Is the Office a Clubhouse?

by Thom van Wijk
Scalehub WBW-7

There is a lot of discussion going on about how many days employees will or should work from the office. It is a difficult time for companies trying to establish their new normal for the near and far future of their work.

We are all looking at the usual suspects to step forward; often it’s the major tech companies who are in the lead on the subject of work culture, with their policies widely reported in the news. 

Like at the tech companies, most of us are knowledge workers, and we can do our work remotely. So how does one decide on how many days employees should work in the office? What makes sense? And will all the appeals simply be accepted?
Maybe the best starting point is not to open with a discussion on how many days in the office is reasonable. Maybe a good starting point is to look at why one would want to come back and work from the office

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A place to meet

To put it simply: No one will argue that there is a point to meeting each other when working together. Also, probably no one will argue that meeting online exclusively, turned out to be not all that. We have a case for – regularly – meeting in real life. To avoid having to arrange space everytime we want to have a little meetup, we can decide to go to a place that we know is meant to help us meet. Well hello again office.

Since most of us have missed regular social contact, a new role for the office has emerged. Actually not new, the importance just has become so much more clear. The office plays a vital role in our daily social interaction. Sounds like a no brainer? Obviously it is, so why all this tension around the “how many days”-issue?

Maybe we can clear some of that tension by shifting the focus from the office being a place we have to go to work to an office being a – very convenient – place we want to meet.

Online meeting is not all that

We are not talking about just how tiring it can be, or how all of that online meeting seems to take away too much time from deep work. 

Meeting online is often in big groups and only about work, which hardly leaves any space (or time) for deep dives into anyone’s personal wellbeing. Meeting online, we have less (or none) of the simple chats before or afterwards, or at least not without others zooming in on whatever we are talking about. Less one-on-one interaction, no sense of privacy. Meeting online, it’s harder to get everyone to speak their mind and to clearly give space or take up space to be heard. All the technical challenges aside.

A partial online environment can work, but we don’t believe in a “zoom-only” future.

Social encounters of the first kind

The most important reason for not wanting to meet online only, is that we are missing out on high quality interaction. Online, there is no chance meetings, no surprises, no serendipity, no simple flirting or real exchange of energy, and this is often where the magic happens. Magic, for example, being: Innovation, sparking new ideas and building strong teams.

We need real social encounters. The flow of a face to face conversation or interaction can’t be replaced. When we meet our coworkers face to face, we get to know them for more than their work – we define them not only by what we professionally need from them and how quick we can get it. If we know each other well, we work harder out of a sense of obligation; we want to help each other out. And how about just how nice it is to simply look your coworker in the eye every now and then, and how this can ease any tension. 

We need the opportunity to see each other. The world of work is a social world and its success depends on people’s relationships with each other. 

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Maybe the office is a Clubhouse

A little bit like the booming app but more like the place that housed all our friends and hobbies when we were kids, a clubhouse ensures that we get to meet and talk to each other. A base for sharing interests and activities but above all the root of a much more important matter: building and maintaining relationships.

We are not trying to promote the office just as being a place to talk –  we would have everybody exhausted and running back home in no time. But certainly, compared to all the online meeting, there is a point to valuing the office as a place for essential social encounters. It’s where we welcome and get to know new people. It is where we share experiences. It’s where we really connect and get a sense of belonging. This is not futile.

When you were a kid, you did not have to go to your clubhouse, you wanted to.