Sell for More News is a weekly blog series with interesting information from the world of commercial real estate.
We’re in the midst of the most significant reinvention of office work in our time. We’ve proven people can work anywhere and the greatest social experiment…sending everyone home to do their work…has decimated barriers to working away from the office.
Some contend people are working with a reasonable level of productivity from home. And this is during arguably the worst-case situation for remote work: Being forced to work from home without choice, experiencing stress about the pandemic, sharing space with spouses or partners who are furloughed or also trying to work from home and finding time to educate children who would normally be at school…all of these create challenging conditions.
We can work from home with some level of effectiveness. We can meet using all kinds of technology platforms. We can stay connected to colleagues. We can perform our tasks. We can manage our work. We can, but for some it’s just not the best idea.
It’s tempting for companies to conclude the office is irrelevant…perhaps commutes, conference rooms and coffee bars aren’t really that necessary after all. With billions invested in real estate and maintenance of the workplace, companies would be missing something if they weren’t at least asking questions about its necessity.
In addition, many companies had productive approaches to remote work pre-pandemic, and global work has always required working together from a distance. Working from home offers some wonderful benefits like avoidance of a commute, positive impacts on the environment, more time with family and greater work-life fulfillment. Partly based on these benefits, it is likely companies will continue to encourage some level of work from home, but the best strategies combine working in an office and working from home. It is not an all-or-nothing. Deleting the office altogether is not the best option.
While it’s unlikely that work will ever go back to the way it was before the Great Lockdown, the office simply cannot go away either. Here’s why…
We are social creatures
We are social creatures and we crave connections with other people…even at socially-distanced lengths. People may have different preferences for how much they work alone or with others based on their personality, but everyone needs some level of connection. Face-to-face communication contributes to all kinds of well-being including physical, cognitive, and emotional. On the flip side, a lack of human connection detracts from mental health and physical wellness. Some of this connection can be effectively facilitated by technology, but not all of it.
Put simply, not everyone wants to work from home. Some of us want to get out and be social.
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 71% of people are struggling to adjust to remote work and people working from home are reporting mental health challenges. In addition, the longer people work from home, the more likely they are to report issues with sadness and fatigue.
It’s more difficult to be creative
Companies live and die on the ability to adapt and respond to customers and the market in new ways. Just three years ago, a who’s who list of companies significantly reduced their telework because the programs were impeding their ability to compete.
We can be creative anywhere, but being together physically is so much more effective for stimulating thinking. We can build on each other’s ideas and not have the awkwardness that arises from delays when we’re interacting virtually.
Innovation is also facilitated by the unplanned encounters we have at the office. We have a new idea because we chatted with a colleague we don’t normally see, or we were inspired toward a new solution because of information we overheard standing in line to pick up lunch in the cafeteria. Perhaps those who do individual work can be successful working exclusively from home, but teams work better when they can come together in an office to blend their best thinking.
Culture is hard
The office also provides a critical sense of common ground. Any company knows that to deliver powerful results, they must ensure people have a sense of shared purpose and aligned objectives. Employees must be rowing in the same direction. The physical experience of place helps foster this sense of being in it together.
But we’re currently without it, and the SHRM study demonstrates 65% of companies report they are struggling to maintain morale. Much of company culture is intangible. It is norms and values and assumptions, and it is “the way things get done around here.” But the workplace is a powerful way to demonstrate culture in a more tangible way. Place is the most visible artifact of culture. The lobby communicates a sense of a company’s mission. Gathering areas demonstrate the value it places on collaboration and connection. The work café shows employees their experience matters. The windows, daylight and views are a subtle depiction of the company’s emphasis on well-being and its ties to the community. All of these are powerful signals about an organization’s values and priorities. These are the beacons that attract talent and the messages that influence people’s engagement over time.
Without the chance to be together at the office, the SHRM research demonstrates more than a third of companies are having difficulties with their organizational cultures, and a study by Prudential points to cultural decay which may result from an exclusively work-from-home approach. Culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate. Companies aren’t managing culture, they are managing behaviors in terms of what they encourage, discourage or reward. While leaders can still reinforce actions and hold people accountable via technology platforms, it’s more difficult and there is a higher likelihood they will miss opportunities to reinforce and recognize great contributions or to guide and manage actions which may not be aligned with cultural values.
The office provides for communication and it energizes. Disseminating and exchanging information can happen anywhere and everywhere and this has never been more true than in this age of social media and technology platforms. But there is something powerful about showing up together for a town hall meeting or an annual gathering…even when we are socially distanced.
There is a rush in the feeling that so many people are in one place, sharing an experience. There is the power of laughter or applause or the focus that is demanded by presence. Being together virtually just doesn’t have the same magic—some people are engaged, some are distracted, some are multi-tasking and some are having technical difficulties.
We crave variety and the workplace provides it. We’ve proven to ourselves we can do everything from home. We can shop, eat, exercise, socialize and yes, we can work. But we want the variety that comes from getting out—to browse, enjoy a restaurant, go to the fitness club, gather with friends and go to our workplace. We want the stimulation that comes from a diversity of experiences and an assortment of atmospheres. The office is one of these.
The physical workplace itself is also better for your thinking process. Having a place to go gives you a greater sense of time demarcation, reducing the disorientation that so many are reporting based on being (almost) exclusively at home. In addition, you avoid the cognitive challenges that arise from video conferencing (struggles to get in sync and fully read non-verbals).
We also need some healthy boundaries. Traditionally, we have talked about how to ensure a separation between work and home…how to leave work at the office and ensure a focus on life at home. But through the pandemic, the opposite has become true. People benefit from leaving home at home and coming to the office to focus on work. Work is a part of life and a full life embraces the effort that comes from making a contribution through whatever kind of work we do. Going to an office provides the opportunity to immerse in work with less of the distractions of home.
Research has demonstrated people are more likely to have side hustles when they’re working from home so the chance of losing talent to the gig is greater.
In addition, when people are home they are more distracted and may be more likely to do non-work tasks during the day—from online shopping to surfing social media accounts.
People working from home also admit to reduced likelihood of following procedures to protect company data and 84% of IT professionals say data loss is a significant concern with people working from home.
Finally, people may be less engaged from home simply because they’re more distracted. Rather than being together in the workplace pitching in on a key project, they may be folding laundry during your meeting or responding to email during a critical work team discussion. The SHRM study finds 35% of organizations are reporting reductions in productivity and a study from the American Journal of Political Science finds women are disproportionately disadvantaged in terms of the ability to devote time to their work—and to be optimally productive. All of these are risks which are mitigated by being together in the office.
Working from home will likely never go away and this is a good thing. It offers plenty of benefits, chief among them, work-life fulfillment. But the workplace must also not go away. It is critical for individuals, teams and organizations.
We can do so much from home—and do so relatively effectively and productively—but it’s just not ideal. We’re better when the office is part of our holistic work experience…in addition to working from home.
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About Beau Beach, MBA CCIM
Beau is a tenacious Commercial Real Estate Broker, author and adoring father of four. His clients appreciate his no-nonsense demeanor and his legendary work ethic.
Beau leads Beachwood which is a commercial real estate broker for sellers in the Nashville, Milwaukee and South Florida markets.
He’s the author of the books The 3 Reasons: Why Most Commercial Properties Don’t Sell and True Wealth: What Every Seller Should Know About 1031 Exchanges.
Beau can be reached at 800-721-3287, click to schedule a call or Beau@BeachwoodSells.com