The coronavirus pandemic’s office exodus risks diminishing company culture unless leaders take action to support it.
Within just a few weeks earlier this year, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a massive shift to remote work that may change the office as we know it forever. Many large companies are urging employees to work from home for months to come, and some CFOs are making plans to shed office real estate and permanently move some portion of their workforces to remote working.
With such a swift and large-scale exodus of white-collar workers from their offices, it’s no surprise that some feel nostalgic for even the mundane facets of office life: the cubicle mazes, bad coffee, and watercooler conversation. What makes office life meaningful for many, though, is that it helps sustain organizational culture — the largely taken-for-granted beliefs and practices that underpin how people work together. These are harder to feel and maintain when so many of us are crouched at a kitchen table, fending off children and pets, and growing exhausted with a constant stream of videoconference meetings.
Although remote working is far from new — 8% of U.S. employees worked from home at least once a week before the pandemic — the benefits of face-to-face interaction for individual well-being and corporate culture are clear. In fact, IBM, a pioneer in remote working that heralded the benefits of having 40% of its workforce working remotely in 2009, made headlines in 2017 when it brought thousands of employees back to the office.