There has been so much talk recently about whether the enforced lockdown has brought about the premature end of the traditional office. Remote working has been on the cards for some time now and prior to the pandemic, many companies and employees were already embracing home working. It’s fair enough as it’s easy to see the advantages which include no commuting resulting in more quality time with the family, an increase in productivity as there are fewer distractions and for the employer, a financial gain as overheads are reduced.
During this period, we have all coped well and fully embraced technology and it has been something different for us to talk about but after two months of trying to hold meetings via Zoom whilst competing with children / partners for bandwidth, is it practical long term?
Obviously, the kids will go back to school at some point (please, tell me they are going back) so online meetings won’t be interrupted but many people could still be at home with a working partner and who, in reality, has the space for two home offices? Most households are lucky to have one desk so it becomes a heated ball of resentment as to who is ‘most important’ and therefore gets to use the desk, with the other left utilising a space in the corner of a room and having to clear their workstation away every night to accommodate normal home life. This is where the office comes into it’s own as you have your dedicated desk which you don’t have to clear up at the end of the day just so that you have somewhere to eat of an evening.
The office provides more than your own space though as it gives you a chance to interact with your colleagues and business associates. Online video calls are fantastic when there is no alternative, but there is nothing that beats face to face contact. In office conversations aren’t broken up by an intermittent Wi-Fi connection and you are able to gauge body language better when that person is on front of you, and best of all, no-one’s face is pixelated. It is easier to build rapport with business partners in a face to face meetings, enabling familiarity and fostering a comfortable working relationship. In the same vein, collaborative work is more productive when everyone is in the same space as it encourages interaction, allowing creativity to flow and opinions to be shared through spontaneity.
Importantly, working in an office enables you to understand the company culture and core values as you are surrounded by people who are working towards the same goal. Essentially, it is more obvious what part you play in making the company work. On a personal level, offices provide the opportunity to network and as an adult, it is where you make friends; something that isn’t as easy to do over a phone or video conference. This contact can be a lifeline for those who live alone.
Finally, whilst the majority of us are searching for the holy grail – a work / life balance – is it really possible to do that when working from home? Unless you are incredibly disciplined or have a home office which has a door you can close, boundaries become blurred and ‘just checking your emails’ at 8pm becomes ‘I’ll just get this presentation finished so I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow’. Home life is not supposed to be a place of tension (unless you have teenagers but that’s another story) so why would you want to bring the stresses of your work day into it on a permanent basis.
The ability to work from home has been absolutely invaluable over the past couple of months and has allowed many areas of the economy to continue but don’t forget about the humble office and all the benefits it offers.