• Christian Harris

The Pros and Cons to Working in an Office Space vs. Remotely

As a relatively new business owner, having our own dedicated office space seemed like a priority from the start. We have changed offices four times in the last few years, partially to accommodate growth but mostly to provide a workplace people were both proud of and looked forward to going to. In addition to building extra benefits into our employment package each year, it felt like it was an important part of rewarding our team to have a more comfortable/spacious place to work. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, it has crossed my mind more than once if having office space was the right decision after all. This has certainly been amplified given that our expensive office has been sat idle for nearly three months with no sign of government support on rent and our team seems to have adapted to our new remote work-life with surprising ease.



There has been a trend to offering more flexible employment options over the last few years but now some companies including Shopify and Twitter are moving their entire workforce to a fully remote model. There are certainly benefits to working remote (commute times, lower costs, perceived higher productivity). According to a recent Gallup Report, employees across various industries who spent 60 to 80 percent of their time working remotely had the highest rates of engagement.


In my mind, this forced remote work-life brings more questions than answers about what is best for our team once we are allowed to return to ‘normal’ office life.

  • Do we even need an office?

  • Will people feel comfortable working in offices again?

  • What is best for us/the recruitment industry specifically?

  • Are we working well as a remote team because we have no choice?

  • Is it sustainable for the long term?

  • What about onboarding new hires?

  • Will our team's growth and learning be affected?


This all being said, I am still a firm believer there is a requirement for companies to provide some sort of office space for their employees (even if ultimately, it’s a blend of office/remote), and this is why.


Organization Culture

Business strategist Peter Drucker once said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Having an appealing and engaging work environment will help you beat the competition. Studies have shown that modern innovative office spaces help in coming up with fresh ideas; this benefit is lost by workers who telecommute. This is particularly pertinent to a company like Shopify who is a great company, but one of the main reasons people have joined the organization has been for the culture. Will this be lost now that their workforce is working remotely?


Collaboration Means Teamwork

Teamwork, especially among people with different areas of expertise, leads to better business decisions. Some companies have specially designed collaborative workspaces where members of a team can work together in generating ideas and innovations. Collaboration also helps people have a voice where they maybe would not normally, which increase self-worth and value within the organization.


Keeping Focus

Workers who telecommute are susceptible to non-work related distractions which can negatively impact their ability to come up with innovative ideas. While technology allows for remote communication and discussion, virtual meetings are not as effective. This can even lead to resentment when one party has put significant effort into a meeting while another is barely participating.


Communication

We are all still learning how to act in video calls and whether it promotes or restricts conversation, but I feel strongly that there would be better communication among coworkers who work in an office than remotely. Face-to-face communication is enhanced whereby coworkers can share and trade ideas with each other. In-person work allows for hallway conversations (including gossip, for all of its good and bad). It also allows an employee to stop by each other's desks to see if they are available for a discussion, versus trying to decide whether to pick up the phone or initiate a Slack chat or video call. It just seems so much more spontaneous and less premeditated. Furthermore, non-verbal communication such as body language is enhanced when there is direct interaction among coworkers. A big part of learning, particularly in the recruitment business, comes from imbibition from conversations around you.


Working in an office also tends to make it easier to have work-related discussions as well, writes James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. “Telecommuting makes it harder for people to have the kinds of informal interaction that are crucial to the way knowledge moves through an organization,” he writes. “The role that hallway chat plays in driving new ideas has become a cliché of business writing, but that doesn’t make it less true. Much of the value that gets created in a company comes from the ways in which workers teach and learn from each other. If telecommuters do less of that, the organization will be weaker.” In-person meetings also help foster trust, he adds.


“Teams drive innovation, and teams work better when people are in the same place,” agrees Dr. Keith Sawyer in the Huffington Post. “Serendipitous encounters drive creativity, and they won’t happen if everyone is working from home.”


Separating Work and Home

When you work from home, it’s all too easy to have blurred lines between work and home life. When you enter your office, you are entering a place of work, and that provides clear delineation from home life. When you step out of your office, you should leave your professional tensions and work pressures behind you. Your home is a place to revitalize your mind and prepare it for the next days


Ironically, working in an office also helps ensure that people don’t work too much. Despite the reputation of telecommuters in their pajamas on the couch watching soap operas, people who work at home often report “work creep” that results in their checking and responding to email messages from dawn till midnight. Working in an office can make it easier to leave work behind for a while. One study found that more than half of telecommuters actually worked more than 40 hours per week—unpaid overtime.


Teamwork is Dream Work

“Teams drive innovation, and teams work better when people are in the same place,” agrees Dr. Keith Sawyer in the Huffington Post. “Serendipitous encounters drive creativity, and they won’t happen if everyone is working from home.”


What are your thoughts and feelings about working remotely versus working in an office? Let us know in the comments below!


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