When it comes to discussing what to do with all the empty offices of today, there are several schools of thought of this.
The Executive’s Plea
The Executives at many companies plea for everyone to return to the office (RTO). Regardless of any new perks (carrots) or threats to fire/layoff those who do not RTO (sticks), many office buildings remain empty. How many quarterly losses will it take to realize most commercial office buildings are no longer needed for the number of people that are willing to RTO? How many egos will need to be checked before they offload most of this burden that was once considered an asset?
I keep telling employers if you want me to come to your office as a 100% virtual digital knowledge worker, I will resign.
Virtual employee and employer working from home
Over the past few years, many have learned how to work from home (WFH), regardless of who their employer happens to be. Many of the tools to do the work virtually have been there for years well before we took WFH seriously and even as a necessity.
The major exception involves work have to move physical objects as part of our daily work whereas virtual work is not possible: brick-and-mortar stores selling physical products including restaurants, hospitals, factories, warehouses, shipping, and delivery, etc.
Why are they happier?
More choices. Their own individual choices. Not choices made for them.
Ultimately, work wants work done. If you can get the work done virtually, it no longer matters where you are to get it done.
No more waiting for a meeting room. A scheduled meeting is 2 clicks away. An unscheduled meeting is 1 click away. Collaboration is virtual and more visual for clarity today.
The employee’s distress and employer’s disconnect
For those who long for the commute, time at the water cooler (mostly alone), the shared bathrooms, concessions, or a presumed sense of belonging by being in a shared office space or cubical farm, many of the offices still remain open today for you come to in and work just as you did at home. Once there, you may have plenty of space to reconnect via Teams or Zoom, with the rest of your local, regional, national, or global co-workers from your office desk. Maybe you will realize the difference between home and office as well as the advantages of each. Maybe you can list them both out and see for yourself.
Maybe you miss the printer, copier or fax machine. Maybe it missed you since it needs a good dusting. My printer went to the trash a few years ago and I have no reason to get a new one since I don’t print anything, even as a published author.
You might have a short-lived thought that being in the office is better than being in your workspace at home. This is likely nostalgic or a space issue. Maybe we had a few years to figure out a better way while working remotely and take those steps to improve our own workspace.
Maybe you are assuming you can impress someone by RTO, being the first one there or the last one to leave. Maybe you think someone will notice or care. Maybe you think it shows that you are dedicated while most don’t see you except on virtual video conferencing calls and through your own work results.
Maybe the technology is too complicated to connect when a scheduled event occurs. Maybe the employer never checked with employees to ask if anyone needed help with the “new” technology. Maybe the employees never spoke up to ask for help or seek it within the software’s help menu.
Maybe you miss the whiteboards. Maybe no one shared that this feature exists on virtual video conferencing calls, allowing remote collaboration among participants. These virtual whiteboards can be saved and shared after the call unlike physical dry erase boards that require a smartphone to capture and send at the end of the meeting.
The architect’s dream is the present state: beautiful office buildings untouched by people.
Is it worth the expense of the art? Is the art of the office building dead yet?
The hard questions to answer
Are the intended purposes of a commercial office space overstated, outdated, or simply unnecessary at the present scale?
How will we continue to justify the commercial real estate burden for unused commercial office space year after year?
When will we do the hard thing, even when something was purpose-built for yesteryear, and stop ignoring the obvious next step? Dump it. The next question is how much do you need to keep if any? Keeping read
Since there is no compelling reason to RTO in order to do the work, why do employers need employees to RTO when they are happier and more efficient while they WFH?
Ask what everyone in the company wants to do (WFH, RTO, or a hybrid of both) and the obvious next step can happen from the results.
What do you think we should do with all those empty offices?