With the current COVID-19 pandemic there has been a great deal of talk around the value of remote working. Right now, for those who can, it’s a vital part of their working lives.
But once this pandemic is over, will remote working still remain front and centre? And is it really the best way to run your business?
The fact is that a lot of people are actually looking forward to getting back into a team environment. With that in mind, let’s look at four reasons why office-based working is still the first choice when it comes to working arrangements that lead to company growth. They are:
- Team building
- Work/life balance
Building a team is about recruiting and managing. While there’s an argument that allowing remote working opens up who you can recruit (and where they could be based) it ignores the fact that not every employee, however talented, has the communication skills to work effectively from home.
Studies have shown that employees do favour remote working, but the time spent doing so has a definite limit – and that limit is around 20%.
Which leaves a huge 80% of the time when employees would prefer to be in an office. Once the balance tips too far in favour of remote/home working, it’s possible that employee satisfaction, performance, and engagement can fall. But more than that, on a very human level, loneliness can set in.
So it makes sense: your team gains its coherence from being together, and there is no substitute for that. Having the opportunity to call a quick meeting to hash out a problem on the spot is not possible when working remotely. Being able to communicate with eye contact, tone of voice, body language, means tough situations can be diffused faster and more effectively.
As a leader, you come out of the office experience with a tighter, more refined team, than if you were all working remotely all the time.
Companies such as Google understand this and so go to great lengths to make their office environment attractive. The goal in this is clear:
- They want their people to be in the office
- Cross-pollination of ideas comes when employees are together
- Togetherness breeds creativity and problem solving
Which leads us to innovation.
Have you ever tried to do a brainstorming session on Skype or Zoom? Yes, it sort of works. Now imagine one in an office – or in a break room at the office, a side room, the café, wherever your team feels most comfortable.
The exchange of ideas is a dynamic thing. It needs that excitement, that ability to walk ideas back and forth, to disagree without time lag or ‘can you hear me now?’, to be in the moment. And as we have mentioned, often the best ideas come during the walk to or from the meeting room.
It’s these impromptu water cooler moments, these huddles, where innovation really thrives. On top of that, it’s having both junior and senior employees in the same building, so when inspiration does strike and an employee wants to share a great idea, they have easy access to a decision maker.
So creativity needs a space to occur. Clearly the type of office does play a significant role, but when we look at the great inventions of our recent times – innovations in technology in particular – it’s hard to imagine any of that coming to fruition without a shared space. Whether it was the humble garage or kitchen table where so many great companies began, or the giant campuses where they grew – in all cases it was people working in the same space.
There are a couple of different aspects of motivation. The first is that, unless you’re really built for it, managing your time and discipline can be incredibly difficult when working from home. Meanwhile, the office essentially has built-in time management, and a set routine.
In addition, by observing the work ethic of those around you, you find yourself trying to match it. So there’s a competitive idea behind motivation when you’re in the workplace, a kind of positive push to achieve both on an individual level and a team level.
There is also nurturing – working with mentor figures can be extremely important, getting feedback and encouragement during key points in your working life can have dramatic effect on your overall motivation. This leads to:
- Better employee commitment
- Higher employee satisfaction
- Stronger employee engagement
- Improved employee productivity
The stereotype idea of working in sweatpants does on the surface appear to mean that working from home could give us a better work/life balance, or at least more comfort. But what often happens is that when working remotely, the professional seeps into the personal. We become bad at switching off.
Research shows that telecommuting has ‘become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours’.
At home, we are our own worst supervisors, and often never fully switch off from work. And this is an issue because it’s important the home remains a place to re-energise and get ready for the next day at work – a place where the stress of work is left behind. And a place for family.
Keep it flexible
Remote working certainly has its place, and this crisis has shown that it can be quite effective. But as a default setting for your business, it clearly means that team building, innovation, motivation and work/life balance can suffer.
Back in 2013, the then-new CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, stopped all remote working at the company. At the time it was seen as a radical move and perhaps the beginning of a trend away from home working. And while that didn’t turn out to be true, it did illuminate that office working was far from over – it just needed a more creative, and flexible approach.