Working in the Office or Not?

I would not want to choose between working in an office and working remotely. I want to do both. Both/and is always much better than either/or.

Of course, I prefer to work from my home office unless I have a good reason to drive to work – and especially if the entire day will be spent beavering away, alone, on the laptop. But working from home is not always the best option. A messy kitchen and a pile of laundry may be just as distracting as an attention-seeking pet.

The office offers the added bonus of social interaction, and quite often it also provides you with mental stimulation in the form of solving intellectual challenges. It lifts your spirits when you can find solutions to difficult problems in the company of your coworkers. Yet there has to be space to spend time alone. If you avoid going to the office because you know that it will be too distracting, something is not right. Either the spaces are not suitable or there is a problem with how they are used.

Am I working remotely if I write reports on a train on my way to work, spend a day in a coworking space or sit down in my client’s lobby to write replies to emails? Am I really ‘present in the office’ if I sit at my desk, staring into the horizon and dreaming of palm trees and sandy beaches? Who is to define the limits of remote work? I asked Google and came across an article by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that explains that there is no established definition for ‘remote work’ even though some companies have tried to come up with their own definitions and there are various control systems in place. In some companies remote working simply started happening.

Switching to Remote Work Does Not Need to Be Difficult

There are still companies that categorically refuse to allow their employees to work from anywhere else than the office, will not let them take the laptop home and/or insist that every minute is accounted for by clocking in and out. Some policies justify the ban on remote work on the grounds that employees may reveal business secrets if they work in public spaces. In reality, I think that online threats are more dangerous than someone having a peek over your shoulder on a train or in a cafe. And if companies only allow certain employees to work remotely, is this a perk for some and a punishment for the others?

If a company approves of telecommuting, it poses new challenges for the management compared to the traditional management of people who are present. But new does not equal difficult, it just means different. The point to consider should be the results that need to be achieved, not the number of hours worked to achieve them. Similar issues of enhancing trust are also involved in office-based work in situations where employees move from assigned workspaces in open-plan offices or individual rooms to activity-based working spaces that gives them the freedom to choose where to work.

Work Should Follow You

I’d like to let work simply happen. It would be great if companies could trust that jobs will get done in spite of – or because of – the location. Since people want to belong, they will always be happy to return to the office even if there are no strict rules about what proportion of tasks should be carried out there. Having some face time with colleagues helps people to achieve goals. They trust each other, commit themselves to each other and are willing to work towards a shared goal when they get to know each other through – sometimes informal – meetings. If there are any problems, they can be dealt with one by one to reveal the actual causes.

Working in an office is not just good for your mental wellbeing, it can also invigorate your body. You can commute through a forest on your bike, eavesdrop on your fellow-commuters on the train or assess the driving skills of the other motorists stuck in traffic. Every commute is a unique experience. Even lunch in the canteen is always a new experience, and I must say I usually enjoy it immensely. You would not necessary have six meals to choose from at home, not to mention clever conversation with other grown-ups.

Technology allows us to keep in touch with other people anywhere and anytime, basically, but the sad fact is that misunderstanding is more likely to occur in virtual meetings. There are situations where a good old-fashioned meeting around a table works better. If you are having a brainstorming session, it is good to be able to bounce your ideas off your colleagues, and if you have any technical problems, there is someone to help you.

Remote work or office work? I love both and promote the freedom to choose for everyone. Being absent from the office does not mean you can’t be present.

Satu Hurme-Tikkanen
This article was written by Satu Hurme-Tikkanen, who is in charge of the workplace services at Technopolis, including Workplace Design, furnishing and move services. Read more about Satu’s thoughts on workplaces.