The office is great because it’s not your home.
There are big advantages to sharing a workplace that is not your home or a screen. Our home is our kingdom, even if it’s a kingdom of Hollywood squares with green rectangles and talking heads in these days of Zoom. We can pretend we’re all here in our home office on that Zoom meeting, but there’s no mental space for a creative idea, a corridor meeting, to share a thought, or provide leadership. That takes sharing an actual physical workspace, amenities, and non-productive workday moments.
Does corporate culture matter? Birthday cake breaks, holiday parties? I believe that it does. Random interactions where you stumble onto issues or opportunities? Corridor Conferences, where quick catch-ups occur, worries and grievances are occasionally aired, and a helping hand is asked for and also offered?
All that being said, the reality is that the office that we all want to go back to is not the office that’s there anymore.
Conference calls in an open office environment were bad enough; zoom calls in an open office work environment are even worse. One of my friends, a major construction company leader, lamented at lunch that “everyone is parking themselves in conference rooms and hidden corners because they have no choice. If they want to collaborate in person, or just find some quiet time to focus.”
So there is no doubt that offices need to be re-engineered with less open workspace area and more “owned” teaming spaces that enhance the value of occupying physical space together.
In the early 2000s, when teleconferencing became practical, there was a rush by companies to get their staff to “work remote.” As an architect, I worked furiously to incorporate “hotelling” and “touchdown” spaces, shared desks, and no desks at all. I would name a few companies that overdid these strategies here, but they are not common names anymore because many of them lost their collaborative energy and culture.
Companies that are currently fostering the notion that “everyone can work from home forever” present, in my opinion, a great opportunity to short a stock and make a buck. It’s like we are flying an airplane that has had the engines cut off … heck, we’re still flying, it’s quieter, and we’re not burning fuel!
The damage to a corporate culture that results from minimizing the workplace’s value won’t become evident until years later. Already, the comfort that we all felt in April and May of this year when our team members and support seemed to be as available and engaged as they were pre-pandemic is fading as we realize that everyone was so engaged in work because they were on lockdown without much else to do.
As personal accountability and structure continue to fade and more distractions and opportunities arise, we may end up with a workforce that fades as well.
Historically, there’s nothing that spurs people to create a common meeting and collaborating spaces more than the threat of constantly having people in your own home (and I include Zoom meetings as having people in your home.) I believe we will find a renewed focus on establishing the house as a place away from work and vice versa. Both will benefit.
We’re going to have to get back to working in proximity soon and figure out the workplace’s future. Greg Langston, our Avison Young Dallas managing director, sees People + Productivity = Profitability as the key to innovation. As a society and economy, we now need to reinvigorate the fourth “P”… Proximity.
Our Avison Young leasing team recently won the assignment for office leasing at The Farm, a next-generation mixed-use development located on SH 121 in Allen. The Farm already has four parks, a lake, 2 ½ miles of hike and bike trails, and outdoor dining throughout. We are working with Bruce Heller at JaRyCo Development and Omniplan to create an office environment that incorporates 10 years of work-style evolution that has been compressed into the last six months. Our goal is to respect and accommodate the reality of work-from-home flexibility and blend it with shared spaces, environmental planning, and outdoor amenities that will foster in-person relationships and teamwork.
In the meantime, it’s time for us to put on our masks, get back to the office, and reintroduce ourselves to the people we work with. Say hi in the corridor for me.