Do I need an office?

Reposted from OFH CEO Marc Schwartzberg's Linkedin.

With all the change and disruption due to the worldwide pandemic, so many office workers and business leaders are wondering – Do I need an office? I remember it well, back in March of 2020, when Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated all non-essential businesses close their doors effective Monday March 16, 2020. I thought it wouldn’t matter to me. I’ll still go to work every day. That plan lasted until my wife Jill said “you can’t go to the office.” I got on my bike Sunday evening before the shutdown to pick up some essentials from the office and start working from home.

Here we are 18 months later. We have adapted to this new way of working. We are flexible, resilient humans and we have done what humans excel at; we have evolved to a new way of working. I wonder if this evolution is an improvement.

For some workers, the answer is a resounding 'Yes!' If your daily commute took up hours each day; if most of your work is independent and needs lots of concentration; if you have a dedicated space in your home with reliable high speed internet access and well-functioning communication technology, then you are in this category. Ricardo, our Director of Finance & HR falls into this category. He was a remote worker prior to the pandemic. The rest of us caught up to him. A home office works very well for Ricardo; he thrives there.

There are others who are very agile and flexible. Hard workers who can work anywhere. They are usually very comfortable with technology, they can respond to texts and email on their watch. They can work from their bath or bed, a camper or motorcycle, from any location at any time. These workers are often happiest with convenience. Ian, our Director of Operations falls into this category. He thrives anywhere.

For me, space is very important. I like to look around and see the things that bring me inspiration and joy. There are physical things that I ‘need’ nearby. As much as I try to go paperless, I still need files. I live in a small NYC apartment with little privacy. I like being around others. Perhaps it’s because I’m competitive. I like seeing how other people work. I observe others to see if I can learn something new or do it better. I enjoy human interaction—saying hello, being friendly. It brings me joy. Don’t get me wrong. I need uninterrupted focus time as well. However, I think it’s natural and healthy to break that up at times. I often need to meet with others outside of my company, so having a centrally located hub is an important key to my productivity. Also, I love my commute. I bike every day regardless of the weather. It’s a treasured time for me. As soon as I could go back to the office, I did. 

As my company grows and we hire new people I’m reminded how important a gathering space is. We have adapted to setting times for video calls and I’m grateful for the convenience; thankfully, they are with us forever. However, I find that a video call cannot replace an in-person face-to-face meeting. Casual conversation, having a colleague close by to answer a question, or share common experiences, fears and dreams, are all positive professional experiences. A cup of coffee, snack, or the breaking of bread are essential parts of our human experience. The in-person personal, professional, and collegial relationships we build in the office are an essential element of company culture.

I’m in the office furniture business. How can I be objective? That’s a fair question. We’ll find out together what the future holds for the office. You know where I stand. Please let me know what you think.

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