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Why Every Company Needs an Office

This summer, Knak moved into its very first office. (An office, by the way, which has some very strict COVID-19 guidelines; see the sidebar at the end of this blog.)

After years of having every employee work from home, with occasional meetings at a coffee shop or in my backyard or basement, we now have proper office space, with desks and tables and meeting rooms, where we all can work.

It may sound crazy for us to be renting office space when just about every company is telling employees to work from home because of COVID-19.

But I believe that at some point in a company’s growth, having an office becomes essential.

The office doesn’t have to accommodate all the employees all the time. In fact, I favour a hybrid model, with employees working sometimes from home and sometimes from the office.

But I believe that having that office, that hub where everyone can gather, is important. Here’s why:

1. An office helps build a shared sense of purpose

People enjoy getting to know their colleagues. Working on projects together lets that happen while building team spirit and a sense of camaraderie. 

Team spirit is essential if the company is to be successful, and it just doesn’t happen in the same way if people aren’t together physically.

Case in point: We recently gathered as many members of our team as we could in my backyard to build a marketing email using our product. This included non-technical people like our controller and our lead sales person.

Being together physically generated a creative buzz that resulted in both a better product and a shared sense of mission.

2. An office makes it easier to build a company culture

A company culture is a shared set of beliefs, values, and practices that underpin the way a company functions. It determines how a company works internally – how employees interact with each other and with management – as well as how it deals with customers.

Simply having an office won’t ensure you have a good company culture, but it will make it easier for a good culture to develop since everyone will be able to see how people engage with each other, solve problems and handle collaborative projects. Good practices can be encouraged, and problematic behaviours nipped in the bud.

And even if all your employees don’t work in the office – 50% of our employees remain remote – lessons learned can be taught to remote employees.

3. Working in an office can be social and fun

Anyone who has spent the last few months in Zoom meetings can tell you that they aren’t conducive to spontaneous fun. Yes, Zoom is useful, and we use it all the time. But Zoom interactions remain somewhat awkward, especially since in most cases there can be only one conversation going on at once. And those conversations are usually very business-like.

That’s just not the way people behave in real life.

Being in an office allows people to interact in a more natural way. They will joke and tease and share stories. In doing so they will reveal more of themselves, and become real people to their colleagues.

4. Working in an office makes it easier to focus

Those 20 people in the Zoom meeting – are they all paying attention to what you’re saying? Or have some of them got other things up on their screens? If you’re all together in the same room, without the screens, it’s easier to keep things focused

5. Working in an office is more productive

Why? Because it makes collaboration easier.

People can spontaneously bounce ideas off one another, feed off everyone’s energy, and get into a state of flow.

That’s just reality. If you’re not together in person, it becomes all too easy for some to zone out, especially if the topic being discussed has not grabbed everyone’s attention. 

When you’re together physically you can read each other’s body language, lighten the mood and get everyone to refocus in a way that just doesn’t happen when you’re meeting via video.

6. An office encourages serendipitous meetings

Random meetings in hallways or in the lunchroom can generate great ideas or solve persistent and annoying problems. Those random meetings won’t happen if you’re not sharing the same physical space.

Also, when you bump into colleagues you are more likely to share the little wins (or the little frustrations) that don’t merit a video conference or an email but which go a long way to boost confidence or create a shared sense of mission.

7. Working in an office builds community

People who work together learn about each other’s lives outside work. They also get to know each other’s values, motivations and interests. I firmly believe that companies whose employees are able to connect on a personal level are more effective.

8. An office helps you mentor junior employees

As companies that sent everyone home because of the pandemic are now finding out, it’s very difficult to train or onboard new employees if they’re not in an office.

Seasoned employees can probably work remotely without too much problem. But new hires, especially young ones who don’t have much experience in the workforce, need guidance. They might need training in how to do their job, or they might need to be instructed in some of the finer points of company culture, or they might profit from hearing stories that explain a company’s history or its way of doing things. It’s easier to share all of this information in person. And it’s easier to do that when you see each other at meetings, in the hallways or in the lunchroom.

9. An office can make it easier to recruit 

For various reasons, an office is appealing to some people.

For example, it can make it easier to recruit new employees by making the company seem more established.

Other potential employees may want to work in an office because they lack decent work space at home, or because they have small children whose presence makes it difficult for them to concentrate. For these people, a company that provides designated office space is a plus.

10. An office increases your value to potential partners and customers

A bricks-and-mortar office can be reassuring to potential partners and customers. It makes you seem more serious, more real, more permanent. That’s just human nature.

11. An office is a physical expression of your brand

You can tell a lot about an individual by the way they present themselves – things like posture, clothing, use of language.

Similarly, you can tell a lot about a company by having a look at its office.

In fact, your office is your brand, a way of representing your culture to the world.

Open space or lots of closed offices and cubicles? Messy or organized? Mismatched desks and chairs, or furniture so cutting edge it has people wondering how you can afford it? It all says something about you and your values.

Conclusion

Earlier this year, I gave five reasons why working from home is more difficult than it appears.

Sure, lots of people liked working from home when it was first forced on them last spring. But there are indications that the honeymoon period is over.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, for example, said it’s becoming increasingly apparent that having everyone work from home is not sustainable. Projects take longer, the article said, collaboration is harder, and people are realizing it’s difficult to train new workers.

The virtual office will never entirely replace the physical one. In my opinion, the best office is a hybrid one that builds on the advantages of both models.

We’re now implementing the concept.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know how it works out.


Sidebar:

We thought long and hard about renting office space during a pandemic. But we feel confident that the safety measures we put in place right from the get-go will protect staff.

Our new office is quite large (about 4,000 square feet) and has more than enough room for everyone to work at a COVID-safe distance from one another. In fact, every employee will have about 400 square feet of personal space.

Foot traffic is one way only, with one door for coming in and one for leaving, to minimize contact.

Everyone coming will have their body temperature checked at the door.

There are hand sanitizers throughout the office, and every employee will be required to wear an N-95 mask while working.

 (We will also have a range of other safety measures in place for employees and visitors.)

Here’s how our hybrid office system works:

Monday is a designated ‘home’ day, and we hope people can use Mondays to get caught up and organized without office distractions.

We will require employees (at least those who live within commuting distance) to be in the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On those days, we hope to focus on collaborative projects. 

On Fridays people will be able to choose whether to come to the office or not.

The fact also remains that not all our employees live within commuting distance. We bring all staff together at least twice a year, even those who live outside Ottawa.

How will having an office influence our hiring? We remain committed to hiring the best person available, no matter where they live. But for certain jobs, we will give priority to those who can physically work in our office.

Pierce Ujjainwalla has years of experience as a CEO, entrepreneur, and marketing leader. He has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo, and he launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. Visit his personal blog, Modern Marketer, for more of the insight he’s gained as founder and CEO of Knak.

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