With technological advances such as the internet, Skype, GoToMeeting, Video Conferencing, Zoom, and other methods of meeting in real time, gathering around the office water cooler is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Why would any company continue paying for unneeded office space?
In the 12 years between 2005 and 2017, remote working saw a staggering increase of 159%. Those companies who objected to the concept began making their offices less stark by reconstructing them to be cozier and more home-like. Some businesses prefer keeping an eye on their employees but they soon found they were in competition with work from home companies who were stealing their workforce.
But then came the pandemic which leveled the playing field as more and more offices had no choice but to send their employees home and quickly figure out how all of this work-from-home stuff could be productively accomplished.
In December 2019, Zoom hosted 10-million virtual meetings, which at first seems like a large significant number. But, by April 2020, Zoom was hosting upwards of 200-million meetings.
This is not to say these meetings have not had their embarrassing moments with dogs barking and children crying in the background, or even an unaware naked spouse strolling by in the background, but for the most part, they’ve been working out just fine.
Those companies who were fearful of a work-from-home scenario have discovered that their productivity has not suffered. In fact, in many cases, it has increased. Their employees rose to the challenge, and because they were more comfortable in their own home environments, many of them started putting in additional hours, taking fewer smoke breaks, and eating lunch at their desks.
Productivity at Twitter saw such an increase that the company told its employees they work from home forever if they wanted to. Many other companies were so impressed they began closing their offices and refusing to renew their leases.
But there is a downside to all of this. Communicating with other workers in close proximity is sometimes essential, rather than guessing at how a certain task should be handled. It’s also easier for an employee to “burn-out” since it’s too tempting to check on “things” all day and well into the night.
A survey conducted in the U.K. found that those working from home were getting far less exercise and some were complaining of musculoskeletal issues. Others, because they were no longer in constant contact with their higher up’s, tended to worry more and get less sleep.
Employees under the age of 35 have been impacted the most. They miss the comradery of an office environment and 59% of those surveyed said they had a tough time staying motivated. Another 39% of them said they had trouble leaving work behind at the end of the day and could not turn off the switch.
David Brown, the founder of Good Space in Queens NY, offers a desk and office space to those individuals who simply cannot be effective while working from their homes.
According to Brown, “The people who are running large organizations saying, ‘Oh, we’ll just move everybody remote and we’ll save money and our people will be really effective!’ probably have a really nice place to work in their homes. They might have child care; they have a big enough house that they can be separated from the distractions. But the majority of their employees are not in a situation where working from home all the time is really effective. For three months in a pandemic you can make it work, but if [my] company [were to] say, ‘This is it,’ I’d immediately be looking for a new job.”
Michael Colacino, a NY based real estate broker, made this comment. “In deciding to close offices, companies may be harming their own corporate culture and relationships with employees. There’s a contract between you and the company about where you fit in the organization, and part of that is where you fit in the space. What does [taking away the office] say about your commitment to that employee and then their reciprocal commitment to your company?… It sounds like it’s less of a commitment.”
In summary, offices are not simply working spaces. Being in an office surrounded by other employees assures them the company they are working for is still solid. They allow for much-needed interaction.
In much the same way as the general public is longing to have a cold one with friends in a local bar, people need one another. They need to slap each other on the back. They need the reassurances they give one another. They need recognition for doing a great job.
With the pandemic still raging, it may be a while before major companies can truly assess what’s working and what isn’t. But rest assured, the days of coming into the office are far from being over.