Death of the office?

Office-work takes up not merely the bulk of our time but the best part of it, the hours when we are alert and alive. Home, and its occupants, has the husk.”

The fallout from the pandemic of 2020 is only beginning as we reflect on the sudden switch from working in offices to working from home, for many. We are left to ask real questions that should receive real answers, such as, will office culture change? In what ways? And, will it be better for highly sensitive people?

Those questions are bound up in the history of offices, though we often seem to take offices as a fact of life as many of us have never known professional work to take place anywhere but an office. Enter the future, which is now, and enter the pandemic, which upended so many businesses and forced them to reconsider how to get work done, despite NOT being in offices.

In considering how we actually get work done, the inevitable sense of reflection alerts to the fact that many of us are more productive at home with fewer distractions, no commute times, and no lengthy and pointless meetings (if you are still suffering with lengthy video meetings your employer has missed this point). Taken as a whole, it will be quite interesting to note how working from home compares with office work, in terms of work completed at a similar quality and quantity level as office work. My guess is that workers working from home are at least as productive, perhaps more so, than when in the office. Particularly, for the high performing people who need autonomy, plus time and space to focus deeply, while they work on a project.

Looking ahead, we have to seriously consider how we might offer viable alternatives, for those of us who prefer working from home and there are some who do not, to employers in ways that begin to transform the culture of offices, indeed of work itself. Clearly, not all jobs or skills can be done from home as some are carried out using proprietary equipment or programs employers will be loath to allow in private homes, but for those jobs where work can be carried out to a similar degree of completion and quality what is the argument for forcing people to work in offices?

One answer suggests itself that employers simply do not trust their employees to work and not simply ignore their duties for which they are compensated to do. That paradigm has been around since the inception of offices and we will likely always find employers who remain stuck in a need to control their employees, while attempting to squeeze ever more productivity out of them. For others, the reasons are founded in a supposed “creativity” that happens when people are physically together and sharing a space, the closer the better in that view. Yet, we don’t see more creativity when people are forced into open offices, we see less as people experience more distractions and have less space and time to engage in the creative process, which most employers truly do not understand.

Many employers have subscribed to the notion that creativity can be squeezed out of people if you only provide the circumstances, but that view ignores the way creativity works as a process of intuition, autonomy, and a willingness to explore without judgment for a time. In the rush to innovate, creativity has been subject to linear thinking that confines it and seeks to quantify how and when it might be achieved. The reality is, creativity happens when people feel interested in their work and free to explore on their own. Some people may do better when in the company of others, in a creative sense, but when pressured to produce, produce, produce, the tendency is to go with the tried and true, rather than the innovative, which by its very nature, is a fundamentally disruptive process. Employers are afraid of real creativity and seek to confine it to the same office mentality as they do their other more linear processes.

How can you begin to shift the paradigm of working in offices? Employers understand when they see value-added processes, meaning they see greater efficiencies or profits from how you are accomplishing your work. If you can show that working from home is indeed sustainable and yields greater productivity in a shorter time, along with innovation here and there, you have a stronger case for working from home, at least some of the time.

As offices begin to reopen, it is likely that they will have to continue with the working from home model and that is where, for those who prefer this setup, you might truly have a choice! Speak up to your employer if working from home allows you to put work back in it’s proper context and value your family more, while still accomplishing your duties. Speak up in favor of working from home one or more days a week if it viable for your skill set. Employers will already be seeking ways to limit the number of workers in a space, so you literally have the floor here, so to speak, and can advocate for conditions that may work far better for you as an HSP than is possible in the office arrangement.

One thing is for sure: the office culture is being shaken at its’ core as employers are forced to reflect on the way they do business. How has your office adapted to the new paradigm?

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