During these times of COVID-19 related business and office quarantining and closures, companies and their employees are learning new ways to be efficient and productive. Remote working, while certainly a pre-COVID-19 option, has become the new normal. Workers have become adept at completing tasks and projects away from the office, using platforms like remote-desktop for access to business computer servers and Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others to hold meetings. There are certainly arguments for cost and time savings related to having employees work remotely, and to the extent a company has seen this be successful, they may be considering abandoning the physical workplace. Consequently, many are asking if this is the true wave of the future. Can online meeting platforms really replace the crucial connection that people get when having face to face interaction?
While this may be affected by generational differences, it does seem difficult to envision a world where physical office space is abandoned completely. Human interaction is vital both personally and professionally. Not only is it important for teams in an organization to work closely for the sake of collaboration on a project, but in-person mentoring of younger, less experienced workers benefits all involved. Certain business functions are more difficult to accomplish remotely. For instance, remote interviewing of potential employee candidates, while functional, does not completely replace the experience of looking someone directly in the eye and evaluating their responses to questions.
Sophie Lodge of smallbizdaily.com notes in her article “The Benefits of a Physical Office” that there are merits to having a physical office space for your employees, from employee motivation to the social implications. “Worker’s enjoy the teamwork environment of working in an office. If your staff are at work remotely, you have limited communication with them, and there is little sense of comradery among the employees. A physical office space provides them with an area where they can separate their work life from their home life, with an atmosphere that will encourage them to achieve the company goals, as opposed to working from home.” This may become very important as we emerge from the COVID-19 world, and employees are looking to rebound from quarantine.
Similarly, business networking is something that has been put on the sidelines while normal business lunches, trade association meetings and conferences have all been canceled for the time being. People have not only had to find new ways to connect to their fellow employees, but also with their customers, clients and potential customers and clients. As we emerge from the pandemic, there are health and safety benefits of having business meetings with clients and prospective clients in your offices, where you can control the environment and the safety protocols.
Connection with customers and clients is integral to a business. Certainly, while an online presence is imperative, maintaining a physical presence is necessary as well. In the recent article “How Important is Office Branding?” by Oliver Pickup of Raconteur, regarding the importance of keeping physical office space when it comes to brand building in the digital age, he quoted Steve Sharp, director at Fat Cow Media, “Physical experiences leave a longer-lasting impression and offer a more personal opportunity to reach consumers.” While the Raconteur article was not aimed at the effects of COVID-19, the discussion is just as important when a company is considering how it will remain relevant in moving forwarding with business operations.
Ms. Lodge, in her smallbizdaily.com article, also points out that by being able to hold meetings at your office, instead of remotely or off-site, you can maintain “control over the environment you are meeting your client in”, as opposed to meeting elsewhere. That can be important to help control the narrative of the meeting and to present your brand, as well as the health and safety benefits noted above.
Companies may be forced to address the cost of maintaining physical space moving forward, however, in doing so, while re-evaluating what space is necessary, they should make certain that the ability to continue to meet and collaborate in-person remains available. Time will tell how the COVID-19 pandemic affects business in the long-run. Technology has already taken away some of the personal aspects of business. While we can assume that things will not completely return to what was once considered normal business operations, the art of in-person human interaction for employees, customers and clients should not be discounted when making business decisions. Your employees and clients are the lifeblood of your business. Maintaining and strengthening your relationship with them needs to be the focal point of any business plan going forward.