The Office is Dead and Its Replacement is Much Better

2022 is upon us and I’m always excited at the start of the year. The calendar change may seem symbolic but it has come to determine how we think about our lives. New year, new opportunities. For some companies, 2022 means the continual battle with the fallout from COVID-19. The topic on the mind of many executives? The office.

I have to tell you that I have worked from home for the past 7 years and I have spent very little time in corporate offices (except as an external consultant). That’s why I personally struggle to see why companies are so obsessed with the concept of bringing everyone back into the office. You’ll hear different reasons: better productivity, higher chances of innovation, employee retention, etc. We could also easily list the “negatives”: long commutes, tons of distractions, low productivity, etc.

I don’t think that companies should go 100% remote and never meet in person. There’s no need for extreme positions but I do believe that companies need to completely reinvent how they see the office. The 90s idea of a long line of cubicles — which now simply means a long line of desks in an open concept — is no longer relevant. Work can be done from anywhere as long as you have a computer and internet. Fighting this is like going against gravity. You may win in the short term but your odds aren’t good in the long term.

If the office concept is dead, what should replace it? An even more straightforward concept that we are familiar with: community centers. This is how Wikipedia defines community centers:

“Community centers or community halls are public locations where community members tend to gather for group activities, social support, public information, and other purposes.”

That’s exactly what companies and teams need. Executives are correct that the office has tangible benefits but there are other ways to get them without forcing people into a situation they don’t enjoy. Instead of bringing your employees to the office simply for them to work on their laptops with headphones on, change the reason why you bring them into the office.

In a community center concept, you would bring people together for group activities such as training days, social events like lunches and discussions. Make it enjoyable to come to the office by designing days that are focused on getting people to engage with each other and share ideas. Think of the impact that you can have by simply having one day a week where your team spends time thinking and discussing what is working and what isn’t. Unfortunately, companies don’t do this because they are too stuck trying to ensure all work happens in an arbitrary location.

Innovation, higher productivity, and thinking big aren’t about simply having people in one location for as much time as possible. They come about when people are relaxed and enjoying themselves. Your goal is to foster this environment and then let the magic happen on its own. So make 2022 the year where you officially kill the office and replace it with community centers.

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