Going back to the office?
Going back to the office?
With just over four months of remote work, is the return to offices looming and are offices needed like they used to be? Looking back at my 25 years of office experience, I have been in a privileged situation, in that not one of my employers have requested office presence by contract. In the Nordics, the employer/employee relationship is one based on trust and one which does not require constant control – results are what count, not office presence. Remote work was always permitted – albeit, it may have been impractical at least in the last century.
Office/IT technology has developed fast within this Millennium – yet to work remotely, only truly became practical in the last 10 years. COVID-19 forced companies to adapt quickly to enable remote work. A somewhat release of control for those companies that hadn’t allowed their employees to work from home before the pandemic. Remote work five days a week- a dream to some and a nightmare for others. Needless to say, there are benefits in working remotely – the biggest benefit being savings in commuting, both time and cost. As a result, true work/life balance has been experienced for many.
Despite different polls showing similar results in favour of remote work, the issue of human interaction arises and questions working remotely all five days of the working week. A lot of good online tools have been developed to stay virtually connected, and with lockdown, people quickly acquainted to it (in line with the joke: “Who digitalized your company? The CEO, the CIO or the CO(VI)D ?”) In my opinion, what feels initially as “freedom” will be learned over time as “limited fit for purpose”. No video call can ever truly achieve the same feelings of face to face discussions. Remote work reduces spontaneous interactions, for example, those chats by the coffee machine. For me, that is what an office environment is all about- creative discussions, social discussions, and the feeling of truly being part of the company culture.
Many articles state that working in an office is going to change forever. I believe that there will be a strong move towards part office working and part remote working- enabling employees to have the best of both worlds. If you need to write an important paper or have many meetings and your loving kids are interrupting, remote work is not the convenient option. Many employees also prefer to not blur the distinction between home and work, thus modern open-plan offices may be the best option. If you are lucky enough to be able to work in a WELL certified office – remote work is only a convenient option for example when the commute at -30C doesn’t feel right, or your morning radio announces the record traffic jam for the third consecutive day. Light, Air, Ergonomics and more are not often optimised at home – however, they are in a WELL certified office. Just think about bio-dynamic lighting optimised to you and demand-controlled ventilation (with HEPA filters and UV-C cleaning).
Remote working has decreased social interaction, networking, mentoring and collaboration, and at times strained work/life balance—all critical elements of career growth and organisational productivity. The function of the office will shift away from traditional work processes and oversight to more collaborative, educational and social needs of the workforce. A trend that was already visible pre-lockdown. Hence, now is the time to optimise the office experience to meet post-lockdown expectations (WELL certification, Air filtering, optimised occupancy, physical distancing). Office building owners and workplace designers should grab this opportunity to audit their assets and invest into WELL and COVID relevant upgrades – using available and future proof technologies. Tenants may consider multiple smaller, “decentralised” offices enabling shorter commutes for their employees with better connections to public transport.
So, although remote work will continue for many, I don’t think COVID-19 will be the end of offices altogether. Now is the time to appreciate and embrace the true purpose of an office – human interactions.