“No match for the magic”: Here’s why businesses should go back to the office

Source: Unsplash/Leon.

A few weeks ago, the founder of Zoom addressed an audience of Australian investors to say that the traditional model of five days a week in the office is ‘unlikely to ever return’. Eric Yuan, Zoom’s chief executive, also stated that the large percentage of millennial and Gen Z workforce “need flexibility”; coining a hybrid work model as ‘the future’. 

It is not simply millennials and Gen Z’s who need flexibility — all humans do. But separating work from the physical workplace is not the answer. 

When you have a superstar team, having a workspace that supports both the individual team member and the collective brain is essential. People spend the majority of their days at work, and the space they spend their time in can have a huge effect on their mental and physical health. Creating the ideal workplace is an investment in your team. 

Remote working has been a necessary evil during lockdown restrictions, but it is no match for the magic that happens in a room when your team is together. If you run a well-functioning team, a physical collaborative space gives you optimal performance. 

Looking towards a post-pandemic future, many businesses are considering whether they should bring everyone back to the office, switch to remote working or develop a hybrid of the two, with most choosing a hybrid option along the spectrum. Here’s why I believe the workplace of the future is in the office.

Virtual fatigue is burnout in diguise

Not long after lockdown began, we all gradually began to discover that videoconferencing just doesn’t cut it. Google, WeWork and Microsoft have attempted to solve ‘Zoom fatigue’ with the use of holograms. 

It is a known fact that those who do not allow themselves time to recover, or are tired, simply lack the energy to be creative. Have you ever been into a meeting on minimal hours of sleep, and your brain doesn’t quite follow commentary? Regardless of whether you are well-slept, or not, Zoom fatigue — otherwise known as virtual fatigue — isn’t simply a term we have applied to boredom of our own faces. Hosting and attending virtual meetings is scientifically proven to be more exhausting. 

Virtual fatigue has similar effects to exhaustion and burnout due to increased cognitive demands of video conferencing communication. While virtual hangouts have been useful for those across long distances or with health issues, like most good things — it comes at a cost. 

Like burnout, key signs of virtual fatigue also include forgetfulness, difficulty maintaining relationships and being present in meetings, frustration and irritability among workers and even physical issues such as back pain, muscle aches, tension headaches and insomnia.

It turns out the answer might very well be staring us in the face. ‘Idea sex’, first coined by business writer Matt Ridley, is when ideas have the opportunity to mingle freely and become more than their components. For that to happen you need rapport within a positive team culture and the ability to be spontaneous. The best way to encourage that is by putting the people with ideas in the same room. You can try to imitate this on chat channels, but the chemistry isn’t the same. 

Even if you do your best to replicate office culture in a virtual setting, from daily hangouts, chats and video meetings to recreating Friday drinks with a company-wide video chat, it’s never quite the same.

In-person offices provide far more opportunities to converse, collaborate and celebrate at a more frequent, organic level that remote working conditions can’t capture. Collaboration can happen when team members are sitting at their desks, but more often it occurs or develops in our breakout spaces and recreational areas. Belonging, empathy for colleagues, and connection spikes to a whole new level when you can see body language and share a physical space.

Just like going to a stadium to watch a match versus watching it on TV at home, atmosphere isn’t something that can be replicated virtually. Sharing mishaps, taking risks, trying new things and learning from experimentation are all difficult to achieve when you’re unable to casually bounce ideas off others, or solicit and receive fast verbal feedback.

Deep working together

I’m a great believer in deep work, that is, a time when you should be able to switch off from all distractions; phones, emails, alerts and focus all their energy on more in-depth creative or strategic work that has a measurable difference to the business. 

Successfully undertaking deep work at home is almost impossible to do. With more distractions at home such as children, household chores and television, a 30 minute session of deep work in an office space can be the equivalent to two to three hours at home.

In short, an office space is an investment in your business’ collective brain, and should never be taken for granted. When your team enjoys coming into work, they will smash it.

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