Imagine a worker standing in a lobby or elevator, holding a cardboard box. You absolutely can do it, right? You can imagine the potted plant peeking out, or the ceramic coffee cup perched precariously, and the expression on the box-bearer's face depends entirely on whether they're excited to be starting work -- or they've just lost their job.
For many people, their assigned workspace occupied a unique status -- acknowledged as company territory, yet often allowed to become subtly personalized to reflect the worker's authentic self or encourage them to settle in and stop paying attention to the clock.
The 2020 shutdown pushed a lot of people out of these quasi-personal, employer-controlled spaces and into their own, wholly controlled remote workspaces. The comforts of home -- no random lunch thieves, cat companionship on demand, a highly personal space -- have been handy for some. And being asked to go from those comforts back to an office space configured for hoteling is a big ask.
From an employers' perspective, converting a sea of cubicles into a workspace that reflects the reality of fewer people on-site every day is a no-brainer. That's how you get reduced real estate footprints, more collaborative spaces, and a bank of "hoteled" spaces for hybrid workers. It's using your resources wisely in response to changing work conditions.
But telling workers, "Yes, resume commuting and then scramble for a depersonalized space where you'll spend twenty minutes setting yourself up at the beginning of the day, and another twenty minutes breaking down your set-up before heading home. That's absolutely going to boost your productivity and contribute to our corporate culture!" -- it's a hard sell.
The truth is, if you're able to work in a personalized space one, two, or three days a week, then you do cede the claim that you get your own territory in the office too. You're missing your finicky peace lily at work? You'll still have a few days a week at home to remind it you just watered it. If you really want a private office space, you're going to have to commit to being in it five days a week. It's okay to ask workers to decide what they want more: a personalized cube in the office or the latitude to work from home a few days a week.
Workplace strategists have had to enter into an ongoing dialogue with their workforce about balancing the demands of the employer's line of business against the workers' demands for flexibility around when and where they work. The workforce needs to understand that hoteling is the tradeoff -- flexibility is not just for office configurations, it's also for the workplace habits that we acquire and refine as mobile workers.