6 things we will (and won’t) miss about the office

With home working now accepted, there are things employees may miss out on away from the office, but there are also aspects of the workplace they won’t regret leaving behind
Miss and won't miss about office

Things we will miss

Office romances
Offices don’t just breed ideas and innovation, they’ve long been fertile grounds for love. It’s hardly surprising. Managers might well disapprove, but when office culture is such that people regularly put in eight-hour or longer daily stints, inter-colleague collaboration can quickly turn into something much more, especially when studies reveal some people’s entire social sphere is through work.

Data from CareerBuilder shows 36 per cent of office workers have, at some point, dated a colleague, with between 10 and 25 per cent of marriages thought to originate from romances that blossomed in the office. Office workers are serial matchmakers too, often introducing colleagues to their own circle of friends.

So with at-work interaction all but dead at the moment, so too could many people’s love lives be. Psychologists suggest a snatched day in the office every so often is not sufficient to get to know people at a deep enough level to trigger love.

Our overall mental health could be the worse for not finding at-work friendships. New research by Milkround finds millennials want, and seek, real friendships through work, and 75 per cent of those who say they struggle to make friends at work say it has a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

Those who say they’ll miss nothing about office culture are in the minority – just 13 per cent according to data from collaboration provider Unipos – and by far the biggest thing they say they miss is informal face-to-face chit-chat (71 per cent).

“We’re social creatures and it’s lots of micro-moments that make us feel more connected to our colleagues and even connected to the purpose of the business,” argues Noreena Hertz, author of just-published book The Lonely Century.

Chit-chat doesn’t just build camaraderie; it gives us all a sense of normality and familiarity

“Bosses need to embrace remote working with caution, because what they’ll gain in reduced financial costs, they’ll lose in terms of loyalty and productivity and shared values.”

According to Stephanie Davies, former stand-up comic, turned psychologist and founder, of consultancy Laughology: “Chit-chat is everything from saying hello to the receptionist, to someone stopping someone as they see them, to develop an idea.

“Chit-chat doesn’t just build camaraderie; it gives us all a sense of normality and familiarity. It also gives us a social boost of dopamine, that creates what psychologists call social capital.”

Nicola Downing, chief operating officer of Ricoh Europe, adds: “There is no substitute for unplanned interactions. We’ve all learnt something new about our business, customers or industry when ‘talking and walking’ with a colleague. While chats by the watercooler can seem passé, impromptu conversations in the office lead to better relationships, ideas and outcomes.”

Training and development
“The pressing and devastating impact of moving to remote-first ways of working will be lost learning opportunities, especially among younger workers,” says David Spencer-Percival, founder of Life Science People.

“The benefits people get in the early stages of their career through learning on the job cannot be underestimated and it provides a foundation for how they will perform during the rest of their lives.”

Dr Sophie Ward, programme team leader for postgraduate psychology at Arden University, says that due to a lack of visibility, there’s a very real chance remote workers will now get left behind. “They could miss out on training opportunities and/or be passed over for a promotion,” she says.

Evidence suggests staff are now realising for themselves that being out of sight could indeed see them out of mind too, with LinkedIn this month revealing that employees are having to take matters into their own hands. It found workers have invested more than 1.3 million hours learning new skills over the past year, a 153 per cent increase compared to the previous year. The most popular skills being developed include strategic thinking, developing emotional intelligence and time management.

Things we won’t miss

The commute

Take your pick: an hours’ commute or a three-second walk from one room to another? Some 34 per cent of people, according to e-days, find the sheer grind of commuting is enough of an annoyance to maintain a preference for working from home.

Notwithstanding new-found health fears of being on public transport, some staff were already tiring of the daily commute. According to human resources consultancy Robert Half, 23 per cent of workers claim to have quit their jobs due to their commute, rising to a third among those aged 18 to 34.

The Office for National Statistics says women feel most strongly about commuting to work; women who have an hour-long commute are 29.1 per cent more likely to leave their jobs than if they had a ten-minute journey, compared to 23.9 per cent for men.

Even though some people don’t have room at home, particularly flat-sharers, on balance they seem to be prepared to put up with this. Flexible workspace provider OSiT found 72 per cent of workers say avoiding commuting has been the main benefit of working from home.

Pre-coronavirus, one in seven workers spent a wasteful two or more hours a day getting to and from the office, and paying a lifetime £135,000 for the privilege, according to research from Instant Offices.

It will be a real struggle trying to convince people to pay to come back to offices when COVID-19 dies down

Jessica Heagren, founder of flexible working recruitment consultancy That Works For Me, says: “People are realising they can be doing other stuff now with their previous commute time. They don’t miss the office culture of old and aren’t rushing to get back to it. Instead they’re doing things that emotionally or physically enrich them. Data shows people who feel they control the hours they work do 20 per cent more work in 20 per cent less time.
“It will be a real struggle trying to convince people to pay to come back to offices when COVID-19 dies down.”

Bullying and discrimination

While Zoom calls rarely recreate the spontaneity and vibrancy of a bustling office, significant new data finds this technology ushering in positive changes to a form of office culture many won’t miss: bullying and discrimination.

New post-lockdown research by Culture Shift finds 37 per cent of employees felt more likely to experience something they would describe as bullying or harassment in the workplace, compared to 26 per cent while working from home.

Culture Shift chief executive Gemma McCall says: “With findings like this, there won’t be a stampede back to the office, because people sense that if they do, old ways will return too.”

Meanwhile, without an office to be judged in, people could be hired and assessed according to their skills or output, rather than their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

Dr Esther Canónico, lecturer and researcher at the London School of Economics, says people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who face significant employment challenges, will benefit from a more level playing field. “Communications associated with teleworking often suit workers with ASD,” she says.

“Working remotely allows less neurotypical people to have more control on aspects of their workspace, for instance noise and light levels, than they would otherwise have at the office.”

Office irritants, meetings and hot-desking

While there’s plenty a happy office culture provides, for legions of newly confident home workers, one thing they certainly won’t be missing is the contagion of constant interruption.

A post-lockdown poll by Capterra among 500 small business employers found 27 per cent of staff say they welcomed disappearing distractions and the ability to get on with work unimpeded.

Other data suggests employees would happily live without having to work alongside loud, rude, unhygienic and smelly colleagues. Pet peeves, an AXA PPP Healthcare study found, include working with colleagues with “disgusting” habits, such as nose-picking and eating messily in front of them.

Now online meetings have to be scheduled, rather than convened by rounding people up at the drop of a hat, staff won’t be pining for meetings for meetings sake.

Also, staff who hated hot-desking will be breathing a sigh of relief. “Many office workers are creatures of habit, fiercely protective of their right to create their own base camps in the office,” says Gavin Sutton, head of learning and development at media agency Ogilvy UK.

“The advent of more working from home means hot-desking will no longer be ‘a thing’ and many will applaud this. Most of an employee’s desk work will be done at home, while the office could become more about community, collaboration, co-creation, working sessions and anything else that it might be deemed advantageous to carry out in person.”