The Pros, Cons and Changing World of the Return to Office Workplaces
The exodus towards working from home (WFH) expanded beyond certain industries and professionals to almost every sector with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to fast advances in technology. Suddenly a new era of work was born. Employees who could perform their duties remotely were sent home with an unknown date to return to the office.
Workers inevitably discovered both the joys and the despairs of WFH arrangements, but above all, they realized that a better work-life balance was within easier reach. For the first time, they could have it all: a satisfying career and a rich and healthy personal life. Going to the office was the past until, well, it wasn’t. If you’re among those who have had to return to work in the office or switched to a new job requiring you to be on-site for any amount of time, brace yourself, all is not lost. In this article, we show you why.
The History of the Office Environment
Those employers that so adamantly reject alternative working options perhaps don’t realize that the concept of the office as a place of work has been changing over the years and that working from home is not really a modern invention. In fact, we can trace both phenomena to ancient Roman times.
The Romans were the first to have “officia” meaning bureaus, and people taking care of administrative and organizational tasks in their business district, the forum. They were also the first to start working from home since they could not return to their offices after the fall of the Roman Empire. Others simply started living above their shops and employed workers with whom they shared the work and housing.
It was only in the 20th century when America launched office life as we know it. First, there was the open-plan office, a space inspired by factories. Then from the 1970s to the 1990s, it was the era of cubicles and c-suites meant to promote independent work. Fast forward to the 2000s and we were back at open offices to foster collaboration and creativity.
When the pandemic hit in 2019, we couldn’t return to work in person, so we stayed home and used technology to interact. Knowing exactly what the future of work will hold is impossible, but more and more recruiters and companies are understanding their employees’ needs and betting on returning to the office, albeit with more flexible work arrangements.
The Pros and Cons of Returning to the Office
Even if they are highly subjective and you don’t necessarily agree with them, it’s undeniable that going back to the office has both benefits and challenges. Here are some of the reasons why a return to work in person can be extremely beneficial to employees and companies:
Pro 1: Better Work-Life Separation
The office life with a clear schedule and set hours might not work for everybody, but for many, it’s not only ideal but necessary. Those who struggle with time management, are easily distracted by the temptations of WFH, or simply want to establish boundaries are just a few examples. On top of that, there are also people that feel more productive in the office due to not having an appropriate dedicated workspace at home. Think about young professionals sharing apartments or parents with children.
Without clear physical boundaries of home and work, many also fall prey to working extra hours to finish projects or answering that last email, starting a vicious cycle that can cause them to feel overwhelmed and even burnout. Showing up to the office, doing your thing, and then leaving, on the other hand, allows you to put both a mental and physical distance between your responsibilities.
Pro 2: Less Loneliness and Feelings of Isolation
While many workers report a huge relief from not having to socialize with colleagues after work, the truth is that there are just as many for whom working from home ends up feeling lonely. They feel so isolated that they return to the office mostly because they crave connection. Connecting with people is especially important to older job seekers.
Video calls can’t truly provide this and can’t make up for those casual exchanges you might have over coffee or lunch. Plus, interacting only with one’s household isn’t enough. According to many studies, 70% of employees report that having work friends is crucial to a happy working life, and the office is often critical for that. It’s not just friendship though; not going to the office also makes it more difficult to network and meet new professionals, which is essential for landing new working opportunities in many industries.
Pro 3: Increased Sense of Belonging and Purpose
If you work from home, never return to the office and barely interact with coworkers or managers, it can be easy to be absorbed by your daily tasks and forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. To put it simply, you start to lose the sense of purpose for your work.
And that is something that businesses fear as it brings a disconnection with company culture as well. Even when no one wants to go back to the office, many tech giants push for returning to the office precisely for this reason. Without a shared company culture, businesses can rarely thrive in the long term.
Some even go as far as claiming that if we never return to the office, we’ll lose not only friendships, easier collaborations, and organizational culture, but also our overall professionalism and ambitions. Without a boss to impress and learn from, who will we push to be better for? Plus, cities will end up looking more like deserted Edward Hopper paintings than the bustling ecosystems they’ve always been.
The return to office also inevitably brings a few setbacks. Here are the most important:
Con 1: Time Lost Commuting and Little Flexibility
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average one-way commute in the United States is 27.6 minutes, meaning we lose around an hour going to and from the workplace. And remember that in the biggest and busiest cities that time might be more than double. With such a prospect it’s no surprise that 26% of people would rather get a root canal, and 28% would rather work during their lunch breaks than return to the office full-time.
Commuting is not the only reason why we might assume that almost no one wants to go back to the office though. We can’t forget the general lack of flexibility. 73% of people would lose the perk of doing quick chores like laundry or dishes, many could not pick up their kids from school, go to a medical appointment during lunch time and much more. Job flexibility is the most important factor driving job seekers’ careers, especially for young people.
Con 2: Additional Costs
Returning to the office means having to budget again for a range of costs. While working from home, people might have decided to ditch the car or move farther out from the workplace, thus going back would mean extra travel expenses. Others might have abandoned the smart and expensive suits in favor of more comfy clothes and may now even have to reinvest in cosmetics.
Plus, parents spending their days in the office would also have to deal with kids’ caregiver expenses that they otherwise would not need. And let’s not forget that the convenience and affordability of eating at home goes out the window when you’re back in the business district with its many cafes.
Con 3: Exposure to Illness
Understandably, since Covid-19 hit the world, more and more people are concerned with their health in the workplace. It’s a driving career factor for as much as 35% of candidates. A return to the office can not only make it easier to catch any disease, but it also often means being tied to a desk. Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle with six hours per day sitting can increase your mortality rate by 71%.
Working from home on the other hand allows you to be more active, such as taking calls while standing or walking around and exchanging your commute time for that morning run. Those who are more attentive to their health might even have a treadmill under their standing desks.
Things to Ease Your Return to the Office
Considering the above pros and cons and that 66% of workers would quit their jobs if required to return to the office full-time, the future work solutions seem to point to flexible work and hybrid working. The office will adapt to employees rather than the other way around.
Flexible working solutions such as more elastic hours that allow people to run personal errands and establishing certain work-from-home days are a good compromise for both employees and companies. Even 49% of recruiters think that such a move can help retain talent and avoid employees fleeing the scene.
To encourage employees to return to the office, companies are also listening and trying to answer workers’ needs by providing a series of benefits, such as:
- Better-designed spaces. Creating highly functional spaces like co-working areas, hot desking tech or “worktivity” (work+creativity) spaces is key to making employees as comfortable as possible while working in the office.
- Commuter stipend. Some companies are offering to cover costs for travel expenses, including the cost of parking or public transportation.
- Catering. How does free food sound? To lure employees back to the office, it’s getting more popular to offer free breakfasts or lunch. Large companies have even gone as far as creating market-style food halls or having food truck days.
- Childcare and pet care. Whether it’s helping with the costs of childcare or pet care, or directly providing on-site daycare options, businesses are making an effort to support families and fur parents.
- Casual attire. Unless required to attend specific engagements, employees can dress in less formal clothing more often, even in some more traditional industries.
- Fitness classes, sport facilities and on-site events. To help workers be healthier and happier, some firms are creating sport facilities, inviting experts in for fitness classes and even throwing free concerts.
Find Your Perfect Return to the Office or Commit to WFH with Help from Monster
Whether you’re looking for the productivity of a dedicated space, or if instead the thought of a return to work in the office doesn’t meet your needs anymore, Monster is your perfect ally to find a new position that does. Just create a free candidate profile and upload your resume. Tell us what roles you’re looking for and we’ll send you job offers matching your criteria as soon as they’re published. On top of that, companies and recruiters will be able to contact you directly with new and exciting opportunities.