Eliminate the building entirely?

file0001747897615There have been a couple of recent articles that may prove foreboding for the future of office space. A piece in Fastcompany.com (why the office is the worst place for work) is only the latest to beat the drum of remote working and an article in the Bergen Record (Snow day’s virtual classroom: Are lessons at home the ‘next logical step’) talked about how a local high school was testing out “virtual classrooms” to avoid taking yet another snow day.

Yes, Offices can be distracting, annoying places to work. Endless meetings, boring conversations around the water cooler, and office politics can sap our energy, enthusiasm, and drive. Whether the recent trend towards open environments broadens the problem is open to debate. But either way, complaining about an annoying office environment is not new (see every Dilbert ever published.)

And if high schools feel they can get away without physical premises, then any organization or company can make the same claim. High schools almost by definition need a building. But clearly, distance learning is an option that is being explored.

My counter-point to both of these observations is that we are by nature social creatures. While we may find interacting with some people undesirable, there is an inherent need for people to interact and cooperate as a group.

Individuals inside a company may have heads-down work that is best conducted in solitude, but coming together in pursuit of a common goal happens best when sharing a physical space. And even if high school didn’t teach you anything else, you learned how to deal with those annoying folks that didn’t necessarily share the same priorities or goals as you.

Do companies need to re-think the way they use office space? Definitely. Could schools get away without the buildings? Probably. But while eliminating the physical space may create more efficient individuals, I think it damages our ability to work as a group.

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