The great debate rages on. A recent Gallup report shows that about half of employees are ready to abandon their cubicles entirely and prefer working remotely. Is work from home now a permanent state? Is the concept of “the office” dead?
The answer is, yes, and no.
The Office is Dead
The Office is Antiquated
As a remote worker for the majority of my career, I don’t place great emphasis on the physical office, having an assigned cube or showing up at the same time every day.
For one reason, it’s a model created as part of the industrial revolution when electricity was hard and expensive. Keeping a factory up and running 24 hours a day was more efficient than shutting it down. All work was done through memos, meetings, and phone lines tethered to the company’s phone system. Being physically at the office was important, required.
But to think that working this way now makes sense requires ignoring the amazing advances made in technology and the type of work that drives today’s economic engine.
Doesn’t Guarantee Best Results
It’s an inefficient use of time and “being in the office” doesn’t guarantee that the best work gets done.
I do my best writing sitting at a coffee shop from early in the morning until right at lunch. The steady flow of caffeine in the air and the buzz of the crowd allow me to focus. Put me in a sterile office space with a rarely changing environment and I just can’t find the words.
The same is true for your team. Spend some time in your next meeting to find out where they do their best work — and let them.
Traffic is Stupid
When I was very young in my career I changed jobs and where I lived all within the same month. These changes made my commute over an hour each way.
One day, sitting in traffic I realized that each year I was spending 28, 24 hour days — the entire month of February — in my car. With a child on the way, we sold a car, put our house up for rent and rented another one 3 miles from the office.
You don’t have to take the same extreme — it could be as simple as letting people travel in before traffic, come in later, and of course, work from home.
Focus on the Results
With a clear set of expectations regarding what you want to see and when you want to see it, where and when the work is done doesn’t matter. Use systems that keep you informed of the status and trust your team to do the work they were hired to do.
Long Live the Office
The office is a place where magic happens. While that sounds a little hokie, it’s absolutely true. To think that the concept of an office will completely disappear is to ignore what drives us as human beings.
One younger employee I was talking with this past week shared he is thrilled to be back at the office.
He is working with a senior employee and by simply listening to his conversations with others this newbie is learning how to do his job more efficiently. Something that was woefully missing when he was solely working from home.
As the workforce returns in size and numbers, how do you successfully train employees in a completely virtual way?
Reduces Need for Meetings
One of the biggest complaints I hear universally is meeting fatigue — endless screen time, back-to-back meetings with little time in between.
In a virtual world, how else do you get time with someone else? The virtual, work-from-home world is broken down into 30-minute increments with each titled for a purposeful reason, and I notice more people tend to join or be invited than if the meeting was held in a physical office setting.
The office allows for serendipity that just doesn’t happen in a remote setting. You have the opportunity for casual, unscheduled conversations with your teammates. You overhear a need or project conversation that might be important or informative and can jump in for a brief clarification.
You can’t create killer culture unless you are eyeball to eyeball with others. Humans are social creatures and we thrive in environments and develop bonds when we are together. If you have team members that have never spent time together then you will find innovative behaviors fall by over 90%.
Even if you can’t accomplish this in larger groups, getting teams broken down into smaller groups is one way you can accomplish this. At Liger, we have the “Ladies of Liger” and the “League of Extraordinary Ligers”, along with some other team-specific events that encourage bonding between teammates.
Allows for Separation
I like getting in the car in the morning, stopping by Starbucks and arriving at the office to work and driving home with the radio on just a little too loud. It’s this transitional period that makes me a little more productive at the office and breaks up my day for the evening.
So, will the office go away? Absolutely not.
Will it be the same? I hope not.
My hope is that the 2020 disruption will result in a more thoughtful approach to what “the office” means.
We created our recently opened “Liger Lair” headquarters as a second place. A second place for teams to meet one day a week, to host events that support the community, and to collaborate with our clients.