Continuous remote working – threat or opportunity?
Work-related things can be handled quite conveniently even outside the office, it sure raises questions whether it makes sense to commute to the office at all. The office workers are working remotely more than before and it seems that increased remote working will be, to some extent, a desirable form of working in the future as well.
For many employees, working from home has increased freedom in the ways of working and even guaranteed better conditions for tasks that require concentration. In addition, time has been saved tremendously when there is no need to commute every day. Therefore, many companies are now reconsidering the future of the offices: Is the office worth investing as much as before? Or, perhaps, should the office space be smaller? Some may even question whether offices are needed at all in the future. Although these views differ, they do have, at least, one thing in common – a significant reduction in the costs associated with the physical work environment.
However, as you might expect, the issue is not that simple. There are many pieces in the puzzle when it comes to a functioning contemporary organization. These pieces should always be considered on a company-by-company basis. We conduct surveys for our customers as a part of the workplace transformation projects that are tailored to meet the needs of the client and, over the past year, we have conducted a Future Work Environment survey. In the survey, we have asked the staff of customer organizations, for example, where they prefer to work, what are their main reasons to come to the office and how often they want to come to the office in the future. Moreover, we have asked the staff to share their hopes for the future office. Despite the diversity of the organizations, the responses to the survey have been very similar. In this post, we share the most common findings regarding the benefits of coming to the office.
Constant remote working has brought challenges to social interaction with colleagues. While daily coffee or lunch breaks can be arranged virtually with the others, it is definitely not the same as seeing face-to-face. According to most of the surveys we have conducted, meeting colleagues is the main reason for returning to the office.
Social interaction has a huge impact on mental well-being. Therefore, social encounters are valuable, whether one is an extrovert or an introvert.
Since the rapid increase in remote working, the managers have noticed challenges when it comes to monitoring employees’ well-being and coping with work. Although working has become more efficient and the working day has shortened, the workload has, in many cases, often increased. In addition, some may find remote working isolating and even feel lonely.
Collaboration & innovation
In the future, the key purpose of offices is to provide a diverse platform for collaboration. Therefore, the office should offer facilities for different types of collaboration from creative innovation spaces to ad hoc spaces for more spontaneous or short discussions. While individual work that requires concentration may as well be done well at home, the future office attracts employees by providing even better facilities for encounters and collaboration than before.
The collaboration spaces should offer appropriately stimuli for the employees to create a spark of inspiration and make people excited about working together. When it comes to innovating, great ideas often emerge as the result of random discussions. However, the challenge is that work life has become more location independent and, therefore, interaction often happens virtually. To support social encounters at the office, one solution is to invest in a working café, where employees from different teams or functions meet each other casually.
The feeling of community and sense of belonging
In a healthy organization people can sense a pleasant atmosphere and a good team spirit. Happy employees that are satisfied with their jobs are also motivated, committed and more efficient. The fact that one feels that they belong to a community is also based on small but important occasional encounters – such as greeting each other in the corridors or non-work-related catching up with the colleagues.
Maintaining the feeling of community is more challenging remotely when all encounters take place according to a schedule and through video conferencing. As for new employees, it might be difficult to get to know colleagues virtually as it is not the natural way of interacting. In the survey results, one of the important reasons for returning to the office has been to strengthen the sense of community and togetherness.
The sense of community can be strengthened through small everyday practices such as informal coffee breaks as well as more organized regular weekly meetings and recreational events. As organizations have learnt from the pandemic, face-to-face interaction and coffee breaks play an important role in strengthening the sense of belonging.