Updated: Apr 28
The purpose and role of the office has been brought into question recently. The past few months spent working from home have highlighted that employees can do so more easily and productively than previously thought.
But can home working ever truly replace the social benefits of the office?
So, as we return to the office, whether part-time or full-time, leaders must navigate what the right strategy is for their business and team.
In this article, we explore the benefits of both remote and office working and how to balance the two.
We also spoke with Dr. Brennan Jacoby, Philosopher and Founder of Philosophy at Work, who shared his insights on creating the right working environment for your brand.
Brennan has spent the last 8 years helping businesses address their most important issues and has recently written a report entitled The Virtues of Virtual. The report unpacks the challenges and opportunities businesses encounter as they navigate work that is a blend of dispersed and co-located teams.
In Brennan’s words, it’s all about
“working out how to work together whether or not we are in fact together”.
And as he shared with us,
”that means taking care not just with making sure that we have the right physical space and tech to enable us to get our work done, but also giving time and attention to the matters of relationship and culture that enable our teams to thrive whether they are physically together or working remotely”.
Here’s our take on the benefits and challenges of remote and office work, including matters of bricks and mortar, but also relationships and culture.
1. Attracting and Retaining Talent
A recent study suggests that 54% of employees say they would change jobs for one that offered them more flexibility.
For parents especially, flexible working can be instrumental for their job satisfaction, focus and efficiency. Working remotely and at times that fit into their schedule build loyalty and reduce turnover.
Not to mention how time and cost effective home-working can be.
Most of us have seen the pictures of the crystal-clear waters in Venice, or animals roaming through towns during lockdown. We’ve been shown that nature can get back on track if humans let it.
As we move towards a more sustainable future, the impact our businesses make on the environment rises up our agendas. It can be a good choice to offer home working, even if for part of your staff, part of the time.
When working from the office, employees often don’t have a choice in their work environment and setting.
They may have a noisy or distracting coworker or sit near an air conditioner that could impact their productivity.
Remote working allows employees to set up their optimal workstation.
On the topic of workstations, many working from home will have their laptops set up ready for the video meetings that have dominated our working day since March.
I personally wouldn’t recommend using Zoom all day everyday. I ask to speak over the phone instead as I find video calls such as Zoom drains my energy more.
As you can see yourself on the video call it can be distracting and can put focus on you rather than the person you are speaking with (you don't have that with a phone).
Furthermore, with smartphones, you have the option to move while you speak and are not fixed to your desk.
Many of us have also loved the change from hours spent sitting in a car or on a train to get to work, to the seconds it takes walking to our desk.
Almost every day I see posts on LinkedIn about parents enjoying the extra time they’ve been able to spend with their children during lockdown.
However, it’s important to think about what the daily commute does for your brain. It can be a really helpful transition period that switches your mind from work to your personal life and vice versa.
If you are working from home, it may seem like a luxury to only walk a few steps to your computer. But I would suggest going out of your way to create a ‘commute’.
Try going for a walk at the start and end of your day and treating your return home as your arrival at work or home. I even saw a funny video of a man skateboarding around the porch of his house, captioned “arriving at work”. It sounds silly but this can be a really mentally effective way of readjusting to a new location.
For some, working from home increases the amount of time we are able to spend exercising. For others, it doesn’t.
Moving your body not only gives you slow releasing energy but harnessing this energy allows you to be more passionate and motivated about what you do.
Whatever your working environment may be, try doing daily exercise - even if that's ten star jumps before you sit at your desk. It's amazing how much this can activate our brain and get our creative juices flowing.
Working at the Office
There are obvious social benefits from working around other people. People need people. And hearing them over the phone or seeing them on a screen is not enough. We need real life interaction; to share our emotions, read body language and feel what's going on around us.
And when you spend this time with your co-workers, this social foundation makes it far easier to voice ideas, collaborate creatively and explain any differences of opinion. It’s harder to form these genuine relationships over video.
Furthermore, offices are not just a great place to cultivate working relationships, but as an adult, many of our closest friends are formed at work.
However, the social nature of the office can also cause you more distractions during the working day.
One study found that a typical office worker is interrupted every eleven minutes. What’s worse, they can take twenty-five minutes to re-focus on their task.
Distractions that challenge your productivity and focus can have big impacts. While it may be inviting to chat with a co-worker, you could try using a sign or placing an object down when you are doing high-focus work and you don’t want to be disturbed.
For many in our industry, we require a high degree of collaboration and creative discussion. The office better allows spontaneous idea sharing and off-the-cuff ideas as opposed to Zoom story-boarding sessions.
It is during these moments that some of the best creative content ideas emerge.
3. Work/Life Balance
Leaving the office at the end of the day can help draw the boundary between your work and personal life.
Your home should be a place of rest, relaxation and family time. Not one of stress.
Likewise, the distractions of daily life at home can become harder to ignore when you are always there. Sometimes your ability to depart from challenges you are facing at homes helps you overcome them.
On this note, Brennan encouraged us to view the tensions we encounter at this time not as problems but as signals that we have an opportunity to move forward. “Frictions -- between leaders and teams or broadly between our work and life -- mean that the raw materials to build solutions are being mined. Rather than exiting uncomfortable situations as quickly as possible, it can be helpful to reframe them as signals that we are dealing with something important - something we should work through with care. So often out of the tension comes progress”.
4. Time Management
Most businesses only operate during certain hours of the day. Going to the office during these hours gives you a fixed schedule for work, lunch and breaks.
And when you physically leave your desk, you also mentally leave work behind for the day. This opens up your mental capacity and allows you to be more engaged with other activities.
Structure and discipline not only help you become more efficient, they create a steady rhythm that helps ease any chaos.
During our HVO Search Live conversation “Beyond the Office: Building a Successful Working Culture”, one of our panelists Thomas Bucaille (Chief People Officer and CSR Leader, Petit Bateau) explained how team meetings had evolved during lockdown.
He noted that new team communications and routines had changes and instead of having a long meeting once a week, they had a short one every day.
Because those meetings were shorter and more frequent, they were more focused.
Feedback was also faster, therefore response time and effecting change was quicker.
Remote work allows companies to hire people from different socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds.
Recruiting based on geographical location can be restrictive as the best talent may not live close by.
Remote work also gives people who may struggle finding employment at an onsite job, like those with disabilities or caregivers who need a flexible schedule better opportunities.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to consider. When exploring what works best for your team, try and visualise each one as a potential opportunity to help you grow and develop.
It’s important to think carefully about the company culture you want to cultivate, how creative and collaborate the work is. There is a happy middle ground between the home and the office which will be different for every brand.
You can read Brennan's report "The Virtues of Virtual" here. The report unpacks key ingredients for organisational culture in the new professional landscape and spells out specific, practical actions brands can take to thrive as they balance ‘together’ with ‘apart’’.
At HVO Search, we used our in-house behavioural science methodology to assess fit and place candidates who represent your identity, mission and values.
Can we help you in your search?