Episode 101 - Five Reasons Why You Still Need an Office

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Summary

With the shift to working from anywhere, many people have questioned why we still need an office. For others, getting everyone back into the office is seen as mission critical. In this episode we explore five reasons why you still need an office.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 101 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore the five reasons why you still need an office.

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about the need for offices. The global pandemic revealed just how possible it was for many people to work from anywhere. This has been combined with challenges moving people back into offices, while also maintaining a safe work environment. All of this is likely to lead to a shift in thinking about the need for, and role of, offices.

Most surveys reveal a mix of people who can’t wait to get back into the office, people who never want to go in to the office again, and a larger group in the middle who want a mix. It’s easy to foresee a challenging road ahead as organisations and individuals negotiate a seemingly endless range of options for people. Some organisations will no doubt declare it all to be too hard and push most people back into the office. Others will jump at the chance to save on prime real estate and reduce their office footprint significantly if not entirely.

But much of this debate and discussion misses the core question - what do we actually need an office for? And, to be clear, this is really about why we need to get our people together, whether that’s at an office or some other venue.

Research suggests there are five main reasons to get people together:

1. Community - As people were forced to work from home, this was one of the most cited reasons why people missed the office. We are social animals and long for connection with others. Video conferencing doesn’t match the connections people can build face-to-face.

2. Collaboration - While collaboration software and platforms can help, they fail to allow the kind of constructive conflict needed to truly collaborate and generate new ideas. To be clear, I’m not saying that all collaboration needs to happen face-to-face, but there are efficiencies provided by being in the same room at the same time when deeper collaboration is required.

3. Culture - “How we do things around here” is difficult to establish and sustain when we’re not in an office together. Communicating strategy and direction, celebrating milestones and achievements, establishing agreed ways of operating - these are all much easier when we have a group of people in a room together. Without being physically together, it becomes much harder to build trust. People then tend to create identity with their team rather than the organisation. This can lead to conflict between teams and competing interests, rather than trying to work together to better the overall organisation.

4. Climate - It’s difficult to generate a consistent experience of “how it feels to work here” when people are having such diverse experiences of the workplace. Getting people together helps to create a shared climate.

5. Capability - This, I believe, is the sleeper issue in the work from anywhere movement. Picture yourself at the start of your career. How much of your development occurred just by being around more experienced people, being invited into meetings to observe, and having that chance to be mentored? All of this is harder when people aren’t together.

Now, please don’t hear me wrong - this isn’t an anti work from anywhere statement. In fact, I’ve been a work from anywhere guy for the best part of ten years. But it’s easy to overlook all the seemingly small and incidental interactions that build community, collaboration, culture, climate and capability. These accumulate over time to play a really important part in each person’s engagement, satisfaction and contribution. If people shift to two or three days in the office, it reduces all of these incidental moments by half.

To replace that, we are going to need to be far more intentional about community, collaboration, culture, climate and capability. We can no longer leave them to chance. Instead, we will, from time to time, need to bring our people together face to face with a clear purpose and focus on each of these five areas. Trying to build these virtually is inefficient. What 5 minutes together face-to-face does for building trust might take hours over email or Slack or even video conference.

So you may not need an office anymore, but you will always need to bring people together face to face. We need to be very intentional when we have that increasingly rare opportunity to all be in the same room at the same time. Make sure it happens, and make the most of it.

Thanks for joining me today, and remember to check out Leadership Today On-Demand. We have a new quick hit video posted every week which is a similar format to our podcast. On top of that are ten recorded webinars on topics like procrastination, imposter syndrome, well-being, assertiveness and influencing, with a new webinar added each month. In addition we have our online courses which you might want to check out. You can sign up for a free 30 day trial by going to our website, leadership.today, and following the on-demand link. Have a great week.

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