Why your copmpany should consider returning to the office
Raise your hand if you miss commutes, your cubicle and the limited offerings of the break room vending machine.
Two years after the pandemic's start, much of corporate America isn't ready to leave remote work behind for a permanent return to the office — and I'm not either. However, it is essential to realize that, while working remotely might be more convenient for most people, having your team back in the office has benefits too. Allow me to make my case.
Walking down the hall or even up one floor to talk to a coworker has never seemed like a big ask, so why do so many workers feel like sending a Slack or Skype message is going to throw the recipient's day entirely out of focus?
Communication is the first thing to decline when your company goes entirely virtual. Even in a hybrid situation, employees will have at least one day a week where they get subconsciously reminded that their coworkers are real people. Someone coming to your office seems much more urgent than a Skype message, but the reason is the same: they have a question or need something.
So why does one get an immediate response, wait-listed, or possibly never responded to?
The lack of in-person contact makes all the difference. The communal environment of an office, even if you only go in two or three times a week, serves as a reminder that people depend on you and that you need others for your success. It's easy to assume when you're working within the confines of your own home that whatever you happen to be working on is the lynchpin of the entire company — don't get defensive, even I'm guilty of this.
Bringing people together in the office is a good ego check and a reminder for everyone that they're part of a team. It's a reminder that their ability to contribute matters just as much as individual assignments.
Lack of company culture
Let's face it: it's hard to feel a sense of unity in a Zoom call.
During the early pandemic years, my agency was remote and had everything from morning huddles to our annual Christmas party via video conferencing tools. While they were a manageable solution given the global situation at the time, making it feel like a special occasion was hard.
The phrase "positive company culture" gets derided as employer-speak for "we don't pay a living wage, but we have an air hockey table in the office." However, as a business owner, I think building an uplifting workplace culture for your employees is essential. The air hockey table is negotiable.
Some younger workforce members might push back against this by saying, "We don't want company culture. We want no commute and more convenience." This mindset is completely understandable. There's almost no situation where I would advocate for a total return to the office if the job doesn't call for it. Even at my agency, my team is only in-house, typically on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and we have, in my opinion, an ideal company culture. I think it's entirely because of our in-office and work-from-home balance.
A workplace culture that includes transparency, collaboration and communication does not come from a brick-and-mortar building. However, to keep a tight-knit team well-oiled, there needs to be real-world interaction between team members. Otherwise, everyone gets a little too comfortable and starts radio silent, all working as individual units and not as part of a whole.
The hybrid model
Finally, from personal pandemic experience, I can tell you that the ability to work all week from the comfort of your bed is what you think you want. It's nice for a week or two, but you eventually get bored. No endorphin rush comes with clocking out because you are already at home, and the walls between your professional and personal life begin to fade. You start to miss all of the water cooler talks you took for granted because now you have to send a message through Slack or Basecamp to get a hold of someone.
Few people, including myself, will argue for the total return to the office. For computer-based and primarily stationary workers, one can't justify a five-day-a-week commute and expect employees to stick around. That's not the market nowadays.
However, let's not pretend there is no value in having your team together in the office a few days a week. Increased productivity, communication and reinforcement of positive company culture are best enforced when all your team members are working together, especially if you have a small team.
Author: Cristopher Tompkins