This opinion piece was originally published in Helsingin Sanomat on 19 Dec 2022.
The recent debate over where to work in the hybrid era has been terribly polarized – as debates often are today, regardless of the topic.
This polarization appears especially strong on social media, where employees seem to strongly prefer remote work and speculation about the death of the office is rampant. However, in the numerous conversations with leaders from various organizations, I’m continuously hearing genuine concern about the future of companies now when employees know each other only from virtual meetings and occasional team days.
This polarized debate has led to a surprisingly strong confrontation between employers and employees. Each side tries to win by providing compelling reasons for either returning to the office or continuing to work remotely – and both have good arguments and evidence to support their opinions.
From the perspective of an individual employee, total freedom to choose where and when to work can indeed increase satisfaction and work efficiency. However, when looking at the organization as a whole, the situation isn’t that simple. Suboptimization rarely leads to the best possible outcome. Trust between people is built in interactions between meetings and in casual conversations and encounters. When employees see, sense and exchange thoughts during the working day also face to face, and not just in pixels, the flow of information simply is smoother. The sum of the efficiency of individual employees is not the same as the sum of those working effectively together.
The debate, which seems to be escalating into outright quarreling, demonstrates the obvious need for redefining the role of the office. This is the first time in my own 15-year career with workspaces that offices are a hot topic in public debate – the reasons for having an office are no longer self-evident.
The place of work can and should be a topic of discussion because it plays a key role in the well-being of every one of us in working life. The success of a work community requires trust, openness, mutual respect and the desire to understand each other, make compromises and agree on things together.
Now is the time to move from throwing out arguments and assuming things to properly listening to one another and having genuine conversations. This way we can better understand each other’s needs and find solutions that best suit the whole community.
The fear of the boss or the fear of missing out should not be the only reasons to come to the office. The office should provide the best possible environment that truly supports the different needs. This, and only this, supports the individual employees, the work community and the company as a whole.
Karri Hautanen is the Chief Marketing Officer responsible for the Brand, Marketing, Communications, Sales Operations & Customer Experience at Technopolis, and is a member of the Group Management Team. Superpower: Managing strategy processes.