gray wooden computer cubicles inside room

Should in-office be the new out-of-office?

The term remote work is everywhere.  Former office-only workers now working from home, a new push from companies to get people back in the office, and confusion on behalf of people when it comes to what they want, have caused remote work to take on an entirely new meaning. 

There are some times when meeting in person is beneficial, but as a rule unless your work absolutely requires direct interaction with others, working out-of-office is an excellent alternative. It may sound counter-intuitive but this could introduce a situation where interacting with your coworkers in the same location could become a perk rather than an inconvenience.  

Let’s start rethinking how we approach the office and treating it as it should be treated. It isn’t a place to go and spend a third of your life. It should be a place to go, meet with others, and accomplish things that you could not accomplish in other places and in other spaces.  

Being “in-office” should be treated the same way salespeople treat customer visits. Get the biggest bang for the buck when you’re on site, visit as many people as you can, and make sure that there’s some productive outcome from the travel and the time commitment. If we think about being in the office this way it forces us to plan out our days coordinate our schedules and make sure that the trip is worth the effort. 

Think about it this way.  If you’re working in office for the day people need to know you’re not going to be at peak productivity and availability. You are likely to be tied up in meetings, traveling from location to location (even if they’re just meeting rooms) and completely unavailable during your commute. There’s no time to waste; you have to optimize who you’re seeing, when you’re seeing them, and have clearly defined objectives for each meeting with follow-ups to make sure those that objectives were met. 

The only way we can mitigate the old mindset of requiring being in the office 9 to 5 to get work done is by getting coworkers, managers, and leadership to start communicating proactively when it comes to their status and availability. It also means we need to be accepting of the fact that just because it’s between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. it doesn’t mean that someone is available. Availability needs to become controlled by the person it directly affects, not controlled by the people who want to affect that person. For years we’ve talked about the importance of the global workplace.  So many of the rules and adjustments needed to succeed in the global environment apply equally to people working outside dedicated offices.  

Are we truly inaccessible when we are working outside of a traditional office space? With the number of devices and notification systems that we have on hand in today’s world I find it difficult to believe that if someone needed to be reached they couldn’t be reached. I challenge that people are more accessible, sometimes to a fault, when working outside the office because their working time window is expanded. 

Tools such as Microsoft Teams provide availability notifications as well as message updates that you can populate with your status or what your status will be at any given time. We’ve had out-of-office notifications for years in email but there’s nothing that says that we can’t use them to notify people when we’re going to be in the office. The assumption has always been that we would use our calendars to indicate that status. If I block out a period on my calendar indicating I will be at a client’s location for the day, how is that any different than indicating that I will be at my company’s location for a day?  

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to work in a collaborative working session virtually you know it can be a little bit difficult the first few times. If you do some level-setting and understand what the true objectives of the co-working session are, then being engaged with your coworkers in a virtual meeting room is not particularly different than being in the same physical space with them. 

It’s unfortunate that most of the supporting reasoning around working in traditional offices comes from old tropes such as, “It’s part of our culture” or “People can be managed more effectively in person.” In relation to that second trope, I’d like to counter it with “Remote teams are for leaders, not for managers.”  If you want to demonstrate effective leadership, do it in a way that doesn’t require you hovering over your people’s shoulders. Rarely is this productive beyond the manager trying to demonstrate they’re contributing something to the process. Encouraging people to work in the places they are most effective, rather than the ones most convenient for management, can make a significant positive influence on worker satisfaction.