Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll answer them here.
Q: What’s your view on returning to the office?
A: I desperately wish we would, and I’m sure we will — to some extent. But I don’t think it’s going to look like it did before.
Here’s the thing: people need to be with other people. COVID didn’t change that. There will also be some form of in-person gathering, both professionally and socially, unless and until virtual reality gets so good that it can simulate the “vibes” we get from being in one another’s presence.
Having said that, the pandemic has changed a lot of things, probably for the long haul. Being locked down made people realize everything they’d been missing spending all of their time at the office: quality time with children and spouses, time for daily exercise, space for hobbies and leisure activities. Folks spent a lot of time, money, energy, and psychological bandwidth figuring out and setting up their ideal work-from-home (WFH) spaces and arrangements. A lot of people bought new houses or even moved to different parts of the country. They didn’t do all of that work just to un-do it and go back to exactly the way life was before.
The constant refrain that I hear from employees now — my own and my clients’ — is that what they really want is a place they have the option of going to a few days a week. As a small business owner, that’s an annoying concept: I’m supposed to pay for a space seven days a week so that my staff can drop in whenever they feel like it? But yes, that’s exactly what we’re all going to end up doing.
Big tech firms and consulting firms have already invested millions in redesigning their office spaces into “hoteling” paradises. Nobody has their own office or even their own desk. If and when employees decide to head in, there are infinite attractive spaces for them to perch: traditional desks, standing desks, treadmill desks, couches and lounge areas, private phone booths, and endless meeting rooms. Entire downtown landscapes are transforming into miles of endless co-working space.
I loved having a private office and providing the same to my employees. I loved having spaces to work together, yes, but also to go off on our own and focus in silence without the distraction of people constantly buzzing around. Some of my staff gets that from working at home, but as a working parent, I do not.
I kept my beautiful downtown office open as long as I could justify it, hoping that things would return to “normal,” before finally giving up and blessedly, finding a subtenant to take over my commercial lease. For me, paying for an office that nobody wants to come to more than once a week isn’t a smart investment.
We’ll be fully virtual for a few months and then, when things seem a little more predictable, maybe we’ll find ourselves a smaller space that people can drop in and out of. In the meantime, this displaced extrovert is available if any of you want to do lunch.