MARICOPA — Workplaces around the world looked a lot different last year.

Office workers forced to work from home found space where they could. Whether it was a cluttered kitchen table, a long-forgotten guest room or possibly even their own bed, many found themselves working in unusual environments. While some have returned to their regular nine-to-fives, some workers in America have embraced this new, more flexible, way of working.

“The pandemic essentially propelled 2020 into 2030. We have covered a decade, in less than one year, in the advancement of technology,” said Ioanna Morfessis, senior adviser to the Maricopa Economic Development Alliance. “Work from home — we will continue to see this as an enduring characteristic of work in America. The companies that have already announced they will have a hybrid version or permanent work from home, they have accepted that they will have a highly distributed workforce.”

In January, Morfessis gave a presentation to city officials on the economic development trends she was observing nationally. In her presentation, she described watching the office space job market flip on its head as a result of work-from-home trends.

“Office space nationally is the weakest segment of the commercial real estate sector. We had negative absorption across the country in what were previously prime office markets including greater Phoenix,” said Morfessis. “The number one office leasing activity in Greater Phoenix is the subleasing of office space.”

Morfessis gave the example of REI, a recreational clothing company, which spent close to $400 million on a brand new office building in Seattle that went largely untouched during the pandemic. Later, they sold the whole building to Google. “Companies are completely rethinking the office,”Morfessis concluded.

One of these companies is Ak-Chin Circle, the entertainment center located in Maricopa. When Shannon Kleinjans, social media and marketing coordinator for Ak-Chin Circle, first made the move to online work, she thought she would be back in the office soon enough. However, what she found instead was a new hybrid work style that she says is more beneficial.

“With Ak-Chin Circle, it was definitely nine-to-five all the time,” Kleinjans said, “but it’s really kind of opened up where it’s a little bit more flexible. People seem to be a little more understanding that I can do my job from anywhere I have a Wi-Fi connection.”

Kleinjans now spends about half of her workdays at home, or wherever she can get an internet connection. She also runs her own social media business called Actually Social, where she coaches small businesses on their platforms, creates content and applies strategies to her clients’ social media. Now having experienced her home office for over a year, there is a key difference in her work environment that stands out to her.

“Honestly, it’s creativity,” Kleinjans said. “I find if I’m home and I’m just in my own space, I can write better, I can strategize better than (when I’m) having distractions coming in. There’s freedom to be able to create and write.”

Working from home allows her to spend more time with family too. Her husband Stan works as a service manager for TDIndustries and has also shifted online in light of the pandemic. The lack of commute has allowed him to spend more time at home with family and doing things he enjoys.

“(There’s) fewer distractions, and the ability to just take a quick break and jump in the pool,” Stan said. “No commute is by far the best advantage. … Even after the office reopens to full capacity, I imagine I will continue to be working from home at least 80% of the time.”

Their eldest daughter has moved out of the home, but their teenage son who attends high school in Ahwatukee would normally need a ride to school every day. With his temporary transition to online school, the family has not had to commute up State Route 347 at all this past year.

The family has found ways to make their schedule at home work for them. Kleinjans has set up her desk space in their front room, while Stan has commandeered their daughter’s previous bedroom and converted it into an at-home office space. Though it can sometimes feel a bit cramped, the time together has paid off in ways Kleinjans is thankful for.

“That’s been great — having the flexibility and the freedom to be able to take care of the important stuff in life, which is my family and my friends,” Kleinjans said. “Being able to take care of that, as opposed to worrying about sitting behind a desk.”

These at-home hours were especially important to Kleinjans when her father became ill. As his condition grew more serious, Kleinjans was able to spend precious time with him and ultimately support him through his passing in May.

“Without the flexibility of being able to do my job from anywhere where there’s a Wi-Fi connection, I would not have been able to be there and support him through his transition,” Kleinjans said.

With COVID numbers in Arizona currently dwindling and nearly 3 million Arizonans vaccinated, the need for working from home is also waning. However, many like the Kleinjans have found the benefits of remote work far outstretch the drawbacks. The couple both anticipate continuing their newfound work schedule well into the future, and they are one of thousands of families across the country experiencing a new, more beneficial work-life balance.

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To find out more about Kleinjans’ social media business Actually Social, log onto actuallysocialmarketing.com.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.