The Value of Human Connection: Why some companies are returning to the office to restore community and culture

As vaccine rollout increases, mask regulations decrease, and getting back to “normal” is within reach – most offices have revisited their work-from-home policies and have considered reopening their offices.

As offices announce hybrid work plans, many people are refusing to leave remote work behind. Employees have found that remote work offers better work/life balance and cost savings.

So many people prefer remote work, that a May survey by Morning Consult found that 39% of remote workers would consider quitting if their employers couldn’t be flexible with remote work. Nearly half of those respondents were Millennials and Gen Z.

Spotify, Twitter, and Salesforce have been some of the most notable to adapt to these preferences. They’ve allowed their employees to choose how they want to work at the company – whether that’s fully remote, a hybrid model, or office-based.

We owe it to remote work for allowing us to continue business operations, help workers stay employed, and keep many companies (and the economy as a whole) afloat. But as we’ve adjusted to Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours, have we lost the importance of human connection in the workplace?

Not everyone is welcoming the remote work model with open arms. Apple, Google, Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Wells Fargo, J.P Morgan, and Netflix are among companies that are embracing some form of an office return.

But if so many employees seem to prefer working from home, why make the switch? When Apple announced their hybrid work model, CEO Tim Cook stated that some aspects of office life cannot be replicated by remote working and connecting with coworkers over video.

According to an article by Forbes, the main benefits of the office environment boil down to two things: employee retention and improved output.

When it comes to employee retention, the biggest advantage of the office is a better translation of a company’s culture. Culture is hard to replicate – both by remote working and by your competitors. 

A sense of shared purpose is one of the best ways to retain employees and ensure the success of your company – and it’s hard to unify a team on a shared purpose when they’re not together regularly.

The best way to build a great work culture is to facilitate strong relationships between colleagues. Connecting in person builds a deep relationship more naturally and quickly than an online-only environment.

If you look at your own personal group of friends, the friendships that are the strongest are most likely the ones you live near and see often. It’s hard to replicate that type of bond without seeing someone in person. Having friendships at work is a big piece of retention for most people – so it’s important for companies to have well-connected employees.

Another result of working in an office is improved production. The process of innovation can suffer when employees are remote – there’s something about working together in person that aids in brainstorming, creating, and learning.

Face-to-face interaction can also drive productivity and motivation. People tend to work harder when they are together – they can collaborate on challenges, build knowledge, and develop as a team.

While some tedious and meticulous tasks are better suited for a remote environment, more complex, diverse and creative tasks thrive under a joint effort. It allows people to ask questions, brainstorm, and debate more naturally than in a video call.

While there are several advantages to the traditional work environment, we’ve learned a lot during the pandemic that is likely to continue into hybrid work roles. 

A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that meetings were 20% shorter during the pandemic. This trend of more efficient meetings is likely to continue to give employees more time to complete their core job tasks.

Better work/life balance practices are likely to continue as well. Employees have gotten used to getting a quick workout in during the day, taking time for personal appointments, and better prioritizing their family life. Don’t be surprised if it’s normal to take a yoga class over lunch, or leave early to attend a kid’s soccer game.

In conclusion, the office environment is coming back in one way or another for the benefit of employees and companies alike. Returning to the office means returning to connecting with colleagues, improved innovation, and better productivity. What are your thoughts on the benefits of going back to the office?