As technology liberates us from the need to work in the same place as our colleagues, many people are taking the opportunity to cut out the commute and work from home. But are we being too hasty in deserting the office?
In the first part of our changing work blog series, we explored what flexible working means to different generations. It became clear that, although often conflated, flexible working is not quite the same as working from home. In this blog, therefore, we explore the benefits of the office, even if that means taking a flexible approach to working hours. (You can read the opposite argument here.)
1. You can benefit from the culture of your organisation
Organisational culture has a proven influence on business performance, particularly revenue growth, net income, productivity, employee absence, creativity, and employee retention. This is because culture impacts people’s wellbeing at work, and can ensure we are more engaged and passionate about our roles.
It is also much easier to create a culture of support and personal development when you have employees of all levels in the same space, as managers can more easily see when their direct reports are stressed, and development opportunities can be discussed and hosted in the same place.
Office activities can build team spirit and help turn professional relationships into personal ones. Encouraging curiosity in the office can help disseminate knowledge across the desks, breaking down expertise silos and allowing for ideas to be shared and developed as a team.
Joe, a Client Solutions Coordinator, told us that:
“The culture at Lane4 is one of the things I like best about my job, and it comes from being in the office together. We’re a very face-to-face communication business, and that’s a big part of how our culture has developed and continues to grow. The more you’re away from the office the more of that culture you miss out on. I think if everyone worked from home we would lose it entirely.”
2. It helps keep work and home life separate
Even if you love your job, it’s not healthy to feel like you’re working during every waking hour. Everyone has a different attitude to balancing work and home, but Psychology Today suggests there are two broad groups: those who keep work and home separate are ‘segmenters’ and those who blend them both are ‘integrators’.
Segmenters are able to devote sufficient energy to personal and professional projects, even when one area becomes busy or stressful. They are also better at mentally ‘switching off’, which reduces stress.
The office allows anyone to experience these benefits, regardless of their position on the segmenter/integrator spectrum; by having a clear ‘place of work’, one can physically leave it and draw a line under that part of the day.
Jeremy has been a field-based Consultant for the last four years, meaning that he is now rarely required to visit the office. Although he can work from home (when not delivering to a client), he often avoids doing so:
“It can be a weird dynamic to have your work and your relaxation in the same space, so I often end up working in cafes to stop those lines blurring too much when I’m away from the office.”
If flexible working becomes a necessity for your job, consider where you could work if home was not an option.
3. The quality of your workplace is assured
It is often said that not all jobs are suitable for homeworking, but it is also true that not all homes are suitable for jobs.
In an office, you are guaranteed certain standards by law: suitable equipment for your job might include chairs that support your lower back and screens that don’t strain your eyes. There is also legislation that demands workplaces maintain appropriate working conditions, such as temperature.
At home, however, you are generally expected to make your own arrangements. As Jeremy points out, “not everyone can afford a good desk and chair. This lack of consistency would worry me if there was a broad move towards homeworking.”
It’s not just equipment that the office guarantees, it’s the atmosphere too. Jeremy offered his thoughts on the consequences of this:
“You need to manage yourself a lot better when you don’t work in an office. As part of a social group at the desks you mimic behaviours: if everyone is chatty and distracted that can affect your productivity, but if the group is quiet and focussed you will be too. At home, it is all down to you to nurture that focus.”
Some people might be able to tune out distractions at home, but for many the office represents a space of focus.
4. It’s easier to build those human connections
As a leader, preferring the office isn’t about not trusting your team to work hard without you breathing down their necks (although trust is harder to build in virtual teams), it is about how easily a manager can ‘check-in’ with their direct reports and offer support.
Commercial Director Laura felt that her ability to lead her team would suffer without the hub of the office:
“As a leader I think it’s really important to be available for your team. That requires you to be present for those personal, more private discussions that give you an insight into the pressure points your people are experiencing. The necessity of being available naturally impacts my freedom to work from home.
“There’s also the risk that you become detached from the day-to-day realities of the business. You might still see outputs, but you won’t know the emotional state of your team.”
This worry about losing human connection was felt by all of our interviewees of different generations and seniority. The importance of those “watercooler conversations” for building social cohesion in teams, judging the mood of colleagues and bypassing hierarchy came up time and time again when discussing the risks of homeworking.
The benefits of the office
The office offers some distinct perks: a workstation that allows you to carry out your tasks unimpeded, an organisational culture that makes your working day more rewarding, a clear distinction between leisure and work, and, perhaps most importantly, human contact. With all of these, the inconvenience of commuting pales in comparison.
How do these benefits weigh up against the positives of working from home? Read our blog on the downsides of the office to explore the alternative viewpoint.
As AI looks poised to take over tasks that don’t require uniquely human skills like empathy, creativity and teamwork, perhaps the future of work could require people being together in the same place to do what they do best.
What might you call such a place..?
Our next blog in this series will explore what flexible working means for organisations, and how to create a culture where it benefits rather than limits productivity.