Especially with the emergence of coronavirus, it could seem like arguments are mounting against the traditional work place. Between commuting, sitting, a lack of focus, and now the risk of COVID, offices are getting a bad rap. Virtual working arrangements have real benefits -- especially when it comes to driving employee health and satisfaction -- but offices still have a few tricks left up their sleeves, too.
By definition, coming to work is commuting, and long commutes are hard on your workers. Research shows that commutes over 10 miles are correlated with high blood pressure, and those over 15 miles can contribute to obesity. The time wasted commuting is time that your workforce can't spend working, sleeping (which is good for health and productivity) or engaged in leisure activities or family time (which are also good for health and productivity). Long commutes also sap job satisfaction, which can affect performance and health.
The High Cost of Sitting
Most offices are filled with (give or take) 30 inch tall surfaces and chairs. They're places where people sit, and sitting can be fatal. At least one study reported on by the Mayo Clinic equated sitting for 8 hours as being as dangerous as smoking. Standing desks are available, but most offices offer them sparingly, if at all. Walking and standing meetings, which are also antidotes to sitting, are also rare in most workplaces.
Focus Work and Open Floor plans
As of the 2020's, open floor plans are still common in American workplaces. While they have benefits, they also come with constant interruptions, which makes it hard for people who need to concentrate to do their work. This floor plan is particularly challenging for introverted workers who need private spaces to do their best. Research shows that these floor plans reduce productivity and job satisfaction while increasing stress.
Density and Coronavirus
When you work alone and you're healthy, you're surrounded by healthy people (you!). When you work in an office and you're healthy, it's likely that you're going to be surrounded by a mix of healthy and sick people. When the people around you have a cold or a harmless tummy bug, this is unpleasant and inconvenient. If you're in an office with people who have something more serious like a bad case of influenza or COVID-19, this could be fatal. Offices spread sickness (paywall) -- including coronavirus.
There is a seemingly easy way to eliminate all of the problems with the office. Get rid of the office. Allowing your employees to work virtually eliminates most of these problems. Employees that work from home don't have to commute, aren't exposed to additional sick people, are free to sit or stand as they wish, and can concentrate as much as they want. Working from home also frees workers up to dress comfortably, have access to windows, and save time to use more wisely.
Bridging Real and Virtual
All of that being said, virtual work isn't without its challenges for many companies. Some employees need hands-on management. Some cultures need people to be constantly present. And it's very hard to make collaboration happen if people aren't in the same room.
In an age where it's likely that periods of home-based work will get forced by external factors like coronavirus, the answer is to find a way to bridge a real office with virtual workers. Instead of treating the office like a default answer, treat it like a tool in your box of business solutions. Sometimes you need a drill and sometimes you need a hammer. Sometimes workers need to be off-site to focus or to dodge a COVID-19 filled sneeze. And sometimes they need to be in the office for a crucial team meeting. Flexibility allows you to get the best of both worlds.
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