It’s a typical 10 a.m. and Sun Ro Lee, a LINE Plus engineer, is immersed in his day’s work, engaged in discussions with his team. However, when he pushes aside the curtain next to his desk, the view is nothing like the clusters of high-rise offices that surround the LINE Plus headquarters in Seongnam, Korea.
Instead, he enjoys a gorgeous vista of the azure sea, with waves rolling over a beach of jet-black basalt. That’s because Sun Ro is working on Jeju Island, nearly 450 kilometers south of the LINE Plus office, the result of a pilot program that allows employees to work anywhere they want for a month at a time.
A year-and-a-half into the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have started telling their employees to return to their offices. However, LINE Plus, the Korean subsidiary of LINE Corporation, chose a different tack, launching a pilot program called “Working in ______ for a month."
Operating in May and June, the program saw nearly 200 people apply in May alone, making Sun Ro, a back-end engineer of the Cloud Service department, feel particularly fortunate. "Only people who have worked for over a year at LINE could apply, so I just barely qualified,” Sun Ro says. “I was really lucky to win it."
From Seongnam to Jeju Island
Sun Ro usually lives close to the LINE Plus office, and, due to the nature of his department, he had been working at home since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020.
"But as the work-from-home period got extended, I wanted to see if I could work from more distant places, or even consider move to a new home,” he says. “Besides, my team had already been joking that, since we weren’t coming to the office, why couldn’t we work further away, in the countryside or a more remote province. So, I liked this opportunity to actually try it out.”
But with 200 people applying for just a few spots, the odds were very long. "Everybody congratulated me so heartily and my friends were so envious!” Sun Ro says, laughing.
The seaside beckons, but my work goes on – same as ever
Jeju Island has long been a famous vacation spot for Koreans, with semi-tropical conditions, great food and plenty of unspoiled nature. It’s a beautiful place, but Sun Ro soon discovered setting up for a month isn’t like taking a short vacation.
“I spent almost two weeks after work looking for the right accommodations,” he says. “And although there many places for holidays and leisure, it was a bit tough finding a place with a good desk and chair, for getting work done."
Because, although he has been working from a beautiful location, Sun Ro is still working hard, just like he would in the office. From morning to early evening, Sun Ro spends hectic hours developing and operating LINE's cloud services and responding to inquiries constantly through in-house communication channels. He works closely with his teams and colleagues overseas via LINE messenger or in conferences through LINE Meeting.
“I don’t really pay much attention to the scenery when I’m immersed in my work,” he says. “So, my every day routine is pretty much the same – but I do try to start each day with a walk by the seaside, before starting work.”
A new routine to keep refreshed
The other benefit of working from Jeju are the options he gets to enjoy after work.
“I have a lot of outdoor hobbies, and like venturing to new eateries and cafes,” Sun Ro says. “I especially like hopping on my motorbike and taking a drive along the coast in the evening after my work is done.”
Because it was a pilot program, Sun Ro noted that he made an extra effort to be careful and follow safety guidelines. But the special setting really did help keep him refreshed and alert.
"I didn't know that the sense of being in a new place would bring vitality to my daily life, being away from the office and my home,” he says. “It really helps relieve pressure from work, as well as the loneliness that comes from working at home for such a long period of time. Even if the details change, the basic idea is great, especially for employees who love to travel.”
LINE Plus starts “Hybrid Work 1.0”
An important part of these changes and LINE Plus’s “Working in ______ for a month" pilot program was undeniably COVID-19, which has affected everyone around the world. Indeed, our whole approach to daily life and work and office culture has been greatly impacted, as companies around the world have adopted work-from-home systems and video conferences for communications.
But even before COVID-19, LINE had been experimenting with more flexible working environments and “work-from-home” options. COVID-19 just accelerated the process.
Now, starting in July, LINE Plus is combining these trends and what it learned from the “Working in ______ for a month” pilot program to launch “LINE Hybrid Work 1.0,” where all our employees can work anywhere – whether 100% work-from-home mode or working at the office for few days a week.
With LINE Hybrid Work 1.0, LINERs in Korea are now allowed to work remotely for extended periods of time anywhere that works best of them, not just from home. LINE has from the beginning been all about “Closing the Distance,” and that’s a mission that extends to people’s work lives as much as their personal lives. And although LINERs have to work in Korea for now, there is the possibility of working from abroad, too – something many people have said is a dream of theirs – depending on what happens with COVID-19 in the future.
"These days, some tech companies are considering to have workers back to offices since vaccines are developed. But LINE is creating a future working environment in the totally opposite direction," says Sun Ro. "I think LINE made a challenging decision to give people a chance to live and work in a way that best suits their individual preferences and circumstances."