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Coffee Doesn't Make the Office a Destination—Competent Colleagues Do

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Image: imtmphoto - Alamy Stock Photo
There's a Robert Heinlein quote that circulates throughout the Internet in which Heinlein lists an array of skills from the culinary to the combative, and concludes that people should strive to know how to do lots of things because "specialization is for insects."
I think of this quote every time I have to troubleshoot something on my laptop—and I think longingly of the days when I worked in an office with an onsite IT department. Thanks to the way the staff was structured, the IT pros were able to research, plan and deploy ambitious technical projects, and the day's designated support person could help users with the kinds of performance glitches that could otherwise cause someone to lose a day's work.
In this era of remote or hybrid work, many workers are often their own IT helpdesk—or else they're learning the hard way what the limits of remote support are.
When I was at Zoomtopia 2022 last week, I attended a presentation on the office experience and technology design meant to "bring employees back to the office." The presenters walked us through a typical day in the life of the new office-bound worker, from her ability to join meetings while driving to work, to the apps she could use to tell the office barista what coffee she'd like waiting on her arrival and which conference room she'd like to reserve for meeting with the team. What was striking about this office vision meant to lure people back was that it focused very little on the perceived productivity benefits of being onsite; it was all about the office as a third place for a self-contained worker who needed nothing more than a latte waiting at 11 a.m.
Perhaps the office can be a more compelling destination not because a barista's waiting to take your order but because the office is where you can walk over to the people who have the training and experience to do specialized, work-related tasks much more speedily than you can, and beg for help in person. This is not to diminish the great work vendors do to make knowledge management or self-service tools easy to use in the enterprise. But sometimes, you need another person's focused attention and expertise to expedite the process of getting something done, and the office is a great place to bring several interrelated specialists together.
When leaders are iterating their workplace strategies, reminding everyone the role specialists play in helping everyone do a better job can be one of the strongest back-to-office lures they can offer.

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