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Guest blog: Why the hell would we come back to the office?

9/27/21 10:56 AM

For the last 1.5 years, those of us used to working in office spaces have been participating in a global experiment of remote working. What we managed to see is that a lot of the work previously classed as ‘impossible to do remotely’ is actually doable! A lot of companies and employees noticed that one can do their own job - or majority of it from home or restrictions-permitting anywhere else.

But we all have also experienced different problems with working from home – bad wi-fi connection, lack of digital tools or knowledge to use those, lack of quiet space for online meetings, back or eye pain from sitting all day at the dining table and trying to take in information through a tiny laptop screen, missing coffee breaks with colleagues etc. Thus, another lesson we all learned. And that is: office is still important!

For some, working from home can be uncomfortable due to bad ergonomics and poor digital tools and connections.

The office environment is not only a physical building and its design. We missed other things from the office (like that good office gossip). At the office, we might get something that we do not have at home. Also, the other way around. But why does it matter?

Well, there is a growing amount of research showing that there is a connection between employee happiness, health, and performance and their office environment. There are multiple aspects in that environment that should be considered in a good office design.

What does a good office design include?

Firstly, a good office design should consider what we as employees need from a certain space. For some, it might be peace & quiet, for others it might be some noise and hype. For some, it is all about that good coffee machine while for others it is about certain tools that they are not able to access elsewhere. And we all feel stressed when we don’t get what we feel is essential for us to be productive.

An inspiring workplace can mean different things to different people: great coffee, coworkers easily available, necessary tools available.

Secondly, a good office design should allow flexibility. We perceive the same environment differently. From understanding of what a noise is and what a sound is to having different relationships with things. For example, some like roaming around the office, while others consider the table as part of their ‘territory’ that they need to protect. It is also about our willingness and ability to adapt to changes outside our control. You probably know someone who gets anxious when their routine is broken, e.g., a different route to a certain place is needed.

Thirdly, a good office design also includes the organisational context. Organisational culture is perceived both individually and in a group. Do I as an individual fit into the group and the organisation? Do we as a group enjoy working together and make that organisational culture? Is the culture reflecting in the space around me? It can come out through various expressions, from office layouts to office locations. For example, a gaming company might have a very open space with bright colours, gaming stations and creative corners while a prestigious law firm resides in an outstanding centrally located building with expensive furniture, many closed doors, and a more toned-down colour palette.

A combination of those aspects makes a good office environment. To thrive, we want to be in a place where we get all of it. Unfortunately, often that is not the case, so we need to compromise. That compromise might lead to sacrificing the productivity of our work. The cost of decreased productivity is something that organisations must fear. Thus, they should aim at creating that optimal office environment for its employees.

For organisations, this is the difficult part. Creating a good office environment is not a one-time project. It is a constant effort of trying to find a balance between the needs of employees and the environment around - be it the social, digital, or physical aspect of it. And in some cases, the better option is to allow the flexibility of places, meaning that people can choose a number of places where their different needs are met.

Want to know more about designing alignment between people and office environment?

Rianne Appel-Meulenbroek and I have gathered a set of theories that give a glimpse of what matters and why in the office environment into our e-book “A Handbook of Theories on Designing Alignment Between People and the Office Environment”, which you can download here for free.

You might also enjoy our other free e-book: "A Handbook of Management Theories and Models for Office Environments and Services".

Rapal has invited guest bloggers, experts in their fields, to share their knowledge, thoughts and ideas with our readers. We hope these blogs will engage a larger audience to discuss various topics related to workplaces. Please click here for all our guest blogs. If you want to hear more about how we at Rapal contribute to the development of work environments around the world, take a look here.
Vitalija Danivska

Written by Vitalija Danivska

Dr. Sc. Vitalija Danivska is a lecturer and a researcher at Breda University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands). With the background in real estate economics and business, she is particularly interested in corporate, facilities management areas. In her research, she studies wellbeing and digitalisation topics. She is also a co-editor of the book series “Transdisciplinary Workplace Research and Management”.