Some of the changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic are probably going to remain in place, even when the virus subsides. One of those of changes that will likely become at least somewhat permanent is remote work. Most states’ stay-at-home orders forced companies to have their employees work remotely, and after a few months of full-time telework a number of executives are debating if they’re going to have their workers return to the office.
On its surface, shifting to a more remote workforce makes sense. The more employees that work remotely, means the less office space companies need—thus saving them money. However, Forbes contributor Tracy Brower argued that there’s still some merit to keeping the office environment in place.
Here are five reasons that offices aren’t likely to go away 100 percent, according to Brower.
People are social creatures by nature and need connect with others. Everyone differs on how much they want to work and interact with others, but people need some level of connection. In-person communication helps improve our physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing, Brower writes. Meanwhile a lack of human communication can be bad for mental health and physical wellness—a study of more than 2,000 employees conducted at the end of March and early April in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the U.S. revealed that almost 45 percent of remote workers said their mental health had declined.
“We need each other, and we understand ourselves based on our relationships with others,” Brower wrote. “We are co-workers, colleague and team members. Being together in the office feeds this need for togetherness whether we are working side-by-side creating a new idea at a white board, solving a thorny problem around a conference table or acknowledging a friend across the cafeteria. Our humanity demands human connections and technology only meets part of our need.”
Sense of purpose
Employees that have a shared sense of purpose and similar objectives are likely to produce powerful results—being in an office environment can help make that happen. The office provides a sense of common ground, according to Brower; when employees are in the same space, there’s a stronger sense that they’re “in it together” and “rowing in the same direction.” According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, 65 percent of companies report that they’re struggling to maintain morale.
“People have always come together to inspire a sense of community,” Brower wrote. “In the modern world, the office offers this espirit de corps. We walk in the door with another employee, run into a co-worker over a (socially-distanced) lunch or simply connect with someone while waiting for the elevator. We can get some of this through virtual connections, but not as effectively. Being together in a place reminds us we’re unified and part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Mental and Physical Health
People tend to move around more when they’re at the office—whether it’s walking across the campus or from one conference room to the next—than when they’re working from home. Additionally, a physical office can help employees’ thinking process; when they have someplace to be they have a better sense of time constraints. Time can get away more easily from an employee who works almost exclusively from home.
The office also helps employees establish healthy boundaries. The separation between home and work has become blurred for a lot of people during the pandemic. People can benefit from being able to leave their work at the office and focus on their home life when they’re at home. On the other hand, having an office to go to lets employees leave any home distractions at their residence.
Having a physical workspace can help companies keep their employees focused on their work. Remote employees are more likely to get distracted and take on non-work tasks throughout the work day like shopping, doing laundry or going through their social media accounts. Research has also shown that teleworkers are more likely to have a “side hustle”, meaning there’s a better chance that employee will eventually leave the company.
Meanwhile, remote workers admit they are less likely to follow company data protection procedures—84 percent of information technology (IT) professionals say data loss is major concern with teleworkers, according to a survey by data protection company Tessian. The SHRM study found that 35 percent of organizations are reporting decreased productivity.
More than a third of companies reported having trouble with their organizational cultures without the opportunity to be together at the office, according to SHRM research. A Prudential study acknowledged cultural decay, which could be because of the 100 percent remote work approach.
“Culture is significantly determined by the worst behavior it will tolerate,” Brower wrote. “Companies aren’t managing culture, they are managing behaviors in terms of what they encourage, discourage or reward. While leaders can still reinforce actions and hold people accountable through technology platforms, it’s more difficult. There’s (also) a higher likelihood they’ll miss opportunities to reinforce and recognize great contributions or to guide and manage actions, which might not be aligned with cultural values.”
Joe Dyton can be reached at email@example.com