“For people who think we can replace the office and all go virtual now…there’s very little of the interpersonal and accidental stuff (online) which is where trust happens. As Isaac Stern the famous violinist said, “Music is what happens between the notes.” Well, trust is what happens between the meetings.” – Simon Sinek
Many moons ago when I started my first job out of architecture school at the Philadelphia office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, I wore out a little strip of carpet between my desk and Joe Bridy’s as I walked over to him countless times a day to ask about how to compose a construction detail or what material was best to use in a given situation. He was a technical genius and my mentor. I had learned how to design in graduate school, but drawing the details of a building that would guide the Contractor through construction was not the primary focus of my education. It was universally acknowledged that architects learned most of this on the job from other seasoned professionals.
I’m sure there are many professions in which the seasoned veterans generously pass their knowledge on to the rookies in this way. It occurs almost organically and so much is learned in those open, collaborative environments by watching, listening and asking. This method of learning goes both ways and it never stops as long as a company is growing and innovating.
Enter COVID-19. The pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges of our time. It has taken lives and devastated businesses. We all feel the impact and some of us have lost loved ones to its unrelenting force. For these reasons, we complied quickly with orders to shelter-in-place and work from home. We are a strong, determined and resilient workforce and we adapted quickly to remote working technologies in order to minimize the harm to others. Almost 6 months later, many companies have decided to remain remote for the immediate future due to valid reasons and concerns. Now the questions have arisen:
- Do we really need to go back to the workplace?
- Are we more productive from home?
- What is the future of the workplace?
These are real questions brought on by a real crisis. We have not lost that perspective, but we have also tried to make the best of a tough situation using our resolve and humor. As we ponder the answers to those questions in our “office kitchens” with kids and dogs interrupting us and zoom fatigue setting in, survey after survey is making it clear that when the pandemic curve flattens, workers want to return to the workplace. Here are 7 reasons why we just can’t wait to return to the workplace:
- Those “casual collisions” or accidental conversations that occur around the proverbial water cooler, while preparing lunch, when passing by someone’s desk or when you plan to have a spontaneous drink together, just to name a few, often lead to incredible insights. They also build trust between individuals that can’t be copied online. There just isn’t a substitute for that person to person interaction and those unplanned moments are often the most inspired.
- A well-designed workplace is choreographed to encourage these moments and interactions because it is that integral to collaboration, innovation, inspiration, trust-building and culture. As noted in Simon Sinek’s quote above, music is what happens between the notes and trust in what happens between the meetings.
- As illustrated in the story above, learning through osmosis is one of the fundamental ways that knowledge and experience are shared and passed down in many organizations.
- It is often in overhearing a conversation that much can be learned, from what turns of phrase were used to close a sale to how to deal with a disgruntled customer. We hear or see Partners and Managers engage with clients. This is where we get to watch and listen to see how situations are handled, observe body language and learn to model our own behavior.
- Energy is a state that can easily be influenced by your environment. When a workplace is buzzing, the energy electrifies the workforce. It is contagious. A deadline that needs to be reached or big case that is on the horizon often inspire people to action and the energy can be felt throughout the organization.
- Witnessing others in the zone or collaborating on an idea can influence others. The sales team starts to feel the surge of competition as a quota needs to be met and they hear other team members closing deals. The hum of the office, the ringing of the phone, the rhythm of conversations, the laughter and the passion in the voices can all produce a lift in our state of energy and kickstart our adrenaline.
- Often spurred by Serendipity, collaboration with our peers is one of the primary factors to achieving innovative solutions and results. The idea sharing and spit balling that happens in a room full of energy teems with creativity. Ideas springboard off each other until we can’t remember how we got to the answer, but we got there.
- Whiteboards becoming bright with color as ideas fill them up are a sign of teamwork and synergy in the pursuit of excellence. Collaboration can be magic. It releases dopamine. It bonds us to each other.
- Also, the nature of what some companies do makes functioning remotely almost impossible. Chef Robotic in San Francisco noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article that problems that took an hour to solve in the office stretched out for a day when workers were not together and said it was not possible to get the same quality of work.
- The beliefs and behaviors that define an organization are determined by how a company’s employees and management interact and handle business. It develops from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires and trains. It is in being together with each other and forming bonds of trust and respect in a workplace setting that a culture is formed and strengthened.
- By being together, we learn and observe the behavior and values a company upholds. We learn the practices that support those values. We work towards a vision and define a purpose that inspires us.
- We are social animals. We need human interaction. The pandemic has taken a serious toll on our mental health, in part, because it isolated us from each other. Research published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows that lack of human connection is more dangerous than obesity or smoking. Connection to others lowers anxiety and depression. It helps us regulate our emotions and improves our immune system.
- Some of us form deep friendships, relationships and bonds at work. Connections that would not be as strong without being together and supporting each other daily. Meaningful connections are key to our happiness.
- Attracting and retaining top talent is one the #1 issue facing CEOs, according to a 2019 Conference Board survey of 800 CEOs. Bland, unbranded workplaces make it difficult to harness top talent and leave employees uninspired and unengaged at work.
- Immersing your workforce in your brand story enhances culture and performance and unites your team under a shared sense of purpose and values. It also dovetails with Performance Management as values and expectations are clearly expressed to all.
- The workplace environment also provides a framework that allows us to leave who we are in our home environment (parent, significant other, soccer mom, handyman, etc.) and become our professional selves. We dress differently to support our professional persona and enter into a place that allows us to make the mental shift and provides the environment we need to focus and be inspired.
- The workplace supports all of the points above—it can be designed to create “casual collisions’; to encourage learning by osmosis and maximizing energy; to promote collaboration; to enhance culture; and to allow connection. A well-designed workplace can also increase productivity, improve health and well-being and deliver Return on Design Investment (RODI).
We are still in the throes of the pandemic. It is easy to start to think that working remotely from home may replace the workplace—just as we thought bricks and mortar stores would phase out when internet shopping came along or that people would not want their offices in skyscrapers after 9/11. But we adapt and we are resilient. For all the reasons above, we will return to the workplace, even if it is different. People may choose to work from home for part of the time. Workplace spaces may become more flexible to accommodate this. For example, offices may not be assigned but rather used by who is in the office that day or used as a meeting space at other times. We will think of the design differently to promote health and to minimize touch points and contagions. Regardless, we will return.
When you are ready to return, we are ready to help you. We are award-winning designers who help transformational leaders frustrated that they are not able to attract and retain top talent. We get that your greatest Brand Ambassadors are your workforce. That’s why we unite them under a shared sense of purpose and values using our proprietary Strategic Branded Experience Framework.™ Applying our Framework results in eye-catching, sustainable, research-based workplaces that communicate a purpose, tell your story and improve the bottom line.
We understand that transforming your workplace in order to harness top talent and create an impressive employee/customer experience may be one of your company’s biggest investments. That’s why we have a proven track record for measuring and delivering Return on Design Investment (RODI).
We are all in this together. We care about you. We get the workplace and we will be here when you need us. Until then, we hope you and yours stay healthy and safe.