Workers are exhausted. A survey from Robert Half shows that 44% of workers are feeling more burned out now than before the pandemic. While working from home full-time was necessary while we all awaited a COVID-19 vaccine to protect us, it has not been an ideal situation for everyone.
Case in point: many remote workers report that they can’t fully disconnect from their job – even while on vacation – and 25% report having forfeited paid time off in 2020.
It’s been more than a year and a half since many of us have commuted to the office, worn business clothing, went out to lunch with the team, or shook hands with a new colleague. And while most people don’t miss the commute, there are benefits of going to the office that we do miss.
So how will we work going forward?
A recent report from McKinsey shows that 52% of workers would prefer a more flexible working model than before the pandemic. The number of people who would choose fully remote work only increased by 3% since pre-pandemic
Most people recognize that there are benefits to going into an office and having face time – at least some of the time.
There are tremendous benefits to working together, in person, and as we chart the course forward – for ourselves and our workplaces – we should consider why the office still matters.
Humans need to socialize. According to a study from Twingate, social connection is the number one thing people who have been working remotely say they miss about the office. The second was human contact in general. That shouldn’t be surprising to anyone.
Humans are social creatures. We’re born into groups such as families and communities, which help us survive.
In the workplace, social interactions not only provide benefits that help our sense of wellbeing, but they also aid in building relationships, collaboration opportunities, knowledge sharing, and problem-solving.
Research from the University of Michigan found that the more people interact with others, the more they displayed improved mental function. And it is contagious. The enhanced cognitive function passes to teammates.
New hires need to observe. It’s hard to explain everything a new employee needs to know. There are many aspects of a new job which we learn through observation. According to Harvard Business Review, “We learn how to navigate a workplace’s culture by watching other people and how they interact. Remote onboarding can be particularly difficult for people who are new to the working world and transitioning from school to a job; they don’t get the opportunity to just see how work works,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin.
Watching how people in the office collaborate or find ways to resolve problems can be immensely beneficial to a newcomer. Every business culture is different, and one of the priorities of a new employee is to get a clear understanding of the culture they are joining – the faster, the better for the employee and the business.
Work needs some boundaries. Modern communication technologies make it possible for work to be done anywhere, any time. But there’s a cost. No longer do we leave our job behind at the end of a stressful workday and focus on our families and personal needs.
When you work from home, you live with your job.
Boundaries get very blurred. The intrusion of work into our personal lives – our homes, our families, our time to recharge – raises our stress levels and can have a significant impact on our family life.
If work is at a place other than our homes, there is a level of separation that gives us the chance to destress when we leave the building.
Learning is more effective in person. An important part of career progression is learning and development – which mostly happens informally in the workplace, beyond formal programs offered by an employer. More experienced workers share knowledge with junior employees and seasoned employees recognize a skill a new employee has and seeks to gain knowledge from them.
According to a Salesforce survey, 59% of U.S. workers report fewer workplace learning opportunities since the pandemic began. Slightly more, 60%, say it’s hard to find time for learning and development during their workday. “As boundaries diminish between work and personal life in a remote environment, workdays can become longer, and there is less time during the day to focus on skilling up,” say the researchers.
Even a casual conversation with a colleague in the office can lead to sharing of knowledge and skills.
Career development and advancement benefit from being seen. As humans, we tend to remember and focus on things we see frequently. When decision-makers think about restructuring or hiring for a new role, they first think of the people they have the most contact with.
“Being in the office provides you with an opportunity to build your social capital, but also to be on the radar screen and in recent memory of leaders who may be thinking about expanding their team or promoting key talent,” says Tracy Brower, Ph.D. sociologist, and author.
Brower also says that presence together is also essential for building relationships. Face-to-face contact increases acceptance and trust – critical elements of being considered for a promotion
The list of benefits of seeing our colleagues face-to-face and ‘being seen’ can go on and on. Should we all throw our laptops in our backpacks and head back to the office pre-pandemic style? For some, that may be precisely what they need or want. For others, there are hybrid solutions, like being in the office a couple of days each week, flexible hours, or working a compressed four-day workweek. But one thing is certain, the benefits of spending time in the office, face-to-face, are considerable and for our wellbeing, can’t be ignored.