Luke Wallace is Sr. Director of Android Engineering at Bottle Rocket, contributing to best practices and innovation throughout the organization.
As more of the professional world adopts a remote working policy (we call ours “Work From Wherever”), there is a lot of focus on the benefits of working remote, but it’s important to remember there are still benefits to having an office space that brings people together for hours a day.
Here are eight benefits provided by physical office spaces with some approaches for reproducing these benefits if your team is remote.
1. Hallway Conversations
Let’s start with the big one. When everyone is remote, most conversations are scheduled. It’s impossible to catch someone in the hallway as they are getting their coffee, and you may avoid reaching out so they have time to focus. Lack of communication leads to bigger issues, so, in remote settings, force the conversation or send messages right before or after lunch or team meetings to prevent interrupting their focus. With tools like Slack, your team can set their status when they’re focusing, and your hallway conversations can happen outside those times.
2. Relationship Building
Especially within company leadership, a videoconference call has had the air of “business” for so long that it’s hard not to want to focus on the topic at hand immediately when the meeting starts. In person, you might find people arriving early, talking about their weekend and generally building small relationships can pay off later. Without carving out this time intentionally, it’s easy for relationships to stagnate, and new members never feel very connected. We try to set aside a few minutes (no more than 10%) at the beginning of meetings for casual conversation and let people take a quick break when needed.
3. Work Brain Space
Never have home life and work life become so intertwined in our society as when much of the population began working from home. Many of us didn’t appreciate how nice it was to have a place to work that could separate us from the distractions and temptations of home. The mental space that a physical separation allows leads to an ability to focus that can be a lot more challenging to accomplish when it’s only a different room in the same place you live. Dedicating a room can help, but for those who don’t have that luxury, finding a coffee house with reliable Wi-Fi might help switch your brain into “work mode.”
4. Sending Out A Search Party
Their status is online, but they don’t respond. Wait, now they’re away. It’s great when people get in the zone, but sometimes they get busy doing something that causes them to forget about their chat and email. I enjoyed the convenience of walking through the office and checking in on them when necessary, plus some conversations are better in person. If they were really heads-down or in the middle of something important, you could give them space and avoid the interruption completely. With remote work, you have to rely on status or looking at their calendar to see if they might be focused elsewhere.
5. Emotional Intelligence
Along the lines of “video chats mean business,” it can be hard to break through the screen and connect with people. Some people are still not comfortable with their video being on regularly and so much of the context around their words is lost. Encourage people to have their video on if they’re remote, and relish the time you get to spend in person, even if it’s just to meet up for coffee or lunch.
6. Change Of View
Not everyone can afford to have modern furniture at home or live in a high-rise loft overlooking the city. Sometimes the workplace is a nice change from the suburban lifestyle or just a different perspective on the city where you live. The commute keeps you connected to the changes going on around you. This changing view helps provide some additional mental stimulation and breaks up the routine to separate the days. In remote settings, encourage your team to have a “startup routine” to help transition between home and work.
7. Customer Space
If a workspace can be mentally stimulating for your employees, imagine how much more it can do for your customers and partners. Visiting a different office puts them in a different mindset and can block a lot of their typical distractions. This helps the two groups engage more deeply, focus on the topic at hand and even connect with other employees. A random encounter during an office visit could change their whole perspective and demonstrate that you have great people throughout your organization. All this is possible remotely, but the focused interactions are much tougher when they can’t disconnect from their home base.
8. Not Another Video Call
It may become known as “Zoom Fatigue” generically, but constant connecting through links in emails and calendar invites, only to hang up just in time to click the next link, has run many people ragged. People need physical interaction and to hear each other directly instead of compressed through a combination of microphones and speakers. Such sterile interactions remove the humanity of the people we work with and allow us to retreat behind mute buttons and virtual backgrounds. Being in the same place at the same time reduces many types of friction, and it’s hard for me to believe that some people would never want to return.
Look For Success In-Office Or Remote
Whether your whole team has gone remote permanently or will be returning to the office soon, you should think about what you want to do with your physical space. Don’t underestimate the benefits of having a separate work area for your team and customers to meet together, and be sure to value the in-person moments you have, as they become more rare as society adjusts to more remote working.