After a couple of years, many of us have grown accustomed to the ups and downs of a work-from-home lifestyle. Working from home doesn’t seem to affect productivity levels, and there is some indication that it may even increase them – but in many circumstances, meeting in person is critical to driving outcomes.
As more and more companies offer remote work options and we finish up the third year of a pandemic, employees are considering the pros and cons of working from home. Many factors make up the ideal work setup for each person. The convenience of working from home indeed makes it easier for most to achieve a healthy work-life balance, and there’s a substantial financial aspect as well—the recession has affected many. Most would feel even more financial strain if transportation costs and office-appropriate clothing were added to the equation.
While there are many mental health and economic benefits to continuing working from home, there are equally important reasons why people worldwide are reconsidering the merits of going into the office, even if that’s on a part-time work-from-home basis.
So what are the most important factors to consider when assessing whether to work from home, in the office, or a hybrid model?
Many critical functions of the work experience suffer when we meet over the computer rather than in person. Research shows that certain aspects of work thrive through face-to-face interaction, which we just can’t replicate through platforms like Zoom or Google Meet.
Virtual brainstorming and highly collaborative meetings (where thinking out of the box is critical) can be tough to conduct successfully in a virtual environment. Virtual meeting environments don’t encourage participants to let their minds wander, process thoughts by looking around the room, or even close their eyes and wait to allow new ideas a chance to emerge. Instead, virtual meeting environments encourage us to focus on the cues presented on the screen.
According to Stanford researchers, teams working together in person generate 15-20% more ideas than teams working together online.
Jonathan Levav, a Stanford Graduate School of Business researcher, says, “If your visual field is narrow, your cognition is likely to be as well. For creative ideas generation, a narrowed focus is a problem. Meeting participants naturally fall into that narrow focus, wanting to be seen as paying close attention to the meeting and coworkers. Unfortunately, this is not an optimal environment for creative ideas.
Building critical relationships in the workplace relies on communication. Research shows that 70%-93% of all human communication is nonverbal (displayed through body language).
Building trust, friendship, and interconnectedness with peers is a significant aspect of feeling integrated into an organization. The ability to collaborate can make or break a team, and research proves collaboration is much less effective online.
Building relationships is complicated when you’re missing nonverbal cues. When the content of a conversation requires trust or is emotionally charged, body language becomes crucial.
If the message you’re trying to communicate is complex, face-to-face communication becomes even more important. Delivering complex information in person makes it easier to ask questions and get answers quickly.
So, when should employees ideally be in the office? When creativity is required for brainstorming or problem solving, building relationships is part of the meeting’s purpose, or meeting goals are complex.
Most importantly, employees should only meet in person when it’s safe. According to Joseph Allen, associate professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “If you’re sitting in a typical American office building, about 3% of the air you breathed in recently came out of the lungs of the people in the room with you right now.”
According to Allen, companies have added employee perks such as coffee bars and foosball tables to incentivize employees. As companies determine their post-COVID work environment, an espresso machine shouldn’t be at the top of the list. What should be is something that should have been available to employees all along—clean air.
Allen says, “My team at Harvard recently published research on the health of several hundred office workers around the world for more than a year. We found that people performed better on cognition tests when the ventilation rate in their working environment was higher. When exposed to more outdoor air, people responded to questions more quickly and got more answers right.” Companies can take many innovative measures to help keep indoor environments safe and help instill confidence in those employees coming into the space.
Incorporating UV-C devices into your environment is an ideal means of keeping your indoor spaces safer and healthier without asking for change from employees. Devices such as R-Zero’s Beam and Vive work safely and autonomously in occupied spaces, helping create a healthier environment.
Returning to the workplace—whether for important meetings or as part of a return to pre-COVID norms—requires thoughtful consideration. The importance of in-person communication is undoubtedly part of the decision, as is the environment’s safety. Now is the time to take action to keep the indoor environment safer and healthier for the employees returning to your facility.