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July 27, 2020

What I Miss Most About The Office

Written by Charity Hogrefe, General Manager – Toledo NBS Commercial Interiors

 

In our industry the question of “Does the office still matter?” is now an almost daily conversation.  As both an interior designer and branch manager of our Toledo office, I felt passionate to share my thoughts on this subject and the impact it has had on me.

COVID-19 has rocked our world in so many ways, and for me (and I am sure for most), no area of my life is unaffected. Helping my clients to “love how they work” is what I do.  It is who I am.  It is my passion. So, when a pandemic started to make business owners and CEO’s rethink their need for a physical place, something inside me was lit. NBS has taken necessary precautions and put safety protocols in place to return our own people to the office including enhanced decontamination cleaning, social distancing measures and provided PPE. All of which have made most of us comfortable to return.

Recently, NBS and Steelcase invited a very intelligent woman by the name of Dr. Tracy Brower to host a conversation virtually to a large group of our clients and industry influencers. The topic of her talk, “Does the workplace still matter?” I sent invitations to my contacts to join us and at night I laid in bed with insomnia. I guess, at the risk of sounding cliché, you could say this topic, “kept me up at night.” I laid there wide awake and thought about this. I reached over on my nightstand, grabbed my phone, and started to journal (in typical millennial fashion) in the notes of my phone.

Does the office still matter?

This is what I typed:

Why the office is so important — stream of consciousness

  • It is my place to shine.
  • Where my friends are.
  • Where there is a cook, a gardener, a wine connoisseur, the counselor…. the smiling faces who count on my smile.
  • Where I can lead and follow. Where I can win and learn. Where the good coffee is…. and the coolest most inspiring place to do my work.
  • Where I can be creative. Where I can create.
  • Where I can think.
  • A private bathroom.
  • A neon sign.
  • Where laughs are shared. Where I can vent. Where I can see and hear a different point of view.
  • Where I get to be me.
  • Where I get to help others love their office as much as I love mine.
  • The office is not going away. Is it? I sure hope not.

 

Now, as I re-read these thoughts, I can see how personal they are to me.  I can see that many may not relate, or even understand what the heck I’m talking about. Maybe that’s the point?  For me, the office is personal. I’ve had a diverse career so far, even if I am still considered relatively young, which has allowed me to work in a variety of roles and habitats.  Many of those roles were similar in that I went every day to an office. Some were work from home roles.

My previous position was one of those. I LOVED the company I worked for. I LOVED the people I worked with. I had many of the same clients who have evolved into some of my best friends. What I missed though, was the daily interaction…what Dr. Brower described so eloquently in our session as “Social Capital.” I found myself feeling isolated. My interactions with my teammates happened virtually. The in-person interactions I had with them were quarterly or even twice a year in some cases.  The contact I had with my clients were as frequent as biweekly or monthly, which always made me feel great, but I was never able to connect beyond the surface of, “Hi, great to see you again, how are the kids?” I longed for the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, strategize solutions, or simply hang out over lunch or coffee regularly.

What I missed was the office. So, lucky for me, I was offered a great opportunity to join NBS. Now, I have one of the most amazing work environments I could ever imagine…and bonus…amazing people to fill it with, great teamwork, and a lot of fun.

The office is not going away.

Saying that, I think the challenges the pandemic has presented most companies with are also opportunities to evolve. We should certainly think about our office differently, but if companies asked their employees if they enjoyed working from home 100% of the time, I think they would be surprised to find a large population that does not.

Like me, many are at home with small children and distractions. They are not comfortable. If they’re like me, they don’t have a quiet place to think – or even a private bathroom! I think a flexible approach to working is the best approach.  Everything in moderation, right?

Perhaps we should allow our people to work from home a day or two per week. Especially if they feel they can focus with less distraction on task-based duties. I do not believe that means our office should go away though. On the contrary, the office should be designed as a destination for collaboration and a resource. It should be intentionally designed to allow for impromptu conversations and brainstorm activities. It should be designed to portray the culture of the company.

I am an extrovert and love people. I am a designer who craves inspiration. I work at a company that creates harder working, inspiring spaces for our clients. I love that our culture is represented in our office design. I’m sure you can see why I for one would be very sad to see these spaces go away.