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  • Writer's pictureTracey Camilleri

Earning the Commute

Why a thriving social infrastructure might be the ticket to getting people back into the office.

A couple of years ago, I was asked by the Business School where I’m an Associate Fellow whether I still wanted to have a named pigeon-hole in the communal area. In actual fact I received very little physical post there and, as a semi-detached member of the community, didn’t even have an allocated desk or a chair. So I was surprised at my own reluctance to give it up. It had my name on it after all. It was a small piece of hard evidence that I belonged there. It felt strangely important.

US Furniture manufacturer Steelcase has been doing research around this widespread need that human beings have to belong, exploring how that need is connected with our reluctance to go back to the office post pandemic.

For The New Era of Hybrid Work they surveyed around 5,000 employees in 11 countries to understand the drivers behind this moment of structural transition that we’re all living through. In short, they found that:

- More people like working from home than going to the office

- Those who preferred to work from home were more likely to say they were looking to leave their jobs within the next 6 months

- Leaders, perhaps unsurprisingly, liked being in the office more than employees (could it be that they have nicer offices, access to light …those corner spaces... and more privacy even though they do less concentrated, head-down work than most of their employees?)

- Oddly more people have a dedicated workspace at home than they do at work

- In general employees spend 45% of their time working alone and 55% collaboratively (but not in a predictable pattern)

There is much more worth reading in the report but their conclusion that workplaces need a ‘social infrastructure’ (to quote sociologist Eric Klineberg), akin to a neighbourhood, is one conclusion that caught my eye. People need adaptable spaces to enable privacy (how much more of our work is done via video call now), space for collaboration, for individual work and more social gathering. They also need a felt sense of home.

Vibrant environments within which people can feel they belong, that ‘earn the commute’ will attract people back. Designing environments within which everyone can thrive will be a key imperative for 2022.

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