Why We MUST Return To The Office
Full disclosure...I work in the commercial furniture industry, so everyone returning to work safely and soon would be just great for my company and team. But, this doesn't have anything to do with benefiting my industry; it has to do with benefiting me! And You!
Are you on the fence about returning to the office? Enjoying the "remote worker" status and flexibility? I realized this week why its critical for us to return to the office in some format of a regular routine and lay out my reasons to consider.
First, I am in sales and work predominately out of the home office when not with clients or teammates. So, the Covid19 "Work From Home" didn't nearly impact me as much as some of my friends and clients. Also, I am married but don't have children, so we don't wrestle with remote learning and other complicated topics for any young children. I already had my office set up; in fact it's a separate room at the front of the house totally set up for conference calls, focused work, and consistent productivity. In my normal world, I spend about 25% in my home office and 75% with my clients in meetings, serving the community through volunteer work, or collaborating with my state-wide teammates over a meal or coffee. The Corona Virus took almost all of the 75% of the work I enjoyed most away from me overnight.
I find it interesting our industry and my company's research has been promoting the benefits of the flexible workforce for years. Meaning, giving employees the chance to choose where to work or providing the option to work from home or office. Research supports the concept of giving people choice and how it positively impacts productivity and culture. However, many companies, actually most, often responded back to our documented research without consideration stating "employees must be seen to make sure the work is being done" or "our technology isn't prepared to support that dynamic."
Well...welcome to 2020! The year of Change and Adaptability!
This year has proven Work From Home is possible and in fact if required can be deployed in a matter of days and weeks. Now what we hear is; "I'm saving so much money on my real estate costs" or "Productivity is actually increased so why would we go back to the office?" The pendulum has swung in the completely opposite direction and seems like its stuck on something keeping it from returning to center. Now, I know its extremely important to consider health risks and other factors our unknown new enemy, Covid19, bring into the equation. But, I respectfully challenge the idea, once its safe, that all or nothing is the best approach to a healthy work environment and culture. I'll give you a few reasons why:
People Need People: This past week I spent 1 full day with work colleagues and came home more energized than I had been in months! I was allowed to travel with a teammate to our territory 2 hours away - that's 4 concentrated hours talking with someone who understand my day to day work life, can help me brainstorm current project obstacles, and strategize on topics which would bring value to our clients. We also participated in actual face to face meetings with our customers giving presentations about important information relating to active opportunities. This brought me more joy than I even knew I needed. I felt significant, smart, and energized. I realized on the way home my jubilee wasn't because of something I did during the day; it was because I was WITH people where I could feel their energy and feel emotionally connected. Sorry Zoom meetings; you can't compete with those things.
Culture Will Suffer: This is a BIG concept, but I believe a company's culture isn't driven by leadership, boardrooms, or profits. Culture is about the people and will always be about the people. Values, Visions, and Branding will forever articulate the culture and they are important, but culture lives and dies by the employees who buy into it or help burn it to the ground. There are two side to culture and one isn't always pretty. So, in order to improve or elevate your culture (which directly correlates to profits and retention) people need each other to fuel their fire for who they work for. Culture doesn't grow from more money, via virtual conference calls, or when we are isolated working from home. Culture can temporarily sustain in unforeseen circumstances like our current situation, but long term we need each other to feel connected to something greater - a purpose that drives us to greatness...and that comes when you are in the office together!
Breakthrough Ideas Won't Generate: This I know for sure - all great ideas came from a group that brainstormed, discussed, and troubleshot as a collective. We have inventors and individuals who are deemed responsible for great accomplishments, but I would bet money they had a team behind the scenes helping solve problems and reach greatness. Shoot; even with my few accomplishments I recognize I didn't get there alone. I had a team, a boss, a mentor, and a family or all of the above that supported me to help reach my goals. BIG ideas come when a group of people set out to solve a problem and strive for nothing but success. These interactions rarely happen in isolation without each other. Innovation and Collaboration are basically identical twins; different characteristics but same DNA. They build off energy, debate, ideas, success, failure, tenacity, perseverance, and team work. Whether around a table, at a whiteboard, in a manufacturing plant, in the field, or in a lab - the core of the breakthrough is always togetherness.
These are just a few reasons why we need to be back together; really together. I still believe choice, flexibility, and collaboration is vital to a company's success. So, I don't buy into the idea "to be working, you must be seen" but I think there is a place where balance occurs and work can be a destination not just a cubicle. I believe working from home has proven that people can work remotely and still be responsible (gasp), but I also think having going to the office is highly important too. Although many have been forced into this WFH concept, the positive from 2020 is recognizing work can be done in many different settings.
For me, I'll be one of the first ones arriving at the office when they open up. I trust my company to make it safe and I know I need the connection with people to do my best work. I look forward to the day when we talk to companies about a blended work strategy and they join us in the brainstorming versus explaining why it doesn't work. I think the future for that is coming fast. It works...it just needs to be balanced.
If you are interested in more on this topic, here are a few sites to keep reading: