Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, London, WC1B 4DA
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4th August 2020 | 7 min read
We spoke to our Chief Commercial Officer, Matt Watts, to get his thoughts on the benefits of office working and why he believes returning to our spaces will positively impact everything from your productivity to the economy.
Pre-Coronavirus, working from home was largely regarded as the Holy Grail of employment perks. Now, as the novelty of no commute and wearing athleisure to work wears off and lockdown restrictions ease, many of us are realising we really miss the workplace. While it’s completely normal to feel apprehensive about returning to office life after a pandemic, the benefits, from improved mental health to increased creativity, are not to be underestimated.
Throughout lockdown, we have cleverly adapted our spaces to ensure they are safe, secure and supportive for all who work in them. Frequent deep cleaning and social distancing cues are just some of the measures we have taken, and you can find more information in our Return to Work plan.
Working at home means you are unable to observe the nuances of office interaction, from overhearing conversations that may enhance your understanding of the business or project to missing important information said by someone in passing. It’s not just about what you can’t hear either. Up to 93% of our communication is nonverbal, so body language plays an important role. It can help to develop positive relationships, motivate others and improve productivity. Body language is often subtle, so the absence of face-to-face contact can make it even harder to read. This lack of opportunity to observe is particularly detrimental to the growth of junior employees who learn by osmosis.
From working out in a gym to watching a play in a theatre, a specific environment enhances experiences. The quality of our work setting has a significant effect on our psychological health and its absence can negatively impact productivity. That’s why details like ergonomic furniture are integral to LABS spaces.
Recreating the office environment at home can be difficult. Some employees have a dedicated desk space in a specially designed study while others are balancing a laptop on an ironing board in a shared house. Throw in IT issues and a lack of structure and it’s easy to see how a poor work environment can affect output. LABS members who have recently returned to our spaces have noticed a marked improvement in productivity.
This increase in productivity can also be attributed to a lack of distractions in the office. As anyone who has worked from home during lockdown will attest, a pile of laundry or the lure of the fridge can prove far more distracting than a talkative colleague. Research (1) has shown that creativity thrives in an office environment thanks to impromptu “water cooler” conversations, and studies have found that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems more quickly than remote collaborators. Steve Jobs famously opposed remote working, saying, “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
A holistic approach to wellbeing encompassing mental and physical health is essential, and working from home can have negative effects on both. Physically, it’s easy to slip into poor habits. The saying goes that it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit, but research shows that it actually takes 66 days for new behaviour to become automatic (2) . With lockdown lasting months, poor posture and bad diets are becoming ingrained. From a mental health perspective, burnout and isolation are causes for concern. Remote employees often feel compelled to work longer hours than their in-office counterparts to prove productivity, with the pressure to appear “busy” causing increased anxiety. The solitude of working remotely can hugely affect mental health, with research showing that loneliness can be twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity (3).
The pandemic has exacerbated “always on” culture by further blurring the lines between our work and personal lives. In June, PhD student Heather De-Quincey tweeted, “I think we need to stop calling it ‘working from home’ and start calling it ‘living at work’”. Garnering 170.6k likes and spawning memes, her tweet resonated. An office allows us to physically differentiate between home and work life, and, pre-Coronavirus, we could use our commute to get in the zone before work or decompress after it. From the aforementioned feelings of isolation to relationship strains and childcare juggles, it seems that, ironically, working from home hasn’t quite offered us the work-life equilibrium we’d always assumed it would.
There’s no I in team may be a clichéd adage, but it feels particularly relevant right now. From bouncing ideas around in meetings to bonding over after-work drinks, our office relationships can have a positive impact on everything from job satisfaction to learning and using our skills. Understanding and respecting others means you will value their opinions, resulting in a more productive and positive workplace. Even if you work solo, an office space allows you to bump into people from other businesses, organically expanding your network. In an experiment by Stanford economics professor Nicolas Bloom on remote working, half of remote workers wanted to return to the office after the experiment, saying they missed the social connection (4). It’s almost impossible to create company culture when everyone is virtual – technology can’t replace human contact.
Tech-savvy as many of us are, our skills aren’t quite on par with a qualified IT department. Unreliable connections and subpar equipment at home result in valuable work time lost. For IT support, dropping by the office is far more feasible than visiting homes. Then there’s the Zoom fatigue. What at first seemed like a welcome help to the WFH situation has become somewhat of a hindrance. A survey by software company Smartsheet found that almost two-thirds of Gen Z workers and just over three-fifths of Millenials felt that the amount of time spent on video calls made it harder to get through their workload (5).
Just as bringing people together in an office positively impacts creativity and productivity, it also benefits team performance. Isolating workers creates myriad issues, among them the inability to monitor output, support lower-level employees and new joiners or celebrate company wins. Smartsheet’s survey found that 49% of the sampled workers found it harder to give status updates on projects, 58% said it was harder to receive status updates and 68% felt less informed about what was going on with their company since working from home. Speaking to the BBC about the future of the office after Coronavirus, Professor André Spicer from City University’s Cass Business School believes that people will want to return to the office as home-workers “tend to get overlooked” for promotion (6). When it comes to celebrating team achievements, nothing beats joining colleagues and raising a glass to a job well done.
Lockdown may have eased, but the high street is struggling to recover from its impact. Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons all need customers to stay afloat – take local office workers out of the equation and they’ll flounder. If people are no longer occupying city-centre offices, they aren’t occupying the surrounding amenities, which will be forced to close. The impact is two-fold; a loss of jobs means a loss of disposable income, further damaging the economy. Plus, after months at home, that flat white from your go-to coffee shop will never have tasted better.
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Square, London, WC1B 4DA
90 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6LJ
15-19 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH
136 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6PX
15 Southampton Place, London, WC1A 2AJ
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