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What’s the Big Deal about Returning to the Office?

We imagine you, along with most people, have an opinion about the necessity of physically working in an office. The unprecedented lockdown that came with COVID-19 showed us that working remotely is possible for many positions, but the question still remains whether it’s the optimal way to do work.

A lot of people have enjoyed the flexibility, the lack of commute and the autonomy that comes with working remotely. However, over time, a growing number of organizations have concluded that working remotely 100% of the time is creating gaps that simply cannot be filled with technology.

Why Would You Choose to Work in the Office?

In this article we will look at some benefits that come with working in an office – even if it is just a couple of days a month.  Although organizations will also benefit from your in-person attendance, this article will primarily focus on the benefits to you, the employee.

To help with this task, Jessica Baron, Executive Recruiter and Senior Consultant with Centennial, will provide her opinion based on her decades of experience as a recruiter, leadership consultant, career coach and her own personal career journey. As she reflects on her various jobs – having worked both in-person and fully remotely – she can identify several key benefits of working in the office, especially early in your career.

Jessica has tracked the career progress of numerous young people and she has seen how working in-person provides benefits that a fully-remote person may not have. Her own experience, coupled with her extensive coaching experience has reinforced the belief that a person’s success greatly depends on relationships. “The people you meet, those you depend on and those who depend on you, are foundational to your success. You form these relationships throughout your life, and they are necessary for reaching goals – both personal and professional.”

In-Person Impact vs Remote Conversations

Your growth and development do not always happen in a structured format. Much of your personal and professional advancement comes from the natural interactions of sharing a common space. “You don’t always realize the impact you have on others because you are simply doing life together, having conversations that move the business forward. These impromptu interactions take place in between scheduled meetings or over the proverbial water cooler. These interactions are less likely to happen with a remote coworker since those conversations are typically more transactional in nature; a phone call to take care of a problem.”

Corporate Culture in the Office

Corporate culture is another reason people benefit from being in the office. The recruiting work Jessica does for Centennial includes a deep dive into the culture of organizations so that the right candidate can be found to complement that culture. “Culture supersedes everything when it comes to hiring and retaining top talent. When people aren’t coming together in a physical office, there may not be much of a culture to keep employees engaged and growing in their abilities.”

You form bonds over many ‘inconsequential’ conversations. These bonds make your workplace healthy and they help develop you as a person and a professional. Being together in the office makes this possible.

Young Professionals and In-Office Work

One of the most pivotal times to be working with other colleagues and developing relationships is at the beginning of your career. When you first enter the workforce, it is helpful to have people around you to answer questions, to show you smarter ways to do things, and to learn the ways of the business. “I gained so much as a young professional when I was able to scoot a chair over to a peer and ask a question or get advice.”

Unfortunately, the younger generation, who experienced the pandemic in the latter part of their schooling, missed out on a lot of in-person learning and close-range onboarding because everything was remote. “These young professionals never had the opportunity to come into an office and so they didn’t form the relationships that you need when you are new in your career. You may have questions and you don’t know who to call. Or you may know who to call but you feel bad interpreting their day because you may not have an established relationship to draw on.”

In all these examples, we don’t want to discount the power of video conferencing. As Zoom became more and more of a household word, people got comfortable jumping on a video call for a personal chat, a business interview, a training session, or a multitude of other reasons. Connections can certainly be made and cultivated remotely, it’s just harder.

10 Truly Beneficial Reasons to Work in the Office

Many benefits were discussed above, but let’s list 10 reasons that working in-person – or hybrid – can be an excellent choice when you are thinking of how to benefit yourself. Most people who work fully remote will probably identify with at least one of these categories (including Jessica!).

1. Elevator Introductions: A friendly introduction of yourself on the elevator can lead to a discovery about the other person’s background, knowledge or connections that can be a great benefit to you.
2. Spontaneous Collaboration: Serendipitous moments of collaboration, where you overhear a conversation or join an impromptu meeting, are more common in office environments. These spontaneous interactions can lead to new ideas, partnerships, or solutions to problems.
3. Face-to-Face Meetings: You can get a better read on people when meeting face-to-face. This provides an advantage in understanding what is really being said. You can pick up on nuances such as body language and facial expressions, which can help in understanding and building rapport.
4. Lasting Impression: You are more likely to be remembered when you meet in person. According to this Forbes article, “In person, you’re more likely to make a personal connection, create a lasting impression and communicate effectively.” This can serve you well as you advance your career.
5. Team Building Activities: Activities such as team lunches, after-work drinks, or team-building exercises are more effective when conducted in person. These activities promote bonds that give us the belonging we all seek.
6. Mentorship and Coaching: Being physically present in the office allows for more spontaneous mentorship and coaching opportunities. Experienced colleagues can provide guidance and support in real-time, observing your work and offering feedback as needed.
7. Humanizing Your Coworkers: Being physically present in the office allows you to observe subtle cues and nuances that make you aware that someone is going through a tough time. This gives you the opportunity to offer encouragement and comfort, with the very real possibility that you may be on the receiving end of that same compassion one day.
8. Staying Top of Mind: If you are looking to advance in your career or expand your skills, being present and visible makes you more likely to get pulled into new projects. Your in-office attendance will naturally make it easier to loop you in to whatever is going on. Conversely, remote workers may be unaware of new opportunities as they surface.
9. Immediate Feedback: In an office, you can quickly approach a colleague or supervisor for feedback on a project or idea. This immediacy can lead to faster iteration and improvement compared to remote work, where communication may be delayed.
10. Expanding Your Network: The people you need in your network are more than those in the C-suite. Your office peers are valuable relationships to cultivate. They will provide the support and network connections you need in life.

As more organizations ask for a return to the office, it is helpful to consider how time spent in office can come with benefits. Jessica is quick to admit that her comments are not based on in-depth research, but rather her observations and personal experience. “Every situation is going to be a little different.” However, from what she’s observed, she believes that you can build relationships best when you are face-to-face and that’s important because, “Your ability to build relationships and connections is key to your long-term growth.”