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Are Offices Necessary Post COVID-19?

As the global health crisis made its way to the U.S., some companies struggled to make the quick transition to remote work. Now, most companies are going into month five or six of working remotely, and it’s looking like remote work might stick around. In fact, some companies like Twitter and Shopify have announced their intentions to stay fully remote, even after fears around COVID-19 subside.

With organizations rethinking their views on the in-office experience, opinions are split, with some seeing the value of the office space and others seeing the office as a distraction. It’s causing many companies to ask themselves if a physical office is even necessary. 

 

What Offices Provide for Employees 

In the ’90s, many offices focused on having open space and getting as many people in-office as possible. Organizations went so far as to introduce the concept of hoteling desks–eliminating assigned seating–providing them the opportunity to maximize the number of employees per square foot. 

In recent years, this mentality shifted in the favor of uniqueness. Companies, such as tech firms, have gone out of their way to find opportunities to make their offices the most unique and most innovative. Many local and national publications have awards dedicated to the *coolest* offices, showcasing amenities like beer kegs, ping pong tables, gardens and lavish brainstorm rooms. You name it and there is probably an office that has it. 

With elaborate office designs becoming cool and trendy, a chic office environment became a selling point in the hiring process. Physical offices, however, benefit employees beyond appearances and amenities. As employees began to shift to remote work following concerns around the global health crisis, many workers realized some of the perks they had in the office were simply unavailable at home—stable Wi-Fi, dual monitors, standing desks, printers and other office supplies to name a few. 

While these resources are not mandatory to do day-to-day work, they do help with productivity and ensure that employees feel comfortable and ready to work. Although some companies have it in their budget to offer these amenities to employees, most do not. Some employees may have neither the budget to upgrade the Wi-Fi nor the space in their homes to add new office equipment.

Outside of connectivity and equipment, offices also provide employees a space to congregate to easily share ideas and information, solve problems faster, and increase team building. While there are creative ways to keep teams involved, team building and motivation in the current environment is a challenge. Working from home means a lack of informal chances to share experiences together. Hosting happy hours and “lunch & learns” is simply not the same when faced with a two-foot by two-foot box on a screen. 

Lastly, with most “rooms” now virtual, the intimacy and chemistry of moments are lost. Strategic discussions during this time tend to suffer due to things like informal whiteboard discussion being more difficult to facilitate via Zoom. Whether we like going into the office or not, it can provide an important separation between home and work. 

 

The Shift in Office Spaces

While the office has its benefits, I expect to see companies put less money into the development of the office and more money into resources for employees to be successful outside of the office. The company I work for, Mediafly, is modifying the way we think of the office concept. Rather than have employees operate out of the office as the default option, we’re now flipping the script, allowing our employees to come into the office if they want to, or need to, and making work from home the norm. 

Whether a company chooses to have an office or not will obviously vary across industries. However, I believe there does need to be a space where employees can be productive and can come together to collaborate, and feel safe and comfortable working with their colleagues. This not only helps build company culture and team chemistry but also allows employees to make the office the space they want it to be, rather than an obligation. 

The next year will be interesting as we will begin to see more companies pivot the workplace. If there’s anything positive that comes out of COVID-19, it is that many companies were able to see employees successfully working from home. In fact, one company saw a 47 percent increase in productivity after transitioning to remote work. Rather than eliminating the central office, my suggestion for companies would be to think through what would work best for your company and your team, as a whole. 

By surveying our own team at Mediafly, we learned that a combination of remote work with an option to come to an office works best for us, ensuring the right blend of flexibility and productivity. That said; a combination of the two might work best for some while going fully remote might work better for others. No matter what the case may be, like we saw with hoteling in the ’90s and the trendy spaces of the last decade, the office space is again evolving. If done right, this next iteration will provide the ideal environment–or environments–for today’s highly savvy and social workforce.


John Evarts has been honored to serve Mediafly since 2010, providing strategic, financial and operational leadership. Under his guidance, the company has earned recognition by Forrester as one of the top sales enablement automation providers, and by Inc Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. An MBA graduate of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Evarts enjoys speaking on topics such as startups, finance and enterprise software.