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For ten years, I lived a corporate life. This meant I had a large office to go to, many colleagues to meet and greet everyday and many, many faces to see on my commute. Then, I turned an entrepreneur and hired a small office space. People joined, people left. I had to move to a bigger place, my second office. In this one, we were more organised, had a corner pantry, handmade coffee was served, with Maggi on some days and had tables that were meant only for dining or playing or even sulking. This office was in a nice, small building which made us interact with some other office goers, totally different from our work life. We exchanged glances, exchanged smiles and sometimes even exchanged milk packets.
After spending ten years in corporate workplaces and nine years of maintaining my own office space and people, I landed up at a ‘work from home’ situation post wrapping up a failed venture.
Initially, work from home looked hard, almost like a punishment, but there was no way I could afford an office space. Though the truth is, when I look back, I had managed a disciplined routine and ended up designing an unusual service in the space of unused gift items. Yes, though totally unheard of, there is a market which is waiting to be tapped for the gift items that affluent homes receive, but do not end up using. This is for another story at some other time. The point here is WFH is nice in many ways and definitely as productive as an office space, if not more, but it is still not enough. So this Diwali, as you receive corporate gifts sitting at home and think of going back to workplaces, understand the power of an office space.
Here are SIX reasons why we should learn the value of an office space and find some doses of office time, even if it means working out from Starbucks.
O- Office has a landing strip: In my Shopper marketing days, while designing customer experiences, I used to focus on a particular part of the physical space of retail stores called the landing strip. It is the space just inside the door often referred to as the transition zone or ‘the landing strip’. It was first coined by Paco Underhill in his national bestseller, “Why We Buy, The Science Of Shopping.” The space allows shoppers to adjust from the outside noise and settle into a comfort zone of shopping experience.
Similarly, office space gets you a landing strip for you to move away from other things and enter a work zone. This landing strip is not just in the form of a physical space like in retail spaces, but is also a behavioural landing strip like chats around the coffee machine before plugging in the computer. It helps you to align your focus towards work. There is no landing strip at home.
F- Faces- Familiar, yet unknown faces. Author Kio Stark’s book When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You is about her seven-year personal study of her interactions with strangers in New York City. In a Ted talk about the book, Stark said: “When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life – and theirs.”
It is true, familiar, yet unknown people in our lives add a beautiful layer to daily routine. Co-commuters, elevator operator, people in different office but same complex, regular faces at the coffee shop, the fleeting smiles are all layers that trigger positive emotions. Working from office creates more opportunities to come across familiar strangers.
F– Food: The significance of lunch time: Food during WFH is warm and fabulous but the charm of office lunch break is unmatched and missing. At our office, an hour prior to lunch, one could hear sounds of food planning, where to order from, what’s special on Freshmenu, a food app, the best offer of the day etc. Those conversations are gone. The best things, on some days, would be a special dish from my lunch mate. Fridays have a special place in the books of office lunch. Not just food, the walk after lunch, or the short break, has a special way of recharging the mind and the body like you are back from the intermission in a good movie.
I- Interactions: Casual interactions-Satya Nadella, spoke to The Times editors on managing through the pandemic and said, “More meetings start and end on time, but “what I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after.”
Another article reads, “But the benefits to office life are more than just social. They are also intellectual. Without offices, we miss out on the chance for serendipitous encounters, and it’s precisely those moments of felicitous engagement that spark the best ideas.”
C- Closure: The closure of a day: Physically leaving the office space has an impact on both productivity and on the biological clock. Even when you close the day during WFH, it is an effort to draw the imaginary line of exit.
E- Expressions: The missing body language: I had a superior whose cabin had a glass door. Though he was approachable and kept his door always open, sometimes, we would find the door shut for hours. It meant to not discuss anything debatable at that point. Scheduled online meetings may help you express through words, but you totally miss out on the expression of the body language in remote places. When it comes to communication, “you might be saying one or two words, but giving off thousands of nonverbal cues,” says body language expert and author Patti Wood in a TIMES article. These nonverbal cues, which include everything from your posture to your expression, are crucial to any interaction—and it’s especially important to project the correct cues at work, she says.
This Diwali, as we step into new beginnings, let us think of the role of physical spaces in our growth and development. These places stand still at their designated areas to make us move onward and forward in life.
(Vishakha Singh, author of a forward-thinking course SHIFT, is a business strategist & a design thinking practitioner. She writes at www.habitsforthinking.in, offering insights into the ever-changing business environment.)