A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the return of employees back to their offices after the Corona lockdown. Some time has passed, and the discussion is as hot as ever. Companies consider if only a minority of employees will work in the office in the future, while the rest is working from home. This could not only save rental costs and reduce the shortage of rental space in big cities, but also increase the self-determination and flexibility of employees, shorten commuting times to work, reduce traffic jams, etc. Although we do hope that the future holds a smart and individual combination of office work and homeoffice, we also know that the office isn’t dead. The “homeoffice visionaries” forget one fundamental thing which became especially evident in times of Corona: the need for human connection. Here are five reasons why real-life contact in the office will stay critical for success:
- We are social beings and meet to solve complex tasks together
What inherently makes us human is that we cannot live without social contact. Why? Because it is in our genes: we survived as a species not because we were the physically strongest, but because we joined forces to carry out a common task. Put somewhat casually, this is the early definition of an “organization”. Workplaces in the office are indispensable as a place of social encounter – the campfire around which everyone gathers. During Corona, some companies realized what happens when those places are missing: teams that normally work in small groups experienced difficulties in finishing up on time or coming up with creative ideas. More complex and creative tasks increase the need for personal contact. The reaction of others to our actions is a basic human need.
2. We need to experience problems in real life to create solutions
To truly create something new and get our creative juices flowing, we usually have to experience a situation or “problem” with all our senses. Doing so on our screen with our eyes and ears only and with a very small excerpt of reality is often not enough. For truly creative solutions, we need to hear, see, smell, sense… a situation first-hand at our client’s office, on the production site, or in our daily stand-up meeting. Very often the symptoms or problems people talk about are not the root cause for their “pain”, which is why we have to look beyond and use all possible perspectives to truly develop further.
3. We build trust with our customers by meeting in person
This might not be valid for every product, service, or industry today, but there is a majority of companies for which business success still depends on the personal, real-life contact with their customers, at least every once in a while. Building trust and getting to know each other better over a casual dinner or even the “cliché” round of golf is often a side stage of formal gatherings. For now, and the near future, this will stay a basic prerequisite for maintaining a solid and returning customer base. Especially with new clients or business partners, a video conference won’t have the same effect, even if well intended.
3. We go to work to belong
If you like it or not – people do not only go to work to be productive and have a business impact. They also go to work to be part of something bigger, belong to a group with the same mission, or at least the same interest.The feeling of belonging can be created via video conference – yet it still feels like a shadow compared to the real encounter. First of all, we need to plan the more casual conversations now, which usually often happen accidentally at the coffee machine. Second, we have less eye contact in video chats, as people usually look at their screen instead of directly into the camera, which makes us feel less connected. In some companies, colleagues even decided to visit each other once a week and work alongside in pairs of two or go for a walk, in order to fight the arising feeling of loneliness.
5. We need boundaries between home and the office
Home office makes flexible, but not automatically more productive.Even though the majority of employees would like to have more options for home office, around a third of home office workers perceived themselves as less productive, often due to additional childcare. In other cases, the tendency to work even more and too much at home is increased, as it is harder to switch off and maintain healthy boundaries. Self-discipline and an atmosphere without distractions are, independent of homeoffice, important prerequisites for productive work. For a lot of people, those are often harder to create at home.