Recent research suggests that the office’s days as a workplace are over. The replacement should be more social.
The most recent Wall Street Journal essayOne novel idea for repurposing large offices was to turn them into a “clubhouse” of some kind. The author, like many others who have had to deal with remote work during the pandemics, suggests that remote work is somewhere in the middle of acceptable to preferable. This is not new to anyone, as most companies have experienced minor rebellions when recommending mandatory return-to office policies.
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Most remote workers recognize that in-person interactions are superior for certain activities. In these cases, human interaction is the main focus, rather than focusing on a task. Many companies recognize this and are trying to make offices more appealing to workers by creating social spaces and yoga studios.
The WSJ essay author takes this idea one step further by suggesting that social interaction should be the primary focus of the office. Apart from shared desks, he imagines places that look more like bars and cafes than cubicle village offices. He also suggests that workers leave their headphones and laptops at home to interact with others.
Are offices really necessary?
Many remote workers don’t value the casual interactions over a cup of coffee or a meal. Since the pandemic, my business trips were focused on collaboration in person and idea generation. These tasks were far more efficient than video meetings with the same goal. The idea of a company clubhouse is supported by the fact that a significant amount of this collaboration took place over meals or in a lobby of a hotel, rather than sitting around laptops.
We have seen the concept in its earliest form on large campus-style office buildings, where one employer has built a small town. Some corporate campuses have multiple eateries, coffee shops, daycare centers, and five-star restaurants.
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These campuses are supposedly beneficial because they offer a variety of social and interesting services that will attract employees to the same location. Do we really need to build new social spaces, cafes or exercise facilities outside of campuses? Do corporations really want to compete with other market leaders, or as yoga studios. A more fundamental question is: If most of the focus work happens at home, does an average company require as much space in a clubhouse?
What’s the future for the office if it’s not a workplace or a clubhouse?
Clubhouse-style offices are designed to facilitate collaboration and socialization. Would it not be logical to expand that goal beyond one organization? A consolidation opportunity is available if multiple companies have individual clubhouses that will likely see variable utilization.
Companies like WeWorkAlready, WeWork has made progress in this direction by creating spaces that encourage collaboration and socialization more than just head-down work. WeWork hosts many different businesses, which allows for collaboration that goes beyond the boundaries of one organization. What if companies no longer have their own offices but rent access to the clubhouse through a company like WeWork instead?
What if an insurance company and an accounting firm joined forces to create a collaborative space for tech giants, consumer products companies, and even tech giants? Cross-functional collaboration is a powerful benefit. Wouldn’t this benefit be even greater for non-competitive companies? Imagine if instead of spending money on industry conferences or external experts, a monthly trip could be made to the “collaboration hub” where you can meet a startup CEO and auditor as well as an electrical engineer, social worker, and a social worker in one afternoon.
Roles of technology leaders in the new-generation office
These big questions can seem beyond the reach of tech leaders. Many of the big questions surrounding the future physical office are being answered by remote working. Technology would have made this possible. Because we were the ones who enabled this change in the way we work, we have an unparalleled understanding of both the technical and the human factors. Similar to tech leaders, many have teams that can work anywhere in the world. However, support staff are usually located in a particular location. This gives them a unique perspective of the challenges faced by organizations trying to balance knowledge and work on-location.
Follow the latest thinking on the future of physical workspaces. You might find that your teams support major changes in how infrastructure and systems are deployed. As a leader of the evolution of how and where we work, it is important to be open to suggestions and guidance on the future. We can have fun with others in the department, or we can tell our kids about the funny idea of large buildings filled with cubes.