What are offices for?
For most organizations, business of late is anything but usual. With so many people working
remotely, I’m left pondering “so what are offices for?”
A generation ago, the office was where you went to get work done. For organizations whose
workforces are suddenly at home doing so, it’s hard anymore to make the case that you have to be in the office to get work done. A study by Colliers reports 52% of employees believe their productivity has not changed as a result of working from home and 24% believe their productivity and ability to concentrate has increased. Notwithstanding the ability to get work done at home, the research points out plenty of people will be happy to return to the office.
Let’s talk about something offices do better than remote work according to the same Colliers study. It found 58% saying they feel they collaborate better at the office. On the other hand, an Atlassian study points out that people believe half of their meetings are a waste of time. While coming back together may serve many of us well in terms of collaboration, this highlights an opportunity to be more thoughtful about when to meet vs. use other collaboration and communication tools. The goal moving forward should be before we schedule a meeting to get clear on what we hope to learn by coming together and then be honest if a meeting is actually required. To make a more objective decision, we suggest using a flowchart like this one or building one of your own.
This piece is not a rebuke of offices but a call for us to reconsider how we might (and might not) use them going forward. There might be days where employees who excel at working remotely have an intensive project to focus on and feel they do so better at home. Assuming they’re occasionally accessible for communication, why not let them be more effective?
One of the qualitative pieces of feedback Colliers offered is the value and community we often have with people we work “near” but not with. People we see in the hallways or at lunch that we’ve formed relationships with. The community we experience at an office can be a strong player in the affinity we have for work. It is important to acknowledge that many organizations with large or fully remote workforces have found ways (e.g. Zapier) to build despite almost never working in the same office. This does not have to be a replacement for your office but can be another way to strengthen connections among your people.
The cautionary tale I offer to employers is we have turned a corner and many of your people may not wish to fully leave behind this new paradigm. Colliers found 45% of Americans would like to work from home one to two days a week and 50% saying their work-life balance has improved as a result of working from home.
A friend recently remarked to me after the work day, “I got all my work done faster than I would have at the office, mowed the backyard and cleaned up the kitchen. Now I can enjoy my evening instead of doing chores”. He’d never had the chance to work from home before and is not keen to return to the office full-time. That is just an anecdote but is telling for employers as they think about the future of retaining and recruiting talent. Will a certain portion of the workforce going forward not consider working for you if you don’t provide a level of flexibility?
As an upside, once you get comfortable with remote employees, you can then expand your recruitment pool dramatically by targeting people outside of the cities where you have offices.
So what is the office for? The only thing we know about the future of work is it will change. While some things may always be better in person, it is not a panacea. Taking the time to understand how your people work best and collaborate best depending on the context is key.
Good luck out there.