Why Office Spaces Are Still Important Today

  • Future of Work
  • 19 Oct 2021
  • 4 min

Since the ease of the lockdown in the spring of 2021, many companies have been setting—and then re-setting, and re-setting again—tentative dates for their “official” return back to the office space. And in the fog of COVID restrictions, many large, mainly tech-centered companies, including Facebook, Upwork, and Slack, have announced permanent transitions to remote work.

Here in Berlin, many companies are also now adopting new, hybrid models for their employees to return to the office, a reminder that a hardline “return to the office” will most likely never happen. According to a survey conducted by the Institute for Employment Research, around 10 percent of businesses in Germany have already brought in their own rules for remote working.

Today, in Germany, and especially in Berlin, you’re likely to find a hodgepodge of different, arbitrary employee policies depending on the company’s own set of internal decisions on the subject. But whether they’re fast-growing startups or established businesses, companies are generally settling on one model: the hybrid model. On the whole, there's a dawning realization among company heads that "hybrid" forms—working in the office a few days a week, and working remotely on the others—of work may become the new normal. An Ipsos survey, taken across 29 countries, found 66% of workers think that employers should allow more flexible working in the future.

And as companies also begin adopting “remote-first” policies, you’re likely to be asking yourself a pretty obvious question: do we even need the office in the first place? And is it possible to make people want to work there? It’s the imminent question that many companies, managers, and employees are trying to answer in the wake of a post-COVID-19 world. 

The human element

Many people tend to associate the office space as being an environment only for work. But what COVID-19 has reminded everyone is that an office is just as much about forming connections, sharing intimate moments, and having a laugh or two. As associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, Ethan Bernstein, says, “if remote work becomes the default, maybe the office is there for the sake of cementing relationships, introducing people and deliberate relationship-building.”

Companies may be staying remote-first, but the office will always offer something that your home office can’t: human interaction. Whether that’s sharing a coffee after a long meeting, having a beer after an even longer one, or having a team lunch every Wednesday, the office will always remain a shared social space. Indeed, is it’s the water-cooler chat—and not the virtual one, which many companies have started to support—that, at a time when employees continue to face significant levels of loneliness in a remote-work setup, can make the difference to a person’s overall work. 

Rethinking work-life balance

Work-life balance has been a constant point of concern during COVID-19, with many employees and managers finding it totally impossible to truly disconnect. The same Ipsos survey cited above found that more than 1/3 of workers found home difficult to be productive—and the same amount of people also agreed that they feel more burned out staying at home. Many people working remotely are only one Zoom call or one Slack buzz away from their managers, and this proximity often prohibits people from truly enjoying their leisure or family time. 

Overexertion in a remote-work set-up has led to what many employees have started dubbing “WFH Burnout.” As Laura M. Giurge and Vanessa K. Bohns argue in The Harvard Business Review, WFH Burnout describes “the lines between work and non-work and how they’re blurring in new and unusual ways.” It makes sense: many people working remotely may find it hard to truly disconnect. And on a more physical level, they’re working in the same place where they sleep, spend time with their family, and enjoy their time off.

WFH Burnout has made many employees realize that a physical workspace—one that is separate from our homes—creates a much-needed barrier between work and home life. At its most basic, the office space allows you to leave your work life in a tangible place. It’s a reminder that a last-minute request received at 9 PM can be tackled with a well-rested mind at 9 AM the following day. 

More than just a productive space

Work from home is here to stay, and it’d be silly to not embrace its possibilities. One Forbes study found that nearly 90% of employees would rate their productivity as improving, or at least staying the same, since the onset of remote work during COVID-19. But productivity isn’t the only metric companies should be looking at here. Indeed, the office is more than just a productive space—it’s a communal and organizational space.

One way to reframe the office space is by emphasizing its communitarian benefits—both on the company level and on the employee level. For companies, the office should be understood as a place to foment company culture and brand identity, a “home base” of sorts. For employees, meanwhile, the office should be understood not as a place antithetical to a healthy work-life balance, nor as a chore, but rather, as a place where they can come in freely to be productive, have a post-meeting beer, and also meet new employees. Indeed, the office exists precisely to mediate these different circumstances in one organizational, communal space.  

At the end of the day, companies that will thrive during this period will be those that offer the best of both worlds: a genuinely agile working model that embraces working from home and the office as a “home base”—a space for communal events, meetings, and socializing. As remote working becomes the new norm, it’s important to remember that the office is always there to provide what remote work cannot.

We’re helping the Berlin office ecosystem before, during, and after COVID times. If you’re looking for an office space or need advice on finding the right space, talk to us.

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