As we all anticipate the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, many entrepreneurs and business leaders are thinking about whether their teams should return to the office. However, there is no right or wrong answer to this dilemma. It ultimately depends on the type of business, structure, team size, and individual preferences.
I’ll be weighing in on the main pros and cons of returning to the office vs. continuing to work remotely, from the perspective of a business owner. I hope that looking at the advantages and drawbacks will help some of you choose the best model for your company and team.
Pros of Returning to the Office
As usual, let’s start with the positive. Here are the five main benefits of bringing your team back to the office:
Building a Sense of Belonging
First and foremost, interacting face-to-face in the same space helps with team building and creating a sense of belonging.
After all, there is a reason why most businesses operated from an office before the pandemic— despite having the technical capabilities to work remotely. It’s also why many companies immediately reopened their offices after the imminent threat of the Coronavirus was gone. Looking ahead, 90% of companies expect employees to return to the office (at least partially) in 2023.
Although we all got used to Zoom meetings, nothing can replace face-to-face communication with another human being. Employees who truly feel that they are a part of a team are likely to be more dedicated, motivated, and productive.
Enhancing Communication and Cooperation
The last decade has seen a surge in technology tools that facilitate and boost remote communication. Zoom is now present in our everyday vocabulary, while many hadn’t even heard of it just two to three years ago.
Nevertheless, technology cannot replace face-to-face communication. When working remotely, we have to make deliberate efforts to connect with others—whether through a Slack message or Zoom call. When working in the office, we are “forced” (in a good way) to communicate with others naturally. Making coffee, having lunch, and taking a small break are all opportunities to interact with our coworkers, and these can lead to better communication and enhanced cooperation over time. It is simply easier to discuss ideas, follow up on projects, and create new initiatives with people you see in-person multiple times a day.
Providing Adequate Working Space
Many remote employees created home offices to replicate an improved office environment. However, others couldn’t find a good place to work from home due to square footage limitations, noisy roommates, young children, unreliable WiFi connections, and additional factors. This inability to create a comfortable workspace has taken its toll on their productivity, creativity, and general wellbeing. I’ve heard from many people who feel like they have aged a decade since they began working remotely.
A return to the office means that everyone will automatically be provided with a comfortable, adequate working space. Working away from home in a productive environment will help many people restore their mental power and regain the much-needed disconnect between home and work.
While the pandemic-related lockdown policies created a general sense of isolation and loneliness, this was further exacerbated by the new reality of remote work. The shift can be especially difficult for extroverts who thrive on social interactions with colleagues.
Going back to the office will remove this sense of isolation for those who experienced it. Meanwhile, having more fulfilled employees will lead to positive effects for your team and business.
Boosting Individual Productivity
When you look at all of the advantages of returning to the office, the combined result is improved individual and team productivity. Workers who are able to focus better and feel a sense of belonging will experience a boost in motivation. At the same time, inter-team and intra-team collaboration will further enhance performance.
Cons of Returning to the Office
Of course, making the decision to bring your team back to the office comes with some negatives too. Otherwise, we all would have returned to the office months ago. Let’s take a look at the most significant drawbacks:
Giving Up Flexibility
The most sizable disadvantage of returning to the office is giving up flexibility at the company and individual level. Despite the hardships of the pandemic, many startups and more advanced companies were able to grow significantly by expanding their employee pool and customer base as physical geographical locations became less important.
If you do choose to bring your team back to the office, the flexibility-related benefits will be lost.
Facing Hardships When Hiring
The next negative directly relates to the point above. if your business operates from a physical office, this will significantly limit your options when recruiting new employees. It can become particularly challenging for companies located in relatively small markets with few qualified experts.
In fact, many business owners I’ve talked to recently have said that the ability to hire from anywhere was the biggest advantage of remote work. This advantage is eliminated if you require your whole team to return to the office. On the other hand, providing more flexibility to some employees over others can create a sense of favoritism among your team.
Disrupting Employees’ Work-Life Balance
While some felt isolated by remote work due to the loss of social interactions, many others experienced a restored work-life balance. This is mainly because they have more flexibility to choose their workspace and hours and they don’t have to spend hours commuting every day.
Naturally, asking your employees to come back to the office could make them feel like they will lose their newly gained work-life balance. This might be particularly challenging for those who live a few hours away from the office. The impact could be even worse for those who live in another state and need to relocate, potentially disrupting the lives of their entire family.
Since your team members may feel like they are losing the flexibility they enjoyed, some might decide to quit—especially since other businesses are allowing employees to continue working remotely.
As mentioned above, hiring locally to replace the lost talent can be a challenge.
Incurring Office Expenses
Last but not least, running a physical office comes with many costs. You will need to pay rent, cover utilities, and provide some other basics for your team (such as coffee, tea, water, etc.). Depending on your location and the size of your team, these office expenses could add up to thousands of dollars per month.
Therefore, you need to calculate whether the expected boost in productivity will be enough to compensate for the increase in operating costs.
When it comes to returning to the office, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. In order to make the right decision, it’s important to analyze your business, industry, team, and location. Additionally, evaluate how the listed pros and cons will impact your particular situation. It’s also a good idea to have an open discussion with your team on how they feel about a potential return to the office. This should give you a clear indication on which model is best for your company.