To go back or not to go back? That is the question for office-dwellers

April 14, 2021, 3:22 PM UTC

Welcome to Worksheet, a newsletter about how people are working smarter in these turbulent times.

In this week’s edition, S. Mitra Kalita lays out how the big, messy, confusing, confounding return to the office is going.

Nobody knows what the office will look like. But people have really really strong opinions on what it should look like. 

Headquarters are a thing of the past. Employees must be in-person. It doesn’t matter where anyone works anymore. Large meeting rooms, not offices, are our future. 

The predictions are dizzying, conflicting—and confusing. Imagine the plight of workers trying to make decisions about homes, commutes, childcare and school districts right now. Even doctors and dentists, butchers and beauticians are chosen based on proximity and convenience to the office. Life basically happens on the way to work. But you are not alone if you still don’t know how often you will actually be there. 

“The pandemic taught us there isn’t a rulebook on where employees can work. We can grow a company and operate together regardless of location. However, we know there are also many benefits to being in the same location. …We believe physical office space is important for high-growth companies,” said Chrissy Hand, senior vice president of operations at CoverMyMeds, a Columbus, Ohio, company that just spent $240 million on a new campus. “The importance of a shared collaboration space is especially true for knowledge workers who largely produce intangible things. For us, the office is the most favorable space to innovate.”

Some trends influencing the decision to return to an office, work from home or find something in between: 

How it started is how it’s going

Even younger companies, known for pivoting and reinventing themselves many times over, cling to what they looked like pre-pandemic. Chia-Lin Simmons founded LookyLoo, a fashion and shopping platform that relies on artificial intelligence, as a remote company. And that’s how it will remain.We wanted to find the best people for each role for the needs of our company and that meant we would not let geographic boundaries be our limit,” she said. “We understood that our own relationship as co-founders would also fit into this framework. I live in the San Francisco East Bay and my co-founder in Silicon Valley, and we have always embraced the remote work experience. We held meetings in workshare spaces, at each other’s homes, over good coffee. We also know we are just a call, WhatsApp or Zoomaway, even if we’re at a different location.”

New employees and younger workers need the anchor of an office

The challenge of onboarding new talent in a pandemic has been a constant gripe—from both sides. 

“In the past year Tahora has noticed that 100% work from home is especially hard for new joiners,” said Michael Rose, co-founder of the London-based workplace engagement company. “It’s very hard to ramp up (for non developers) totally remotely.  Businesses have found they are hiring more senior level staff as a result—to avoid ramp-up challenges. As so much of development as a junior comes from osmosis, it’s been particularly hard on grads and college leavers trying to enter the marketplace.” (Note: At my startup, I allow interns and writers to eavesdrop on meetings and interviews, including some for this column.)

Kalita goes on to write how companies are approaching where they work as they evaluate the how and why, too.

Read her full column here.

Wondering what else the future of work holds? Visit Fortune‘s Smarter Working hub presented by Future Forum by Slack.

This week's reads

Cities are grappling with a reduced need for office space (The New York Times)
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A San Diego news outlet has opened up a retail space for Latina entrepreneurs (Times of San Diego)
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