What if you were the person in charge of office space for your company? Can you imagine the pressure in a world where being in the office five days a week is a thing of the past? What if your CEO wants everyone back to build culture and prevent high turnover?
Nowadays most young (and highly compensated) knowledge worker employees won’t accept an offer without complete flexibility to work from Billings, Boise or some far-flung place. So, what are the brave corporate soldiers who have the burden of managing office use supposed to do? You are pressed to be all things to all people — if they come in.
In that fantastical time before the pandemic, coming into the office every day was all everyone knew. You were assigned a cubicle and told to make the doughnuts. Today, we must earn the right to ask people to come to the office to work. As a friend says, we have to earn the commute. If we are asking someone to wear a dry-cleaned shirt, put the kids and dogs in daycare, pay for gas and parking and get through rush-hour traffic, there should be a clear reason to come in. I like to think of this principle as “the everything bagel workplace.”
To guide your thinking, I want to suggest three reasons a young knowledge worker employee would choose to come in.
1. Inspiration: “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”
We can derive inspiration from leaders, from fellow workers and from understanding why what we are doing can make a difference. Inspirational workplaces lead to the culture that executives so yearn for.
But the old habits of throwing people in cubicles on Zooms for eight hours a day won’t get it done anymore. The workplace experience must feel fresh, fun and motivating. Nice new furniture and paint can help, but today’s office visit is more about the functional leadership needed to make the trip to the physical workplace relevant and have a high ROI.
2. To Convene: “to come or bring together for a meeting or activity; to assemble.”
Why are certain companies leasing millions of square feet of space? Because they know that creative, innovative humans function best when together.
Also, if you are communicating a difficult message, an in-person gathering is the way to go. We have all seen how tough conversations can go sideways or be less effective when handled virtually.
3. To Enable: “to give (someone or something) the authority or means to do something.”
Not all knowledge worker jobs can be done with a laptop and a ring light. If your work requires 3-D printing, biomedical research or designing a new manufacturing process, you just might need access to specialized gear. Does it make sense to buy this equipment and send it home? Where will you put it, how will you maintain it and do the dollars justify sending expensive gadgets to various remote locations?
Sometimes, the answer is no, and it makes more sense to utilize, store and maintain gear in a centralized office setting.
One can become lost in the demands of workers who have spent the past two years at home. It’s understandable. New habits have formed and replacement bunny slippers ordered. But in the next conversation with your CEO or board, perhaps you can use the above framework to focus their thoughts and open their eyes to the fact that the way we work as we know it has changed.
I bet you’ll be popular if you bring some bagels with you as well. Everything, please.