Are offices efficient?

Are offices efficient? 

I don’t mean in terms of how many people you squeeze onto the floorpan, or the occupancy rate. I mean are they efficient at the things they are supposed to do.

You know, like collaboration, innovation, culture building and developing relationships.

Because over the past few decades, we have seen a relentless focus on optimisation and efficiency, in the search for lower costs and greater profitability. It’s been the dominant narrative of corporate life since the 1970s, and has since spilled in public services organisations, charities and everywhere else.

Yet it doesn’t seem to have reached the office.

Organisations frequently parrot the word “Our people are our most important asset” (a phrase that betrays itself in the very last word). You would think, therefore, that the pace where they work would be optimised to the needs of those people, so that they would be able to do their best work.

And yet, it’s not. Otherwise we wouldn’t keep having conversations about ‘work/life balance’.

What COVID has shown is the making people commute into an office and work 9-5 for 5 days a week was decidedly non-optimal for the people. Working from home has released them from the grind of the commute, it’s allowed them to optimise their own work environment and to not just address ‘work/life balance’ but to design their lives to integrate the two.

On the whole, people are happier, healthier and at least as productive. This is despite living through a global pandemic, which has thrown all sorts of problems at them and caused a large amount of stress.

But now some organisations want people to return to the office because “collaboration, innovation, culture building and developing relationships” are suffering. 

And whilst that may be true, why is going back to the office the solution?

What has been done to make the office the absolute best place for those things to happen? Specifically?

Because whilst the plague of MBAs have optimised everything else to within an inch of its life, I don’t see what’s been done to optimise the most important bit – the people – in what we’re told is the most important place – the office.

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