There has been a lot of talk in recent months about how we're going to work after the pandemic. Will we go back to the office 5-days a week? Will we work remotely from a beach in Bora Bora? Are we going to exist solely in the Metaverse or will still need interaction in real life?
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. While some people are cut out for full-time remote work, others are not and they crave meeting people face-to-face on a regular basis. That's why "hybrid" has been such a trending topic of conversation and is lauded as the model that's going to shape the future of work. Bringing together the best of both worlds, hybrid work enables colleagues to meet in person when they need to and enjoy the comforts of a home office.
But that begs the question—what of the traditional office space? What's going to happen to office buildings, for example? Do companies really need an office or will giving employees the flexibility to meet wherever suffice?
No one-size-fits-all solution
For some people, remote work has been a revelation—giving them the opportunity to spend more time with their families, cut down on commutes, and have a better work-life balance. For others, the last year has been more difficult, with many people suffering from burnout, exhaustion, and even loneliness. Individual employees have had radically different experiences as the sands shifted on the way they work, and it stands to reason that they'll have different views on how they want to work going forward.
Not only that, but companies themselves have also been struggling to make this decision for a number of reasons. They need to think about what working model suits their company culture most. What arrangement will their employees be happiest with? What makes the most sense and aligns best with their values, mission, and vision?
So... why is an office space still necessary?
The answer is that it totally depends. If your company decided that a remote-first option is the right path for them to take, then the answer clearly is no. But if not, then the chances are that you do need some sort of fixed physical space for teams to get together.
That being said, a traditional office space full of cubicles and a water cooler probably isn't the best representation of the future of the office. But, in order to envision what the office is going to look like, it's first important to understand why it's still such a necessity.
1. Offices are great places for spontaneous exchanges of ideas
We're not talking about the kind of interaction you'd expect during a structured brainstorming meeting or strategy session. Sure, those types of meetings certainly are better in person (as you'll discover in reason number 2), but there is a case to be made that videoconferencing tools can be a substitute where needed.
What offices offer that a virtual workplace can't are these moments of spontaneity among colleagues. They can keep talking about a project informally over a coffee after a meeting, run into coworkers they don't work with on a day-to-day basis, meet newbies, and get inspired by all of the brilliant minds around them.
2. The meetings that matter simply are better in person
Whether that's in a coworking space or in a stable office, certain types of meetings are just better in person. Things like project kickoffs, multiplayer brainstorm sessions, strategic briefs and debriefs, and personal development conversations are just a few examples that come to mind.
In fact, face-to-face meetings with colleagues and clients are what professionals miss the most about business travel! 39% of respondents to a TravelPerk survey claimed that being able to meet in person is what they're most excited about when it comes to getting back on the road. A further 26% claimed that what they're most excited about in returning to the office is the ability to attend workshops and teambuilding activities in real life.
3. They're a great place for employees to immerse themselves in the company culture
It doesn't matter whether you're a tech company, a banking giant, or a family-owned business—company culture is a real thing. And it's a pretty important component not only in employee retention but also in attracting talent. Nearly 90% of job seekers claim that identifying a healthy culture in the workplace is an important factor for them in deciding what company to work for.
And what better place to really feel and live the company culture than in a physical workspace where people from across the business gather? At TravelPerk, one of the key artifacts of our company culture is our weekly all-hands meeting. And, you guessed it, it happens in real life in our offices every week. We live-stream what's going on in our Barcelona hub to our international offices, have newbies introduce themselves to everyone, and even set up shout-outs among colleagues to celebrate successes.
4. They provide an opportunity for people to socialize
... And let's be honest. In a COVID and post-COVID world, any opportunity to get together with people safely is welcome. 73% of workers claim that they miss going to the office for the social component—like spontaneous side conversations that are impossible to replicate on Zoom, or casual unplanned after-work drinks with colleagues.
But this isn't just about people wanting to hang out with their colleagues. There's a deeper dimension to this centered around the fact that team socializing actually builds a stronger sense of belonging. This is one of the strongest drivers in employee motivation, a feeling of being part of something greater. Think about it—why would workers call themselves Google-rs or Amazon-ians?
To be clear, that's not to say that remote workers can't achieve this sense of belonging. But as a social species that thrives on interaction, that's much easier and more satisfying to achieve in person. And let's face it. In the new normal, we're going to want more social interaction, not less.
Should we wave goodbye to the traditional office space?
Not necessarily. As with everything, there isn't a blanket policy on what the future of office spaces holds or what office workers are going to want or need. That being said, there are a few clear trends emerging worldwide.
Trend 1: Co-working spaces are all the rage
In the interim period while companies figure out exactly how they're going to work, co-working spaces are proving a great option. They provide useful, collaborative work environments for businesses without the commitment of building an entirely new office just for themselves. In addition, with teams becoming more and more distributed, co-working spaces are a great tool for smaller hubs to have the opportunity to get together on a regular basis. While previously associated with freelancers, small companies, and startups, coworking spaces may see a change in this arena.
Trend 2: The days of tech campuses might be over
That image of giant offices with slides, ping-pong tables, and on-site laundry services was, for a long time, what came to mind when you thought of tech giants in Silicon Valley. Companies like Google, Apple, and Twitter famously developed campuses for their employees. But as more flexible working options become the norm, do businesses really need 500,000 square feet for office space in a post-pandemic world? Apparently not, since Pinterest, for example, pulled out of a deal to develop a giant campus and Twitter is subleasing its San Francisco office.
Trend 3: More functional office spaces
As we shift away from all-inclusive-style campus offices, the focus falls on creating the kind of office spaces that employees will benefit from the most. With hybrid work becoming the more prevalent choice of working model among employers, the need to adapt office spaces to that is growing. Making sure that all conference rooms, for example, are fully equipped to accommodate both remote and in-person meetings is a simple yet essential trait of office design going forward.
Trend 4: Closing up the open-floor-plan office
One of the biggest trends to emerge in-office plans as a result of the pandemic and countless lockdowns is the end of the open-plan office era. This is in large part due to health and safety concerns, as a more physical separation of workstations makes social distancing easier. There won't necessarily be a shift to fully private offices for individual workers, but smaller spaces separated by glass windows rather than walls where 20 people can work together is something we can expect to see.
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