July 21, 2020
The benefits of physical office space are under renewed consideration across industries. Companies have had to initiate or broaden work-from-home options to keep employees safe and productive. As businesses begin returning to office spaces, the positive aspects of working together in an office are being weighed against the benefits of virtual scenarios.
Benefits of Working Together in an Office Space
Many of the benefits of working together in an office space touted by experts prior to the pandemic still hold true:
- Encourages team building
- Contributes significantly to creating and defining corporate culture
- Facilitates social interaction and bonds between employees
- Allows for more spontaneous idea sharing and problem solving
- Strengthens professional development through on-site role modeling
- Enables mentoring, especially with new hires and interns
- Provides ability to monitor employee performance
- Helps in fostering of social skills required in business
Jia Wertz, a contributor at Forbes, wrote in late 2019, “By creating a welcoming work environment, companies bolster team morale, increase employee retention and enhance overall productivity in the workplace.”
The wisdom of this still resonates. Wertz recommends six ways companies can enhance their company culture through their office space (full article here).
Although they’ve proven invaluable, virtual meeting tools like Zoom have shown there is no virtual substitute to replace the benefits of physical office space.
Do Americans Want to Work from Home?
Now that a significant portion of the workforce has had to work virtually, it’s important to know how people truly feel about working from home vs. working from the office.
The Gensler Research Institute, part of the world’s largest global architecture, design, and planning firm, recently released results from its “U.S. Work from Home Survey 2020.” Below are some insightful findings from their survey of over 2,300 American workers who were full-time office-based employees now working from home (the research was fielded between April 16 and May 4, 2020 across ten industries).
Only 12% of U.S. Workers Want to Work from Home Full-time — Most people want to return to the workplace, though they expect change to the workplace before they’re comfortable returning. This includes issues of safety, density, and challenges related to unassigned seating. (Interestingly, only one in ten office workers had worked from home regularly before COVID-19.)
What People Miss Most About the Office? The People
A majority (74%) say it’s the people they miss most about the office. Meeting and connecting with colleagues face-to-face and having access to the tools and spaces that support their work are the things people miss most. Employees come to the office for collaboration and social connection. Below are the top reasons people want to come to an office:
- Scheduled meetings with colleagues (54%)
- Socializing with colleagues (54%)
- Impromptu face-to-face interaction (54%)
- To be part of a community (45%)
- Access to technology (44%)
- Scheduled meetings with clients (40%)
- Professional development/coaching (33%)
- Access to amenities (29%)
Collaborating from home Is harder — The value of physical togetherness in an office is notable when compared to working from home. More than half (55%) of workers feel that collaborating with others is harder at home. Also, half (51%) feel staying up-to-date on what others are working on is harder at home.
Changes expected at the office — Gensler reports that, “Workers want their workplaces to adapt to new paradigms – but how workplaces should adapt is still open for debate. The most important workplace changes appear to be policy-based and include stricter policies about staying home when sick and increasing opportunities to work from home. Cleaning and other efforts to establish social distancing rank next.”
- Stricter policies against coming in sick (55%)
- Increase opportunities to work from home (52%)
- Increase office cleaning (50%)
- Increase distance between workstations (35%)
- Provide hand sanitizer (35%)
- Touchless bathroom fixtures/doors (33%)
- Install air purification system (31%)
Many new systems and technologies like Amazon’s free software can help businesses to maintain a healthier workspace.
Innovation and In-person Office Interactions
Adam Gorlick, Director of Communications at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), speaks with Nicholas Bloom, an economist known for his research showing the benefits of working from home. The economist, who is a proponent of work from home, fears productivity may suffer without the in-person collaboration an office provides:
“In-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and innovation,” Bloom says. His research has shown that face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focused. “I fear this collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation,” he says. “The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”
The benefits of physical office space cannot be underestimated. Moving forward, it seems inevitable that that work from home options will be a permanent component of work life in many industries. However, savvy businesses will not only pursue viable work from home scenarios, they will find the right combination of working in-person at the office and virtual participation that keeps employees happier and more productive, while keeping businesses healthy and viable.