Why Offices Will Still Matter

Why Offices Will Still Matter

March 29th, 2021 // 1:23 pm @

To many people working from home can seem like a utopian solution, no commuting, fewer interruptions, time flexibility and therefore greater productivity, and an improved quality of life. To companies it can seem a way to save cost on expensive offices and an aid to recruitment.

Working from centrally based offices really started to become popular as transportation efficiency improved particularly with the train network, around a hundred and fifty years ago, which made commuting feasible. This allowed staff to work in one building making fast communication and decision making possible. It also was in line with management theory of the time which tended to focus on input (Hours at a desk) rather than today where efficiency is more often managed by output. So, the basis of the central office system comes from a desire to control, and a need to communicate directly.

The Pandemic has rapidly accelerated the move to home work which was already taking place, driven by improved computers, the Internet, file sharing and various online video conferencing systems.

This move has been welcomed by many as it saves time and money on commuting, and offers flexibility in ones use of time. This however physically requires a decent computer, good Internet access and a quiet work space at home.

Those sharing space with partners, children or a flat mate, or who lack the right level of Internet access, are going to have a challenging work environment.

However, the biggest issues with working from home, shared by the majority are creativity, communication quality, energy and social connection.

Creativity is at its best when the right people meet in person and bounce off each other, when such meetings go online that creativity is significantly reduced, as discussion becomes stilted at best. Technology companies are trying to minimize this with such ideas as putting up your virtual hand when you want to talk, but this does not match the open communication one achieves in face to face meetings.

Modern communication is fast and cheap, whether it be an email, a file or a video conference all can be achieved easily from most homes. The issue with this super fast communication is the quality of communication has suffered, as I have discussed before emails are fast, but few people put the time into drafting an email let alone reviewing it. The “Draft” box in most email systems is little used. Many emails are quickly and poorly written.

Video conferencing has its own set of issues, we have already touched on the fact it is difficult to know when to speak, and one can easily talk over someone in error. There is however another communication quality issue with video conference and that is the sever reduction in non verbal communication.

The general rule for communication is 7% verbal, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language. The first two work fairly well over a video conference, but as those involved are sitting in a set static position so as to be in the right place for the camera, nearly all non verbal communication is lost.

The move to video conferencing is accelerating the trend to faster but poorer quality of communication.

Sitting alone in your home office for seven or eight hours a day for most people will drain their energy. We already know people are at their most productive in the morning and energy levels fall as the day progresses, and working alone without outside stimulation merely accelerates this.

We are by instinct social animals, just attend a football match to see tribalism at its clearest. And we gain energy form these around us, and if the organization is well run management can create a work space that drives energy, from natural light, to light wall coverings up to regular social fun time.

Sat alone at home for days that energy is hard to reproduce, and output will be affected.

As we have discussed people are social beings and many people during a work week, spend as much time with work colleagues as their family. Therefore, their social interactions at work are a key part in their well being. Removing this interaction will damage the individual from a work perspective but also in the long term damage them as individuals. We will be seeing books and scientific studies on the long term impact of reduced social integration for decades to come.

Working from home can look and is for some people a great opportunity to stop commuting, having more time and time flexibility, but it comes with costs.

Those without the physical infrastructure at home to work from home face very real challenges. But beyond that almost everyone who works from home faces issues of creativity, quality of communication, energy and social interaction.

I suspect as hopefully this crisis subsides some people will be happy to return to the office environment.

The answer is unique to every individual and every company and the reality is many people will remain working from home at least part of the time, but good managers will understand the downsides of working wholly at home and will build a time table of in office time to minimize these issues.

If managed correctly this is a great opportunity to enhance the quality of life for staff and productivity for organizations.

Category : Key Business Success Drivers &Leadership &Management Technique

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