Free office supplies at Shy Bird. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF

Such is the case of Jenny Lewis, an operations project manager at a local pharmaceutical company, who spends many Fridays working from a green vinyl booth Shy Bird in South Boston, which offered a co-working program since opening in December. For $23, you get all-you-can-eat coffee, lunch or dinner, and access to a printer and other office supplies.

Lewis, who suffers from ADHD, said the busy environment wasn’t ideal for Zoom meetings, but it was perfect for her to “head down” to complete tasks like creating PowerPoint decks or answering e- mails.

“Being able to focus from home is a special challenge,” said Lewis, who worked in an office five days a week until the pandemic. “Having the background noise is really good for me – just like when I’m with people.”

Others are looking for more peace and quiet. Tom Rose, who lives in a southwestern suburb, bought a Mercedes Sprinter last July Remote Vans, a Cincinnati-based company The company specializes in equipping vehicles for people who want to get their work done on the road. His 19.5-foot van came complete with built-in WiFi, plenty of battery storage, and a fold-out turntable.

Rose worked in corporate banking — a career he said he couldn’t imagine working anywhere other than a traditional office — until mostly retiring in April 2022. However, last year he did some consulting work from the van during a cross-country road trip and appreciated the flexibility.

“I had my pedal bike and an e-bike. I had a suit so I could go to a wedding. I had my golf clubs. I had my computer so I could work,” Rose said. “No matter where I was, I could do whatever activity I wanted.”

Tom Rose bought a Mercedes Sprinter last July from Remote Vans, a Cincinnati-based company that specializes in outfitting vehicles for people who want to get work done on the go. JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

While this trend has provided the change of scenery some workers crave, it could also prove to be a modest boost for local businesses.

At Shy Bird, co-founder Eli Feldman said the co-working program currently accounts for about three to four percent of the restaurant’s revenue. Meghan Gotsell, operations director of the Boston Bouldering Project, said some remote workers spent money their company’s “coworking grants.” on the gym’s $115 monthly membership dues as it offers a laptop-friendly space.

Other places see growth opportunities. Bert Holdredge, co-founder of Winter Hill Brewing Company, believes the number of remote workers at the Somerville campus has actually decreased since the pandemic as people have left the neighborhood. He wants to attract more of the 9-5 crowd.

“I feel like we could take on more people,” Holdredge said, “and that’s something we need to communicate better.”

And there is an infrastructure that helps. Sync remote control, a new Boston-based startup, is a Yelp-like platform built specifically for remote workers. The service allows users to filter coffee shops and breweries to find places with features like WiFi, large tables, and natural light.

While it’s primarily intended to benefit workers, co-founders Haley Grant and Carlos Guisado hope they can also help stores capitalize on this new customer base by letting day workers know they’re open for business.

“Right now our focus is on coffee shops,” Guisado said, “but our idea is to support any business that wants to create that laptop-friendly environment on their own terms.”

In the climbing gym, these terms are constantly changing. The gym is in a major construction project and Gotsell, the operations manager, said the allocated co-working spaces have been on the move as a result.

But for Nefertiti San Miguel, a writer and artist who has been working there regularly for several months, the gym is a “holy grail,” she said — where she can work up a sweat, get work done, and hang out with friends, all things considered a spot.

“I take a break, I do wall jumps, I pump out adrenaline, I oxygenate my brain, it makes me more productive,” she said. “Everything about it is so cohesive and so conducive to everything I do.”

Laura Macdonald, youth program manager at the Boston Bouldering Project, works at a co-working table near the bouldering wall on August 4, 2023. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF

Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing tomvazquez@ustimetoday.com.

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