The future of the office may surprise you. That’s the point

The future of the office may surprise you. That’s the point
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Not everyone will feel the same about the return to the office — something that’s now on the horizon for many people.

Some workers will be happy to swap their home office/bedroom/kitchen table/ironing board for an actual desk, with actual colleagues to interact with. It’ll make a change from having just their housemates, partners, pets or pot plants for company.

Others will be reluctant: for many office workers, the move to working from home has, despite the downsides, offered more flexibility and the chance to reclaim the hours otherwise swallowed by the commute.

Home working might have started out as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, but has now become part of their working life. Companies that insist on everyone being back in the office every day will face significant resistance from those who now prefer home to the office — and have a year of evidence to prove they can be effective there, too.

Worse, as many staff consider their options, after a year when switching jobs was particularly difficult, being too draconian about a return to the office could provoke a wave of quitting — hence the idea of ‘the great resignation’ to come.

Even if many employees are desperate to get back to the office, it would be a mistake for companies to return to exactly how things were before the pandemic struck. The changed rhythm of our working lives over the last year cannot simply be ignored, and staff who go back expecting everything to be the same as it was, should be surprised. Smart managers will rethink their expectations of office work.

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The office, reimagined

The office should become a place of collaboration and inspiration, not silent and soulless cubicles. Managers should be obliged to justify to their superiors the (often significant) expense of providing a desk in a busy city centre. At the same time, they should also be able to justify to their staff why they are asking them to dress for the office and suffer the stress and strain of commuting.

For a long time companies, especially in tech, have used perks to keep workers in the office for longer. That free food is there to discourage staff from wandering off at lunchtime, or to tempt them to stay a little later to finish off their projects.

Such perks will continue to allure, but companies will also have to think about how to support and reward their remote staff. Great coffee in a fancy office isn’t going to create much loyalty for staff that never visit it, after all. The connection with your staff needs to be deeper than the froth on a flat white in a funky breakout area. That connection could start with a proper conversation about the best way to work, wherever that may be.

Going straight back to business as usual is at best unimaginative and at worst risks an exodus of staff. Before you open the doors of the office, come up with some better ideas for the future of work that can surprise everyone.

ZDNET’S MONDAY MORNING OPENER 

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America. 

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