I had an interesting conversation with a coworker the other day talking about remote work vs working back in the office. While I am an introvert and greatly love the opportunity of working from home, I left the conversation with new insight, and a bit of excitement on the possibility of the future for the workplace.
Hear me out, I still love that the pandemic (as terrible as it is) offered insight for those who are a bit more extroverted to experience anxiety in how they were forced to work. As an introvert myself, the open office vibe has been overwhelming at times and has even gotten me in trouble for wearing headphones when I needed some heads-down time. But, I am a designer, and I am into research, and I know this remote work isn’t for everyone.
I know that some people simply have to be around others to get their energy, while some of us need fewer distractions to feel productive.
I know that some people would much rather stand up and walk to someone for a question or socialize, while others don’t have an issue sending a chat message or calling up a coworker.
But, I also know we are all different.
So, while I have gotten rather giddy at seeing more people challenging the idea of fully going back to the office before the Coronavirus is eradicated, I understand that some people just need the ability to go back.
And that leads to the future.
I would hope that at this point, we are all in agreement that fully in-office work or fully remote work… Just wouldn’t work. We are a hybrid of people and working styles and our place of work (remote or in an office) should reflect that.
Now, I will pause here and state that one of my biggest “fears” for any place I work is the possibility of “free address” or “hoteling” or “hotdesking” – the idea that you don’t have a desk but could use any desk open and available. Why is this a “fear” you ask?
In my first semester at college, I remember a course EVERY design student was required to take where we would sit for lectures on the humanness of place. We naturally want to call a place our “home”. We naturally want to surround ourselves with images of our loved ones. We naturally have a sense of space (being intimate or public). So when you take away a permanent place for this to live, how do people react? How do you give the non-nomads a place of comfort?
I know some places have this, and use it as a way to “celebrate their workers”, but the idea of not having a desk of my own, but a “personalized cubby” seems part: elementary school, part: “Hi, my employee number is …”
While Hybrid work environments are still a bit scary for me, I am curious about what this means for the future of work. Top workplace furniture manufactures like Steelcase or Herman Miller have been hunting at the idea of an office with limitless boundaries for the past few years, but the cost savings of cubicles and (worst) benching systems have seemed to have shunned those ideas. (After all, having a desk for each person and flexible work spaces would be too costly in square footage).
Here is where I get curious:
If the future office is all about environmental spaces – collaborative clusters and focus zones, while employees also have the ability to work from home some days, then maybe this could work?
I’ve read, and been a part of studies, that say only 60% of people tend to be in the office on a typical day (anyone else notice those tend to be the people with the higher titles and a window seat?) So maybe, hybrid could work because it’s already taking into account the people who aren’t in the office 100% of the time due to meetings or work travel.
Articles have talked about the open office environment encouraging collaboration and spontaneous conversations for inspiration for years. Maybe the science was there, but the way we have been doing it wasn’t the right solution for the output desired? At least, not for everyone. And, maybe that will be the biggest challenge of all: the fact that we all work differently, collaborate in different ways, and feel most productive in different environments.
I’m cautiously hesitant on the transition of the possibility of a new work mentality, but at the same time, eagerly curious to see how this will change in the near future.