With many employers debating whether they should ask their teams to return to the office, much talk has been about what such a return would look like. A general positive reception of the remote work model has led companies of all sizes to commit to hybrid work or even completely remote work arrangements.
While this trend capitalizes on the technologies of our digital age, we must also remember that not all sectors can function as well remotely, especially labor- and capital equipment-intensive industries. In addition to the requirement for the physical presence of some jobs, there are four reasons why returning to the office is a much-welcomed move for my company.
Just remember that there are still pandemic-related factors to weigh, and reopening your office is a complex decision that can’t be taken lightly. If you do opt to head back to the office, it’s also important to ensure you’re in compliance with any local guidelines in your community, as well as those shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The office can provide an environment that gets creative juices flowing.
It’s possible for creative workers such as writers, designers, marketers and engineers to work remotely, but there are constraints. Being present in the office, studio or site immerses creative workers in the work environment. Sometimes, simply touching the right materials, seeing the variety of components or space available or observing the work of colleagues can make a difference. Creative workers can absorb relevant information from their work surroundings and bounce ideas off other creative minds in the office in an instant.
The benefits of working in the office are evident from my team’s experience. Our engineers, graphic designers and marketers are closer to their craft and are able to absorb the latest information from one another that’s conducive to their work. For example, it’s a lot easier for our engineers to explain their work when they have a module or component at hand that others can try out or examine; it’s also easier to make changes when all the machines and tools are within close reach. Staying within the confines of one’s home stands in stark contrast to being in the environment of an office, studio or site where inspiration, equipment and information are easily accessible.
Minds can be brought together in one collaborative space.
In addition to being in the right physical surroundings, the office provides optimal social surroundings for work, especially for project coordination and management. Information can be shared quickly in the office via short, informal exchanges that can happen at any instant without the need to schedule an online meeting or formulate a message.
For instance, rapid progress checks with co-workers on various aspects of a project can be done with the turn of a chair, a quick question and a nod. Similarly, being in an office can help managers keep up to date with their direct reports and address any issues when they seem to be visibly struggling. There’s no need to wait for a text response or a return call. These conveniences might seem minute, but when work is a time-pressured one and requires the team to be multitasking, these small conveniences can make a big difference to the whole team.
Work and private lives are more clearly separated.
Another benefit of being back in a physical office is that there can be a distinct separation of the work sphere from the private sphere for all workers. A poll (download required) by the Royal Society for Public Health found that more than half of the employees interviewed found it difficult to “switch off” from work when working remotely, and more than a quarter felt that working from home has had a negative impact on their mental well-being.
The blurred lines between work and personal lives, as well as competing professional and private priorities fitted in one physical home environment, increased stress levels of many employees. Subsequently, work-from-home burnout and Zoom fatigue became common occurrences over the course of the pandemic. Having experienced Zoom fatigue myself and having noticed it in my team, I’m more than happy that we’re back fully in the office.
You can read body language.
Another aspect of being physically distant from the people you work with is the inability to receive major communication cues like body language. Body language is a form of nonverbal communication that can only be transmitted through face-to-face interactions and is largely lost through screens. I believe being able to read body language is crucial during business meetings, as physical cues can help pass on important information about your client, business partner or colleague when making a sales pitch or an important decision.
In fact, it’s often said we pay the most attention to body language in communication. As such, having the right body language can help communicate trustworthiness, confidence and commitment to clients in business meetings. At the same time, seeing your client’s full body language can help you gauge how persuasive or convincing your sales pitch has been. It’s the eye contact, posture and positioning of the hands that can tell us plenty about the counterparts with whom we are communicating.
The pandemic has changed traditional views on how work should be perceived. It showed us the viability of remote work as a widely accepted work model, as well as how to harness online messaging and video conferencing platforms to stay connected with colleagues or partners even when physically separated. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for digitalization. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all model. Each company needs to adjust the model to suit its own business needs and company culture. Being back in the office provided my team and me with the much-needed physical and professional space, social dynamics and momentum for our work. It’s at this juncture that I’d like to quote Tony Stark in saying, “Oh, it’s good to be back.”
By Carl Hung,
President & CEO of Season Group.
Originally published on Forbes on 2 September 2021