Why do we need the office?

Many parts of the world are slowly re-opening and people are returning to their workplaces with ever-changing social distancing measures in place. In the midst of an accelerated trend towards more flexible working, offices are not dying out just yet. It’s becoming clear that office spaces offering safety, agility, and value are highly desirable in these uncertain times.

The current discussion about the future of office demand is mainly based on surveys or anecdotal evidence like statements from business leaders or a small sample set of actual lease decisions, and even those decisions may be short-term in nature. Office rents can be pricey, though. Companies will re-think how they manage their office space in terms of functionality and safety, and in terms of saving on capital costs. We will always need an office, but the relationship between workers and the office is going to change following the pandemic.

What do people want?

We need connections, interactions, and people. Employees view the office as a critical place to meaningfully connect with colleagues, which is why many people are wanting to head back to the office. Working with colleagues and customers online is a sore point for many employees working from home due to Covid-19. The difficulty people have connecting with co-workers while working remotely gets at what people miss from the office - the opportunity for meaningful connections. Many also cited the inability to unplug, loneliness, and distractions as major pitfalls of home working.

The top concern of employees returning to the workplace revolves around losing their newfound sense of flexibility while working remotely and the second concern is cleanliness. So, organisations will need to find ways in which employees can keep some of their newfound flexibility as they head back to a safe and hygienic office. With a rising demand for flexible work benefits, businesses need to consider the potential for reduced office occupancy, which has ramifications for how much office space they need, and what types of workspaces they offer employees.

In recent surveys, Colliers surveyed 5,000 clients and found that only “12% want to work for 4+ days from home post-pandemic.” Savills surveyed 65,000 clients and found that “89% of respondents believed that physical office space remains a necessity for companies to operate successfully, but the office is set to change.”. And JLL surveyed 3,000 clients and found that “58% of office workers missed the office, a sentiment expressed by an even larger percentage of those 35 and under.”

There are many articles declaring that the office is dead and work from home is a permanent solution. But in reality, working from home comes with its challenges and the office is still integral to our work. In this post, we discuss the benefits of office working and why returning to our spaces will positively impact everything from productivity to wellness.

Work/life balance

A physical office does a fantastic job of implementing a much-needed barrier between work and home life. Remote working, on the other hand, gives way to an unhealthy and imagined pressure that we ought to be constantly available, which can have profound implications on our productivity – and at its worst, lead to burnout.

Research has also shown that creativity thrives in an office environment thanks to casual collisions, and studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators.

Social needs and bonding

The quality of our work setting has a significant effect on our psychological health and its absence can negatively impact productivity. Recreating the office environment at home can be difficult and not everyone can create an optimal workspace at home. Studies show that workers who have recently returned to offices have noticed a marked improvement in productivity.

Offices fulfill our need to celebrate the human elements of business: empathy, humour, creativity, and innovation. The interactions employees enjoy in a shared space can go a long way in helping us feel connected. These social touchpoints can make us feel having a meaningful place in your workplace and make stronger bonds among team members. It’s almost impossible to create company culture when everyone is virtual – technology can’t replace human contact.

Remote working creates myriad issues, among them the inability to monitor output, support lower-level employees and new starters, or celebrate company wins. People will want to return to the office as home-workers “tend to get overlooked” for promotion. When it comes to celebrating team achievements, nothing beats joining colleagues and celebrating together.

What the future holds

Work from home can have adverse effects physically and mentally. With lockdown lasting months, poor posture and bad diets are becoming ingrained. From a mental health perspective, burnout and isolation are causes for concern. Remote employees often feel compelled to work longer hours than their in-office counterparts to prove productivity, with the pressure to appear “busy” causing increased anxiety. An office provides a holistic environment that can promote healthier work life.

While businesses have been left with little choice but to embrace remote working, there will be a time when offices start to draw people back as remote working will never completely replace the office. Most businesses will look to strike the right balance between home and office working. And the challenge then lies in how to adapt workplaces to the new normal of strict personal hygiene and social distancing.

Often it’s not the desks that are the issue, as these can be given screens and protections, and people can usually spread out a bit — the limiting factor is more mundane. How many people can use the stairs or lifts, are there enough toilets in the building if they adopt a single person at a time policy? How can they cope with the canteen area? Either way the working habits of businesses and employees will have to change!