Americans love “The Office” with Steve Carell – a quirky, strife and breath sitcom about working in an office environment for an aptly named company called Dunder Mifflin. The plot originally centered on an office that faces closure when the company decides to downsize its branches. Now there’s a funny scenario for you. I personally don’t get the characters’ humor, but my grasp of TV sitcom humor is looser than David Letterman’s belt.
There is or was also a critically acclaimed film called “Office Space”. It told the comedic tale of company workers who hate their jobs and decide to rebel against their greedy boss – another unique tale. There is even a cartoon about the office called “Dilbert”, or maybe that’s about an insecure guy with a bad tie, I don’t know.
My point is that Americans love the office, and why not? Where would our country be without water cooler romance; cubicle wars and meetings – meetings and more meetings? Americans, after all, are people too. Human beings need interaction. Seeing, touching, or just hanging out with other beings from our species seems essential to a fulfilled life. Save the Dog Whisperer and Jane Goodall, it appears we need human contact and collaboration to be happy.
So what is all this nonsense about the death of office space and the inevitable move to the virtual work environment? Sure, I get it. The Internet made it cheaper to move your workforce home. It saves money on travel, avoids commuting, reduces overhead and allows our employees to “work” more efficiently and effectively when surrounded by the things that make them comfortable. We all need to pretend to work at home from time-to-time when focusing on that important company project like weeding or shearing the llama.
In truth, nothing can replace the interaction that takes place in a person-to-person exchange. To assume so would seem to discount the importance of the human face or gesture when combined with vocal inflection. Ask a decent poker player, artist, or elderly parent the value of human interaction and you’ll get a straight answer.
I am not discounting the value of working at home every so often. The virtual office is here to stay, that’s for sure, but it will never replace the tried and true forge of cubicles, dry wall and fluorescent light. From close personal interactions comes the tempered steel of collaboration. The idea that office space is going the way of newspapers and music CDs seems to ignore the fundamental fact that humans need to physically interact. After all, the practice of “officing” in office buildings is just over one-hundred years old. Surely, office space undergoes evolutionary phases – not all of which have been successful – but evolution is not death.
Take the virtual officing experiment conducted at a well known LA advertising agency in the early nineteen-nineties. The concept was that no one had a personal desk and all desk space was available. When an employee arrived at the office, he grabbed his laptop and found the best available space. Productivity suffered to say the least and the employees rebelled. In the end, the concept evolved into the open floor environment we see everywhere.
“The virtual office ‘sounded good in theory, but ultimately violated human tenets,’ said Lee Clow, the [chairman of TBWA\Worldwide]. He added, ‘People need a sense of place and belonging.’ The idea behind the virtual office was that telecommuting would allow people to work anywhere, anytime, and that they would use the outgrown building only for teamwork. As it turned out, most staff members needed or wanted to work under the same roof.” ‘Virtual Officing’ Comes In From the Cold, New York Times, December 17, 1998).
Owners and managers need to keep communications lines open with their tenants so that they can both hear and also adjust to those changing needs. Providing a communal space for like-minded, complimentary skilled-workers is essential to the success of any business, and besides, it’s a lot of fun. Or as Jim says in The Office, “my roommate really wants to meet everybody here in the office because I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m making you guys up.” See us at: http://www.buildingengines.com/