What’s the purpose of an office in 2022?
If you’d asked that question a few years ago, you might have received a concise retort. “It’s the workplace, stupid”.
It used to be so simple:
A workplace was a shared space where co-workers came together each day to access the tools, information, people, and knowledge that were necessary for getting their jobs done.
For centuries, that was true whether you were a blacksmith or a banker. It was true in the late 20th century, as the internet slipped out of the laboratory and into our everyday lives. I’d suggest that it’s no less true today.
Digitization and virtualization haven’t altered our need for tools, information, people, and knowledge. What they have altered is the nature of our tools, the ways we access and share information and knowledge, and the ways we interact.
The 'almost-literally-overnight' pivot to remote working in early 2020 sent shockwaves around the world.
Most blacksmiths have long since returned to their forges, but those waves are still reverberating through knowledge-based workplaces.
We’ve had to re-evaluate what we mean by “coming together”, and redefine what we mean by “a shared space”.
So that begs the question: What does a (physical) office mean to us in 2022? Is it:
- A place we go to collaborate?
- A place we to socialize?
- A place we go to meet new people and learn new things.
- A place we go out of habit?
- A place we go to avoid recriminations for not going?
- A place we go to get ahead, or to avoid being left behind?
- A place that makes us more productive, or less productive?
- A physical space and/or location we love visiting, or avoid if we can?
- A place that drags us away from our domestic life, or provides a sanctuary from it?
- A place that provides a spark, or burns us out?
- A place that works for us, or that we work for?
These are the sort of questions employers should be giving some thought to before they start suggesting, enticing, or mandating returns to the office.
Many employers assumed that a forced exodus from the office would make work considerably harder.
Many workers have found, perhaps to their surprise, that it’s made their working lives far easier, and not necessarily any less productive. It’s hardly surprising that they aren’t too willing to give up their newfound freedoms.
Employers need to be asking themselves if their Office 2022 warrants a major upgrade from Office 2019.