Your desk suddenly turned into a desktop overnight. Rarely have we seen such a global exodus away from the office and into our safe homes. No more open workspaces. Instead crammed into a DIY home office behind your screen all day, with the kids taking over the role from your noisy colleagues. And while we’re now all getting a taste of the good, the bad and the ugly of ‘remote’ work, it’s the opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate what we hope to find when we eventually return to our offices.
It’s important to understand that the demand for more flexible schedules and ‘remote’ work is not just a symptom of COVID-19. According to a report by Buffer right before the pandemic outbreak, 98% of employees would love to include home in the work mix while 97% recommend it to others.
Although forced home work might have felt a bit awkward and unproductive at first, it’s almost impossible to ignore the obvious benefits. No more morning rush through traffic. More time at home and freedom to plan your day. Less pointless meetings and interruptions at the office.
‘Remote’ work is not only rainbows and sunshines, however. The top 3 biggest struggles for homeworkers according to Buffer are definitely things we can all relate with to some extent:
Weeks of forced WFH (‘working from home’) around the world will stir up quite some debate around the role of ‘remote’ work. Employees will demand more flexibility and companies won’t be able to ignore it anymore. Next time you drive down to the office you might start to ask yourself: why am I commuting to the office again instead of breakfast with the kids?
The office is far from dead. A study by Gensler shows that employees at companies with high WPI scores — an industry standard for high-performing workplaces — still prefer the office to their home as their preferred place to work. And this will still be the case when we wake up from our quarantine sleep.
After being stuck at home for weeks, the gradual return to the office is a perfect moment to reflect on the reasons why we want to go back in the first place. What turns a regular office building into a workplace where people love to come and work?
Human-centric office design and company culture play an instrumental role here. The research is undeniable: it boosts everything from employees’ productivity and retention to happiness and morale level
So instead of asking yourself whether you should work at the office, it’s more a question of what you hope to find once you get there?
Collaboration and communication are listed as the n°1 struggle for homeworkers. Maybe you’ve experienced it for yourself — this thing called ‘Zoom’ fatigue? Your last weekly stand-up meeting or client lunch now feels like just a joyful but distant memory.
Professional collaboration has turned into a 2D-experience that starts and ends at the edge of your 13″ inch screen.
Digital technology has proven itself as the key enabler to help us stay connected during this crisis. While it’s not safe to get closer than 6 feet to any person outside your home, seeing your colleagues’ faces on a video call is as close as it gets to the real thing. It’s definitely also been a learning experience. Teams started experimenting with new collaboration software. You can even attend the first-ever virtual edition of your favourite industry event.
It makes you think: “why even meet in-person anymore?”. What sets actual face time really apart from a FaceTime session? Aside from the occasional audio bug on the video call, what’s the point of replacing your screen for a meeting room? Especially when now we unquestionably will need to be more conscious of interacting with other humans?
Well, we asked that exact same question and heard many versions of the same answer: “It’s just not the same”.
It’s hard to explain why we miss seeing our colleagues face-to-face because it’s so intangible. Someone’s hand gestures, a firm handshake, or a genuine smile. All these human micro-interactions that just don’t seem to translate to pixels on a screen. The research confirms that video meetings make it inherently harder to pick-up on non-verbal cues (facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.) or allow formoments of silence which normally create a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. One study even showed that usual delays (1.2 seconds) on phone or video calls can make us perceive other attendees as less friendly or focused.
And although new health standards and a new look on work-life balance will make use more conscious of how and when to spend time with others in physical spaces, we will always crave this need for real human interaction.
The reason why you miss the office always boils down to the intangible but priceless value of human interaction that a screen won’t ever be able to replace. Real and meaningful conversations bring the extra dimension that sets the office apart from the 2D virtual work experience.
We’ll see a first wave of changes at the office to monitor and maintain the new health standards. ‘Remote’ work will definitely become more part of the conversation. But as the workforce slowly returns to the workfloor, it will take more than hand gel or a 6-foot desk for organisations to stay relevant as a great workplace in the new reality we live in. Our biological urge for genuine human connections will become an even stronger driving motivator of what to look for in a great office.
In the next few weeks, we will host a webinar series where we will engage with clients, partners and experts on several key topics around the ‘return to/of the office’ and ‘what makes an office a great place to work?’.
We can’t wait to see where this will take us next and how we can continue help companies shape their workplace and -culture.
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image credits: Mike Piechota for Netguru