Not a Requiem for the Office

July 1st, 2020

The barriers were brought down and society proved its ability to work from home.
Some have even maintained an impressive level of productivity, despite tending to their sourdough starters!

Even more interesting, the model of homeworking has been for many, a success, despite it being forced on us by a global pandemic. Stress, isolation, or spouse / partners jostling for bandwidth and desk space while Joe Wicks trains the kids in the background, all go to creating an incredibly challenging working environment.

We have done it though. We have harnessed technology in ways never seen before with Zoom calls becoming the new boardroom, kitchen, tea or lunchbreak. We have stayed connected, supporting families and colleagues and have for the most part, managed.

Could we continue to work from home and perform even better once the pandemic abates? When children go back to school or when IKEA reopens, and you can indulge your ‘home office’ furniture fantasies? More importantly, has the notion of the ‘office’ become outdated or redundant during this terrible social experiment? Has the importance we’ve traditionally placed on our shared workplace environment become redundant?

Although it is doubtful that for many, things will ever be the same again – many have lost friends and family to the virus – surely for the sake of our sanity or more broadly, humanity, the workplace and the ‘office’ will continue to remain an important necessity.

For many, the supported technologies our workplaces provide and an ability to collaborate with other people’s ideas and experiences, often mean we can achieve more in the office in a short period of time than we could whilst struggling to be productive when BT or Virgin drop our home internet for the fourth time in a week and the helplines are manned by robots.

Although, the benefits of avoiding a gruelling daily commute (and its potential impact on the environment) or more time with family, greater work-life fulfilment or even catching up on Marie-Anne and Connell’s love affair at lunchtime are undeniable – for many of us, the office cannot be consigned to history!

Why?

We are social creatures and lock-down has starkly reminded us of this.

People need social connections, but we’ve found that technology alone cannot fulfil our needs for mental health and physical wellbeing. Working with others in a sympathetic and rewarding environment feeds into our ‘pack mentality’ – we can all recognise those moments when the best of ideas have immerged over a coffee machine or photocopier! Problems could be raised quickly and then solved without the need to schedule a zoom call.

Even if you are not sporting a beard and cycling on a fixie bike, we are all creative in our own ways. The workplace and proximity to other human beings is more stimulating for creative thinking. Zoom does not allow a conversation to flow – the fits and starts hamper free-flowing ideas that usually evolve around a table over a ‘flat white’. In addition, the physical journey of going to work, the bus, overhearing conversations, experiencing the world and seeing others go about their business, get the juices flowing with ideas.

The common ground of an office unifies us. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger and feeds our desire to experience the world through the eyes of others and soak up their experiences. There is something powerful in people being together. Together, we create enthusiasm and engagement rather than struggling at home with unwanted multi-tasking, distractions and unsupported technical nightmares.

We do want to go somewhere else to work. After all, variety is the spice of life! If lockdown has taught us anything, it is how much we enjoy our freedom and we hear daily, how we have desperately missed going to other places. Working from home means it is all too easy to watch the week slip by and even when living with others, you can feel cooped up and isolated, not experiencing a wider environment.

We crave variety and the workplace provides it.

The workplace can be better for your physical health. Yes, it is good to have everything at your fingertips when at home, but as Adriene’s 30 Day Yoga challenge teaches us, it is not good for your health! Going to work, moving around between colleagues, un-jamming the photocopier, making your colleagues tea or coffee, are all breaks from your desk. Lunch hour walks, fitness classes, walking to the supermarket for a meal-deal are all boosting your physical health. Plus, you are accountable to your colleagues as they watch you reach for another Mint Viscount biscuit!

Place is the most physical artifact of culture. Your company is your environment. It exemplifies “how things are done around here”. It is often your culture, your personality, your values, your priorities and it promotes inclusivity between us.

These are the things that attract others to work alongside us. It is our shop window to the world and our workplace is often the vehicle that promotes our aspirations to that world. Without the office, it is often difficult to attract the people we need to help us on that journey.

Let’s face it, working from home is distracting. Homes Under the Hammer, the washing, the dog, Amazon deliveries, searching for the latest available delivery slot from Sainsburys. The workplace offers you an environment where you can think about the here and now, and not be tempted to sort out the linen cupboard when all you wanted was the stapler!

When we see people, we say more than out shared languages ever could. We create relationships, feelings and empathy. We can encourage and help. We use body language to express more than we can through email and as humans we understand that and realise (subconsciously or not) the importance of the ‘face to face’.

We can do so much from home – and often do so relatively effectively and productively – but it is just not ideal for most of us. We are demonstrably better off when the office becomes part of our holistic working experience – even when, at times, we’d still like to work from home.

The workplace holds a vital position in our businesses, our society, our communities and our lives. It is a place we need to retain and not just for the biscuits!