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Physical Office, We’ve Missed You!


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Earlier this summer, as I started to emerge from the pandemic lockdown, one of the biggest things that hit me was how much I missed human contact. Seeing people in the same physical space, engaging in conversation from a safe distance, and returning to familiar places felt weird at first. Then the feeling of comfort and fellowship began to surface.
Those experiences led me to reflect on the things that we didn’t get a lot of when working from home. Here are four examples:
  1. Collaborative Whiteboarding — Something about the ability to pick up a marker and brainstorm ideas on a whiteboard gets the creative juices flowing. Teams can collect input spontaneously to formulate plans and methods. Conversations and ideas expand and evolve when team members can sit around the table and work out something visually. Having to work remotely and not being able to feed off each other’s energy can stunt these productive activities — and using a digital whiteboard doesn’t have the same impact as using a physical one. Using a digital whiteboard diminishes the unrestrained energy of the brainstorming activity, plus using these tools effectively requires training. That said, availability of this feature set on consumer-oriented touch/pen devices such as the Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad could propel use, but how much enterprises will embrace these solutions remain to be seen.
  2. Huddling Up — In the year or two leading into the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in the number of huddle rooms in the workspace. Huddle rooms are great for short or on-the-fly meetings within a localized area of the workspace — no need for elaborate reservation systems — and also allowed enterprises to create places for people to meet outside the formal conference room. When working remotely, we can’t pop our heads into a coworker’s office to say, “Let's have a quick meeting.” When working remotely, we need to check everybody’s availability on a team schedule. In person, huddles are effective because we can react to a team member’s chemistry, body language, posture, and verbal cues. In a two-dimensional world, many of these reactions are lost. Again, this points to the value of in-person work experience.
  3. Chance Meetings — As humans, we desire to connect socially and emotionally. Relationships are one of the many ways employees find fulfillment in their jobs, and in the office, they look forward to cultivating relationships over the watercooler, at the company coffee bar, or in a break room. During the pandemic, feeling isolated, lonely, and out of the loop became a serious issue for many employees. All the technology in the world cannot replace the casual conversations about families, last night's ballgame, or common interests that come from those chance meetings over a cup of coffee or lunch break. People want to feel seen and acknowledged. It is difficult to connect in our remote work environments when we live in an artificial, perfectly lit, and cultivated workspace.
  4. Dressing for the Office — Over the years the work dress code has relaxed for sure. Rather than the stuffy, buttoned-up, career clothing of the past, many organizations have been able to find work-appropriate attire that matches the work role and company culture. During the pandemic, “business casual” quickly became “look decent from the waist up,” and many people resorted to wearing sweatpants and pajamas since nobody could see their bottom halves. Working in a customer-facing role, I find it important to project a professional image through my clothing, but I do hope others are able to express themselves in how they dress when they return to the office — short of wearing slippers!
Hopefully, the next version of how we work will take the best parts of what we have learned over the last 18 months. Let us include and appreciate coworkers for who they are, and build meaningful relationships and inclusive work environments. Let us also embrace what we have learned about collaboration and technology acceptance.

Denise is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.