Before the COVID-19 pandemic, just seven percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home. Of course, we saw that number skyrocket to 64 percent – two-thirds — of U.S. employees due to sweeping stay-at-home orders. Technology and modern infrastructure filled the gap in communication and have allowed most organizations to still function, but technology alone cannot continue to provide the things that we need as humans to find enjoyment and ongoing fulfillment in our work. As many of us return to the office, technology continues to play an important role, particularly in connecting remote and agile employees to those working on-site. While technology does, in some ways, increase efficiency, it also inhibits the spontaneous exchange of ideas that is the source of creativity and the need for socialization.
Nearly forty years ago, in 1982, author John Naisbitt said, “The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” Perhaps this post-pandemic moment is what he was referring to. It’s a moment to reevaluate how we interact and how our environments can evolve to be catalysts and not hindrances to our future.
Sources of Renewal
Regardless of your future office configurations, we all need havens for inspiration — museums and coffee shops are vital, but they don’t provide a competitive edge. The phrase “Now, more than ever” has vastly become the anthem of 2020, but what about “NOW?” When competition exists, there are winners and losers. We are witnessing one of the most considerable shifts in workforce power of our lives. This is not a “new normal.” That term implies more of the same. This is a renewal. A new opportunity to win. A new opportunity to design an environment that engages your people and keeps them connected to the world. If you’re uneasy about the “great resignation” affecting your business, NOW is the time and a helpful cue to remind you that New Office Wins.
Sources of Creativity
Creativity is the most crucial factor for future success. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who engaged in social interaction displayed higher levels of cognitive performance. So why is that important? Because science shows that social interaction aids intellectual performance, and yet that’s the number one thing missing in remote working situations. If your solution to a post-COVID office involves the continual siloing your staff (which is already happening at home) and obstructing creativity, I would challenge the viability your approach will have on your future success. The workplace is an environment designed to encourage casual encounters and unexpected conversations. Common areas, cafés, and courtyards promote moments that spark creativity and innovation, where people with similar attitudes are more likely to get along and those with diverse backgrounds are more likely to generate novel ideas. The same ideas will transform your business and catapult it past those who choose to isolate their employees through the stark loneliness of digital togetherness.
Sources of Optimism
Ultimately, the value of an office is the human experience it enables. Any design decision should make people’s lives better and create a place people want to be, so it’s imperative to start with your employees’ emotional health. The correlation between happy employees and successful businesses is inarguable. You can separate them from the fear and frustration they currently feel about returning to work. You can work them back to life. Live it and deliver it then watch your people and your business grow. This is how we survive. This is how we thrive.