My posts (Mario Cameo) Remote World

The Office

Office is probably the most repeated word in the last weeks.

Some companies are calling all employees for returning to the office, others are setting a flexible or remote-first policy. But, anyway, the point here is that “Office” doesn´t have the same meaning anymore.

Does the office (as we know it so far) still make sense?

According to Seth Godin in his recent post The end of the office?, probably not:

“The last forty years have taught us that the technology that most disrupts established industries is speed. The speed of connection to peers, to suppliers and most of all, to customers. The speed of decision making, of ignoring sunk costs and of coordinated action. The internet has pushed all of these things forward, and we’ve just discovered, the office was holding all of them back.

As social creatures, many people very much need a place to go, a community to be part of, a sense of belonging and meaning. But it’s not at all clear that the 1957 office building is the best way to solve those problems.”

The question we should be asking ourselves right now is: What does going to the office give us? Or What can we do better there than from home or other places? Or even: Does going to the office in a hybrid environment have more advantages or disadvantages?

I think Javi Cuesta hits the nail on the head when he says: “More than ever, the employee should go to the office happy and have reasons to go there. For the simple fact that if they don’t get something extra out of being in the office, it is logical that they will feel frustrated because they didn’t stay at home”.

What seems clear is that some things need to change, not just “go back to the office” as we left it.

The new offices are not offices anymore

Some companies are investing heavily in redesigning their “offices” and, although they are still experiments that will have to be improved, they provide good clues as to how the office concept should evolve.

125 West End Avenue, New York [Image: Viewpoint Studios]

The Office Collaboration lie

On the other hand, the main argument being used for returning is that face-to-face presence is needed to preserve the company’s culture.  

“The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller addressed what has become a cornerstone argument made by executives in their request to return to life as if 2020 never happened. In short: “being in the office is essential for spontaneous collaboration and innovation”.”

But, ¿Is this true? Not so much.

 “Miller’s reporting finds very little evidence to support the Spontaneous Encounter Theory. The money quote comes from Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein, whose research found that “contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions.” Why? “People didn’t find it helpful to have so many spontaneous conversations, so they wore headphones and avoided one another”.

“Offices can and do produce spontaneous, productive encounters. The real issue is that we wildly over-inflate their importance when considering in-person work. It’s the over-indexing for creative ideation at an imaginary water cooler that is bullshit.” (Charlie Warzel)

Finally, my finding:

Office and in-person interactions are important for the culture, but if you have to force your people to come back to the office, probably your culture does not need to be preserved but deeply transformed.

The concept of the office needs to be radically revised, as part of a broader discussion about the new ways of working. And these new ways of working, Remote/Hybrid, are not (only) about WHERE, but HOW.

I will write about that in my next post.

See you soon!

Mario Cameo