Seth Godin published a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on his blog today about the future of the office.
He starts out by reminding us of something that’s easy to forget:
The office is a fairly modern phenomenon. We got by for millenia without them.
After reflecting on how work has worked for the last forty years, his comments on how most companies have responded to the last Covid-ravaged 18 months in one of two ways are astute:
Some organizations dealt with enforced work-from-home by using endless Zoom meetings as a form of compliance… a high-tech way to take attendance. But others leaned into the opportunity to create nimble, task-oriented decision making and communications hubs, ones that were no longer constrained by physical proximity.
The former will have people craving a return to the office. But, when companies embrace how remote work can improve things, many people – like me – won’t have any desire to spend most of our lives sat in offices.
Seth concludes his piece, though, by acknowledging the social dimension of humans needing to be together:
As social creatures, many people very much need a place to go, a community to be part of, a sense of belonging and meaning. But it’s not at all clear that the 1957 office building is the best way to solve those problems.
And that last sentence is key. A lot of people – though far from all – do find their community through the people they sit in an office with. In the future – and I think Seth is right here – this will inevitably change.
The one aspect Seth doesn’t address though, putting aside social, community, and belonging needs, is what the role of face-to-face interaction is when it comes to collaboration.
I don’t need to be friends with my colleagues, but there are some areas of work that flow much better with some physical interaction. Even a company like Basecamp, that is one hundred percent remote workers, still has one or two week-long in-person meet-ups each year.
The balance between working remotely and appropriate amount of in-person interaction is going to be key in the coming months and years.
The future almost certainly isn’t being sat in offices for eight hours, five days a week. But I don’t think it is being sat home alone for eight hours, five days a week either.
It’s going to be interesting to see how things take shape.