June 9th, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter
Offices are a relic that we keep using to justify work.
Think about it like this — if offices had never existed, and a bunch of us were building a startup, do you think anyone would agree with this proposal:
"Let's find a spot that's inconvenient to get to, separates us from our lives, requires us to work in the least comfortable setting, and leaves us doing essentially the same thing we did at home."
"Oh, also, let's pay a fortune for it."
Whoever made that insane proposal would probably get booted off the management team! And yet, here we are, clinging to that relic of a working environment like it's a badge of honor.
Culture is incredibly important, but let's not hard code the concept of "having culture" to "having an office." Offices are typically the least personal ways people can interact, so why are they optimal for building interpersonal connections with the staff?
In any other context would you ever try to "bring people closer" by sticking them at a desk for 9+ hours a day and occasionally feeding them free snacks? That sounds more like a science experiment than a true attempt at building relationships.
We do want people to feel more connected, but is that really the best method? Wouldn't we be better served to bring people together around things they actually enjoyed doing, or at the very least, in a way that's conducive to wanting to get to know the person next to you?
There are certain folks who most certainly are more productive in a focused environment — that's why we used to study at a library in college. But we lost the ability to "control" work getting done the moment Facebook released a mobile app. While the office may signify productivity, it doesn't create it. That's still the job of managers, goals, and outcomes.
That doesn't mean there aren't certain cases where an office is more purpose-built for certain types of work, especially if there is a physical component to the work being done. But we have to break ties from the tired concept that "offices drive work." They do for productive people but guess what, those aren't the people we are concerned about anyway!
Being in proximity to peers certainly helps drive some serendipitous collaboration — no doubt. But how much are we talking about? If it's a role that requires non-stop communication between a group of people, and that communication is best suited for being in-person, then of course having a space to share is important.
But how often does that really happen to most of the people in the organization? When we had our offices at Startups.com, I sat in the same room with the entire staff (it was a big room) and you could hear a pin drop for most of the day. Now, we were all collaborating non-stop, we were just doing it via chat and email.
If it's the case that we need an office to drive collaboration, we should refine that goal and say "These 10 people need an office to drive collaboration — the other 100 don't" — and devise a solution accordingly.
This isn't to say that meeting in person isn't wonderful — it is. It's just high time we stop thinking of our only solution to collaboration, culture, and "work" to be an overpriced box that no one wants to go to.
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Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.