First off, not everybody will hate working in offices. But there is certainly a growing gripe against working in an office. “The future is remote working”. “In future nobody will work in an office”. You get the picture. But rather than do a post on why offices are cr*p and ram in a bunch of statistics carefully selected to support that opinion, I wanted to explore why that perception has come about.
The Traditional Office
Disclaimer: You may disagree, but this is my perception of the traditional or if you like A-Typical office.
There is an identical selection of desks arranged in rows or quads methodically measured out to meet somewhere between health and safety regulations and maximum people by square footage. Each desk has a similar slightly ageing computer, a cheap chair and a cramped surface. Apart from the arrangement of paper work, the position of the phone and the odd post-it note, the only difference is the person occupying that desk. If they are male, they will wear a suit of which the quality will generally indicate either their hierarchal position or their ego…or both. If female it tends to be more difficult to indicate their hierarchal level, but a suit, dress or smart casual attire are the norm.
The atmosphere smells of a mix of poor quality coffee, stale cigarettes, aftershave, perfume or that damp musty office whiff found in the odd corner of the place. The environment is a smile to your face and a glare behind your back. There are more cliques than a big brother convention leaving you feeling either on edge or just far from home. And to top it off you’ll spend your day trying to avoid your boss who’s spending the day trying to impress theirs.
The Modern Cutting Edge Office
Again, you may disagree but comment if you want.
The desks have style. Each wall has colour, texture and vibrance. There’s a breakaway area including an edgy chic kitchen, bold colours and abstract chairs. Quotes intended to be thought provoking and inspiring adorn various walls in catchy fonts. Everyone dresses smart casual, but there is always someone in a chequered shirt and somebody else with funky glasses.
The atmosphere is confident. People talk about the weekend. Everyone looks like they could be either a model, well groomed, a gym addict or just quirky but in a good way. The word “Like” is used twice in every sentence for no apparent reason yet it still works. And there is either a beanbag, ping pong table or both somewhere around the place.
Is it the type of office or just offices in general that’s the issue?
It appears that no matter how you accommodate things, the office itself is an issue. Here are the usual issues and to be honest I can see the problem:
The Restrictive Hours
“Working 9 – 5, just to make a living”. We love a bit of Dolly Parton we do. But Dolly is a bit “Old Skool”. If you’re a parent it’s a bit tricky doing school drop off and pick up times if those are the hours. So, flexibility could fix things in terms of working hours, right?
Unless your office is on your doorstep there will be a commute involved. Even if you manage to avoid the dreaded rush hour most offices tend to be placed away from where anyone lives in city centres, business districts or out of town business parks. That means an allotted time just to get two and from work. Even if you have flexible hours it’s still a hassle.
The costs of lunch, travel, parking and socialising need to be taken into account. You could make your own lunch, walk to work and adopt the stingy leave-the-pub-just-before-its-your-round tactic. However, unless you like the monotonous consumption of bland sandwiches, 30 layers of sopping wet clothing and the popularity status of a rabid dog at cruft’s this may not be a wise strategy.
Then there’s the office politics. If you want to get anywhere you need to ensure that your tongue is sufficiently coated in your bosses boot polish and that your nose resembles a cesspit. If playing office politics isn’t your game, you’ll either need to ignore mr and mrs kiss ass and look forward to being ignored by your superiors. Or if you don’t like being ignored then miss a deadline, miss a target or make a fool of yourself. You’ll get attention then, just not the right kind of attention.
What’s the Root Problem?
I take the “Remote Working is the Future” and “Offices are sooooo 1990’s” argument with a pinch of salt. Practically speaking you cannot make every job remote. Any physical job, trade, maintenance or face to face type role will need you to travel somewhere to do it. You can’t have a remote dentist or a remote bin man for example. There’s also the argument that AI will replace everyone. Yeah, maybe someday. But not anytime soon. Plus, do you think any government is going to want people out of work? Who would pay the tax then? Think about the economics. Even if the technology existed, you’ll still need a system revolved around tax revenue. Tax has been in place in every successful economy since Roman times. Trust me, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “The only sure thing in life is death and taxes”.
How does this relate to the Hate for Working in Offices?
There is a growing dissent for the office culture. We’re in a wave of social revolution with worker empowerment. And the office has so many negative connotations, references and stigmas attached to it that it’s easy to blame the office itself.
Is an Office the problem or is it something else?
The Office seems to be more a banner for everything we hate about work rather than the root problem. It’s a practical solution to bring everyone together who work for a company to be part of a team. But the travelling there, the costs, the impracticalities, the politics etc are problematic. Agreed, but what’s the solution. Remote Working? Some love it, but I like many others have done it and find it a lonely existence. In a world of mental health awareness, is unnatural and self-imposed physical isolation really a wise tactic? I have never suffered any mental health problems fortunately, but even I found it pretty soul destroying sat in a room alone. How about remote working from coffee shops, shared spaces or in the car then? But what about GDPR? In many jobs shared spaces with non-employees would incur a legal breach. What about ideas sharing? Video call? Isn’t it easier and simpler every time you want to bounce an idea off someone just to turn to the left or right of yourself?
The Real Root Problem
The issue is the people themselves. Companies hire people for what they can do rather than who they are. This results in office environments being full of people who dislike each other. But would you want a purely remote relationship from your family and friends? Probably not. What makes more sense rather than a purely remote or purely office environment is the flexibility of both.
For this to work though this cannot just be dictated by the employees or the employer. This idea of employee empowerment can easily be manipulated and skewed. Entitlement by either employer or employee can quickly damage things.
The first thing is to understand your companies’ culture and values and hire only those who fit with that remit exclusively. Train and develop those who need it as many will. Play the long game and accept that talent is often only temporary. You will lose people.
But to make it work offices need to be places where you feel comfortable, around people who you feel an affinity toward. An office needs to be where you have the fluidity and freedom to come to and be away from depending on a balance of your needs as an employee and the needs of the company. This has to be an equal benefit to all and cannot be abused by those in power if it is to work.
The real question this falls on is, “Can this actually happen or are we as people not capable of making that work”?
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