These are the reasons why you will return to your desk
And yes, cubicles will be back too.
Editor's Note: The future of the office has become an open question after the coronavirus lockdown forced billions of people to work from home. Will office workers return to their cubicles with refrigerators when the pandemic ends? Or will employees want to hold on to their newfound freedom and flexibility, while noting the lower costs of no-show?
At least some companies have already answered this question: Twitter, for example, says that most of its employees can continue to work from home forever, making the office simply a place to meet with clients. We asked three academics to weigh the future of the office.
Relationships need proximity
Beth Humberd and Scott Latham, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Organizational life is built on relationships. Sure, the current remote work experiment has shown that more jobs can be done virtually than many managers previously assumed. But jobs are made up of tasks; organizations are made up of relationships. And relationships require ongoing, and often unintended, interactions.
Decades of research provide important information on how effective working relationships are built. We know that they require mutual trust and cooperation , and that physical proximity is critical to fostering relationships of this kind.
This is especially true in knowledge and creative economies, as shared space promotes information sharing and collaboration. A 2009 study found that Google employees who shared a physical space exchanged information more effectively than those located even on separate floors in the same building. A similar study from 2013 showed that when scientists had to walk farther from the lab to places like the bathroom or the printer, they developed more research collaborations . And a more recent study found that “refrigerator” socialization was critical to generating new ideas in business incubators , which support the growth of start-ups.
And as robots take on more human jobs thanks to automation and artificial intelligence, these relationships will be more important than ever. Our own research has found that jobs that are inherently relational are more likely to last.
Therefore, we believe that it will not be the office itself that will remain, but the need for physical proximity to keep the modern organization, and our working relationships, running smoothly.
Worker flexibility is here to stay
Deborah Salon, Arizona State University
Office workers want more flexibility where they work. That is the main finding of a survey that I am conducting with other researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Illinois.
Our survey aims to understand how the national lockdown that forced much of the professional workforce to telecommute changed the views of employees while going to the office, among other issues. The survey is ongoing, and if you are at least 18 years old and you live in the United States, you can take it online . The results reported below reflect nearly 2,100 responses collected from mid-April to mid-July and have weighted the United States population in terms of age, gender, and level of education.
Our data indicates that nearly two-thirds of those who still had a job during the pandemic worked almost exclusively from home. That compares with just 13% of workers who said they did it even a few times a week before COVID-19.
Among those who previously had not worked from home regularly, 62% said they were enjoying the change, and 75% expect their employers to continue to provide flexibility where they work after the pandemic has passed.
Of course, there can be a gap between employee expectations and the reality of what employers are willing to provide . One of the arguments that companies have traditionally used to oppose offering workers more flexibility is the belief that they are less productive or efficient working from home.
But even at a time when workers face many distractions, particularly those with young children, nearly two-thirds of our working respondents reported normal or above-normal productivity. This is consistent with previous psychological research on remote work that found that those who telecommute often perform roughly the same or better than their colleagues in the office. Workers in our survey credited not having to travel to the office and fewer distractions, such as meetings, for higher productivity.
This is why I believe that the future of office work is probably much more flexible than ever. Overall, including those who previously worked from home, 26% said they plan to work remotely at least a few times a week when the pandemic is over, double the 13% who said they did so earlier.
Only 9% of workers surveyed said they want to leave the traditional office entirely. It seems they just want more balance. Given the option, many office workers would like to travel to a traditional office on some days and work from home on others.
With luck and a little good planning, I think America's workforce could not only be more productive after the pandemic, but also enjoy their lives a little more.