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It’s Time to Get Back to the Office

In the near future, most of us will go back to the office full time. A combination of remote and in-person employment will probably continue as we negotiate the challenges of vaccinations, masks, the latest COVID variant and other safety and health concerns.

Once these challenges are addressed, Californians will return to their workplace, as our staff has done at our headquarters in Sherman Oaks. While remote work offers flexibility and freedom from traffic on Ventura Boulevard and the 101 Freeway, vital social, business and cultural advantages are lost forever.

Returning to work seems to be popular. In a research poll in August by Morning Consult for The New York Times, “45 percent said they wanted to be in a workplace or an office full time, 31 percent said they would prefer to work from home full time. and 24 percent said they wanted to split time between work and home.”  

The Valley Industry and Commerce Association, city of San Fernando and other civic and local government websites offer excellent guidance for employers and employees on COVID and returning to the office.

In many ways, office work is healthier for the employee and the employer. Here’s why:

CULTURE. Every company has rules and norms. Relaxed or rigid, loud or quiet, conventional or innovative, collaborative or competitive. But one can’t experience that from a couch or home office. 

“We learn how to navigate a workplace’s culture by watching other people and how they interact,” the Harvard Business Review notes. “Remote onboarding can be particularly difficult for people who are fairly new to the working world and transitioning from school to a job; they don’t get the opportunity to just see how work works.”

This is true for not just for new employees, but for seasoned veterans. Recent graduates who entered the workforce in the Valley during the pandemic may have never met their coworkers. The result is a suspended and lost culture. Management is forced to rely on the known, experienced employees and new members suffer.

VIRTUAL FATIGUE. While conference room meetings and white boards are seen as “old school,” they offer a change of pace from staring at a screen all day. A study of productivity by the Human Factors Lab of Microsoft last year reported “brainwave markers associated with overwork and stress are significantly higher in video meetings than non-meeting work like writing emails. Further, due to high levels of sustained concentration fatigue begins to set in 30 to 40 minutes into a meeting.”

COLLABORATION. While some of us can network via Zoom, Teams or online for a few weeks, not all progress happens via official meetings. Real Simple magazine notes that “a lot of information sharing happens through short, informal conversations between people over the course of a normal workday. … The physical workplace enables moments of serendipity that can move projects along. You might bump into a colleague while thinking about a problem and ask a question that leads to a new and surprising solution. Maybe you grab a cup of coffee with a few coworkers and that leads to a new product or service.”

Social interactions play a major role in the success of a company’s daily operations. Even the employees of Zoom don’t use Zoom full time. In August, Zoom said it would be “strategically mixing remote and in-office work” while bringing some employees back to the office.

ADVANCEMENT. There’s a cliche about professional athletes – the best ability is availability. The same could be true for visibility. When it’s safe to return, managers and CEOs will welcome back their employees and make plans to sustain and grow their enterprises. Since much of business involves collaboration with leadership at a premium, rising stars may want to remind management of their availability, ability and visibility.

MENTAL HEALTH. Working from home provides some benefits, but it also means more time in close contact with children, spouses and pets, plus the cost of new WiFi routers, laptops, chairs and other necessities. Duke University behavioral economics and psychology professor Dan Ariely told CNBC there is a cost to isolation: 

“During times of lockdowns, quarantines and separation, people have gotten used to isolation and, in many instances, forgotten the value of social interaction.” Many studies have also shown during COVID-19 while working at home, people snacked more and moved around less, adding weight. 

It’s not the same for every business and every employee here in the Valley area or anywhere else. Some companies and job descriptions may benefit more from remote work than others. But for the majority of companies and employees, a return to the office, whatever it looks like, will be inevitable.

David Damus is the chief executive of System Property, a privately held commercial office property and management firm in

 Sherman Oaks.

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