As BRYANT GROUP Consulting Vice President Kirk Jewell explored in his July 27 NewsBite, remote work is likely here to stay. After having tasted work-from-home during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of advancement professionals have expressed a preference for continuing to work remotely or having the option of a hybrid model. All personal and team circumstances are unique of course and there are advantages to working remotely, which have been explored in depth over the past 18 months. I’d like to look at the other side of the coin today—the advantages for teams returning to the office.
Your Commute Creates a Valuable “Boundary”
You may remember the opening scene of the movie Office Space in which one of the characters is sitting in gridlocked traffic. He is stuck there so long without making more than just an inch or two of progress that an elderly person using a walker passes him. He then starts screaming and banging on the steering wheel. That’s what many people think of when they hear the word “commute” and, unfortunately, there are lot of people who have something close to that experience on a daily basis. I live in Dallas and previously lived in Los Angeles so, trust me, I know traffic. However, as bad as the worst-case-scenario commute can be, it was also adding (maybe unrealized) value to our days. I have said for the past year that the pandemic took away our “boundary-creating” commute.
On a recent podcast the host admitted that she misses her commute so much that each morning she “commutes” to work at home by not entering her home office until she has gone for a walk around the neighborhood, and then she “commutes” back home by taking another walk after she has finished the workday. What this podcaster realized was that, while there can be advantages to working from home, a major disadvantage is that the boundary between work and home gets blurred even more than it was already.
Whether spent in a car, subway, or bus, many people use the time during their commute to think, listen to music, talk on the phone with friends or family, or listen to a book or podcast. That commute allows people to gear up on their way to work or gear down on the way home, and it created a boundary (even if it’s just a soft one) between work and home. Even for those who did some work before breakfast or after dinner, it was clear that any additional work was something “extra,” not just a regular part of the day. During the pandemic, this “downtime” and boundary both disappeared as people’s commute became walking from their bedroom to the kitchen table.
While Zoom is an Amazing Tool, “Zoom Fatigue” is Definitely Real
Researchers at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab have identified four causes of Zoom Fatigue:
- Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.
- Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.
- Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.
- The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.
People are realizing that jam-packed Zoom days are not always all that productive. Our brains (and eyes) need rest and recharging. A few months ago, international speaker Boaz Rauchwerger, told a group I was in, “Slow down to speed up.” That really stuck with me, as I felt myself hurtling through life. Walking across campus or down the hall or even down to the coffee shop may actually make you more productive than staring at a screen all day.
You Can’t Run into People in Your Home Office (At Least Not Co-Workers)
Another aspect of working in the office that many people have missed is the synergism, creativity, and fresh thought that happens when people bump into each other in the hallway, happen to grab a cup of coffee at the same time in the break room, or pop their head into an office or cubicle for an impromptu chat or to bounce ideas around. This “natural” way of creating and moving projects forward had to be artificially produced – with scheduled Zoom meetings or phone calls – when everyone was at home. Texts, Teams and Slack are helpful, but not a real substitute for actual serendipitous conversation and creation. In talking with Rod Grabowski, VP at University at Buffalo, he said that for him, he is enjoying the productivity that happens from the more natural flow of work in the office.
Simply Put, Human Beings Need Other Human Beings
The Dalai Lama once said, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
While relationships can form remotely, these relationships are not the same as in-person relationships. There is a trust that is built, a bonding that happens when people are together. It is why families get together for holidays and why communities of faith gather on a weekly basis. It is why most people eventually meet their donors and donor prospects face-to-face. Many advancement offices adapted well during the pandemic, and they should be very proud of that. The fact of the matter, though, is that advancement work thrives on in-person relationships between coworkers, with faculty or physicians, with volunteers, and with donors. The office is the hub that helps make that happen.
A Return to the Office May Be Just What You Need
Remote work is getting all the press right now. Many industries have allowed workers to continue working from home and will likely allow it for the foreseeable future. However, if you are going back to the office full-time or part-time, I hope you will see benefits for yourself personally and professionally, and for your team.