Many companies are moving their remote workers back into offices, sparking mixed reactions across the board.
This shift seems to be driven by the idea that when teams work in person, they’re more innovative. Some attribute this to the “water cooler effect,” which suggests that unplanned interaction inspires great ideas.
Move back to the office
Quite a few companies have downsized their remote worker programs in recent years, moving their teams back into the office.
Google has been against working remotely for quite a while, saying that they employ as few telecommuters as possible.
Marissa Mayer, a former high-up at Google, became CEO of Yahoo! in 2012. By 2013, she told thousands of employees that they could no longer work from home, citing in a memo that “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”
Many other companies, in vastly different fields, have eliminated their remote workers. From Reddit to Honeywell, many remote workers had their lives disrupted in the name of cultivating stronger teams.
IBM recently ended up in the spotlight for reining their employees in, moving many of their teams to work “shoulder to shoulder” at one of six locations. As of this year, remote employees have to do their work from their team’s assigned office. On-site employees also have been asked to move if their team was moved a different office.
Reinventing office spaces
Office spaces are unique facet of productivity, inspiring (or hindering) employees through construction and planning.
Steve Jobs was one of many CEOs to set up his office to encourage unplanned meetings, centering Pixar’s office around an atrium. Jobs even wanted to cluster the bathrooms in one building, forcing more organic interaction, but that idea was vetoed.
Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs’ biography, quoted Jobs talking about the design of Pixar.
“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” Jobs said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
Facebook is another company that heavily values its office dynamic. Back in 2015, it offered to pay Silicon Valley employees $10,000 to live closer to the office. In its other cities, Facebook provides workers with flexible and fun headquarters.
Facebook’s New York office has an open layout, and though every employee has a desk, they’re welcome to do their work from nooks with couches and chairs that are scattered around the building.
Though it can seem unnecessary, since companies have the technology to allow remote work, centralizing employees simplifies many processes. It’s hard to coordinate entire teams via telecommuting, and it makes it nearly impossible for workers to interact organically.
Customizing an office to optimize impromptu interaction may take more time, but many companies believe that it pays off in the long run. And though it may be tough to round up remote employees, many companies believe the switch is worth the risk.
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