There’s this common statement about remote work: “Remote isn’t for everyone.” Yes, I believe that’s absolutely true. I also believe very strongly that shared offices are not for everyone, either. Even offices with doors that close aren’t for everyone. The problem is that open offices are considered the “one size fits all” of work environments. They’re advertised as a good default, but they only suit a portion of the population. We all pretend it’s both normal and okay to assume that everyone at a company has the same needs when it comes to their workspace and daily workflow.
For many of us, open offices are actively harmful. I get a lot more done when I have granular control over my environment, my breaks, and how I work. I can’t get that kind of freedom in an office, with or without doors that close. Would I like to have the sweet spot of a work situation where I can go into the office when I feel like it, do some whiteboarding with my team, and then go home? Yes, totally, but it’s a very unusual setup, and not one that’s available right now in most companies.
Working remotely is not inherently harder than working from an office. Saying so implies that offices are “ground zero,” the absolutely neutral choice for a workspace. They aren’t. Remote work is hard, and so are offices. For some of you, offices are the easy choice. For others, remote work feels like a haven from the noise and distractions of the modern office environment. It’s not a universal feeling or choice.
Remote work is hard because work is hard. Remote collaboration is hard because collaboration is hard. Remove “remote” from either statement and they’re still true: Work is hard, collaboration is hard. The struggles of teamwork don’t disappear because the location has changed.
Our work is challenging, and no amount of in-person collaboration will change that. Healthy team dynamics are hard to create and maintain. They take a lot of work, they don’t just happen. Dealing with performance issues is hard. It’s hard as a remote manager, and it’s also hard as a manager who shares an office. Hiring is hard. It’s hard remotely, and it’s hard in person. You are making a difficult decision with limited information in a short period of time.
I don’t believe the future goal is to not have offices at all, but to have options. The key is to make it easy and normal to go remote; to have more companies who align with remote work and offer that experience; to have companies who think about whom they want to be when they grow up and have decided remote is for them. I believe the future includes hybrids where you sometimes go into an office, and sometimes you work remotely. I believe the future also includes some companies with an “office culture,” and that’s okay.
Remote work, much like offices, isn’t for everyone.
There will always be offices. Physical spaces where humans meet to collaborate are natural and needed. I just hope there are more remote-oriented companies in the future because it means more of us will get to work in spaces that make sense for us. But this will only happen if we allow ourselves to really think about what spaces make us feel productive and happy and stop worrying about how it will look for investors and customers if our employees don’t go into HQ each day. I genuinely think this re-orienting of how we view the workspace will come true.