Nearly everyone I know is expected now to put in two to three days in the office weekly. Their former telecommuting lives have been transformed. They have the benefits of socializing in real time, in-person with peers, but also the inconvenience and hassle of having to physically get to an office at least a couple days per week. And the company has the expense of maintaining potentially expensive office space.
The idea behind hybrid work is that time in-office adds to productivity. You are side by side with colleagues with no e-mail, phone call, text or video call required to communicate. You can walk over with no prior planning to a work friend’s desk and shoot the breeze or ask on the fly for help. Logically, you would think this would make employees more productive. Yet, research shows that the question of productivity in-office versus at-home is complex.
In-Office vs. At-Home Work
Business.com staff writer Mike Berner explored the differences in productivity between work and home in aMarch 2023 article. There’s no black-and-white answer to which work setting is better for productivity: “For technology or professional services businesses where remote work is feasible, the evidence is mixed. A 2022 study of 60,000 Microsoft workers published in the journal, Nature Human Behaviour, found that remote work enhanced short-term projects but had a more deleterious impact on longer-term collaboration.
In other words, working from home helps when you need to buckle down and bang out a session of concentrated work. This makes more sense for certain jobs than others. In 2015, Stanford researchers found that remote workers at one Chinese travel agency were 13 percent more productive,” Berner writes.
The issue becomes more complex when a company has closed an expensive office space in a centralized location in a city in favor of a much less expensive space located outside the city. In those cases, does it still make sense to ask employees to return two to three days per week? The new main location will be closer to some employees, who live in nearby suburbs, but for those who live in the city, or in faraway suburbs, the new location may have worsened the commute.
The question is: When does a commute become so burdensome that it isn’t worth the inconvenience, lost time, and reduced quality of life? A solution is to conduct an observational experiment before deciding to move altogether out of an expensive location in a city center. An organization could present the return to office two to three days per week as a “desire” or “expectation” by company leaders. Then, over the following few months, see how many return for those two to three days weekly when they are not being mandated to do so. If it’s a hearty return, then it may financially be worth either continuing to invest in the expensive space, or, at the very least, finding another, more modest space in the city center.
Yet another option is to enable work groups to meet in the city center without having to spend money on expensive office space. You could offer a shared space like that provided by a company such as WeWork, or you could provide each manager with a budget to meet once a week with employees in a coffee shop or restaurant for a working coffee break or lunch. The budget would go to paying for the refreshments or meal that is the price for using the coffee shop or restaurant for the meeting. There also may be options for renting meeting rooms for a few hours, or even the whole day, once per week or month or quarter that probably would be more economical than holding onto expensive office space that is no longer being optimized.
In-person time with colleagues is psychologically beneficial, especially for those employees who live alone. Spending time in-person also can boost relationship bonds and can aid productivity by providing extended time to talk through concerns and challenges. There’s often a feeling after you get off the phone or a video call that you’ve forgotten to talk about something you meant to bring up. When you spend a few hours in-person, those thoughts have more time to rise to the surface.
With productivity benefits to both office and remote work, it’s worth finding ways to give employees, who do want some in-person time, an easy, convenient way to meet face-to-face, with no need for a video call.
How is your organization finding solutions to avoid paying for expensive office space in city centers while continuing to make in-person time among colleagues readily available?