Even before the Covid-19 crisis, we were undergoing a profound reinvention of the way we work. Now with nearly 4 million working from home, the future of the office is under threat. Or is it?
It's tempting to conclude that the office has had its day, but the dedicated workplace still has plenty to offer even in the 'new normal.'
As humans, we're hardwired to be creative and working together in groups gives us the opportunity to innovate and problem solve. While connection can be facilitated by technology, it's no replacement for actual human contact. It's no surprise that 71% of new remote workers are struggling with the impact on their mental health.
Teams rely on the cross pollination of ideas that happens in the break out area or across a desk. And organisations rely on the collaboration between and across teams - and nothing facilitates that like the office.
A sense of direction
Bringing people together in the workplace helps them to align their objectives and develop a shared sense of purpose. It's critical to developing team morale, a sense of direction and that idea of being all in it together.
Without the physical space to energise and bring us together, it's easy to feel set adrift from the aims and goals of the organisation. We need to experience the bandwagon effect - the sociological concept of being swept along by the group - to keep us focused, engaged and aligned with a common goal.
It may seem difficult to quantify company culture, but the workplace does a powerful job of communicating your businesses' culture in a tangible way. Each part of the physical space communicates something about your mission and values, placing emphasis on collaboration and connection, wellbeing and community. Each of those communicable signals speaks of the priorities and values of the organisation as a whole.
By coming together in the office the workforce is more productive, more engaged and more focused.
Research shows that women are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to being able to devote time to their work when working remotely. And disengaged people are far more likely to have a side hustle, which is a fast track to losing talent.
Trust the culture
Trust and empathy are enhanced by physical proximity, with team dynamics deteriorating with physical distance. When we work physically together we develop the social capital that lets us work at our most effective.
And while communication can happen virtually, company culture is harder to manage. Those opportunities to praise, encourage and reward are more difficult to spot and with them the chance to reinforce great contributions and manage behaviours that may not align with company culture.
Health and wellbeing
Our brains are easily bored and we crave variety. The workplace supports our need for new experiences, for movement and for mental stimulation. We also benefit from setting boundaries that help us to separate life and work. Going to the office gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in work without distractions, and then to leave work behind when we return home.
The bottom line is that we can achieve a great deal digitally. And we can work from home productively and effectively, up to a point. But the workplace has a fundamental role in our working lives and offers the kind of value that we do best to incorporate into a holistic strategy, not an either-or.