There seems to be plenty of commentary predicting the ‘death of the office’.

This, of course, has come as a result of the new ‘work from home’ regime that has seen many of us remain busy and effective without having to go to work each day.

We have been able to sit in silence, in home offices, bedrooms and at kitchen tables and continue to answer our phones, send and receive emails and make calls. Then there is the ‘zoom effect’ where, thanks to our fantastic Ultra Fast Broadband project of recent years, Zoom or Microsoft Teams has facilitated those all-important meetings, which seem to continue unabated.

And of course, it has worked. And it’s worked well. So well in fact, that plenty of people are wondering if we ever have to go back to the office at all. “Perhaps, we can just continue to work from home,” they say.

Even the well-respected current affairs magazine, The Economist, has run the headline “Death of the Office” and suggested that the revolution in home working may leave offices around the world empty. They even go on to question the very need for cities dominated by office buildings.

There have been some positives about working from home. For many of us, eliminating the daily commute from our schedule can put between sixty and ninety minutes back into our day, depending on how far out of town we live. That’s enough time for a workout, a walk on the beach or even an occasional sleep in.

The flexibility of working from home has been helpful for those of us with school aged children who, with schools shut down, need supervision and parental support.

And if you need to close out all the distractions and get something done, it is often easier to do that at home rather than at the office, where the regular risk of people dropping by to tell you about their urgent problems can get in the way of progress.

In fact, the whole working from home thing has been so successful, it even has its own acronym. WFH.

However, at the risk of upsetting the believers, I don’t think it’s permanent. In fact, I believe that the office will make a great comeback. And quickly.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to meeting up for a morning coffee or a beer after work. I can’t do that from home.

After all, whilst WFH has worked well, part of the reason it’s worked is because everyone has been doing it. Everyone has been doing it because we didn’t have a choice. And when you don’t have a choice, you do what you must in order to be able to operate. So, you sort out the tech, mobilise the people, and you push past those who say they don’t want to. In other words, you just get on with it.

Believe it or not there are plenty of people who can’t wait to get back to the office. I even know of a couple of characters who’ve snuck in under the cover of level four darkness to do a few hours away from the distractions and noise of home.

You see, there are interruptions at home too. We’ve all seen young children pop up in the middle of a Zoom call or the family pet walking across the desk or jumping up onto the office chair.

And don’t forget the proximity of the fridge. If anything can drag you away from the home office, it’s the home fridge, which is usually better stocked than the one at the office. And then there is Netflix … you get the idea.

Under the level four lockdown, I couldn’t believe how quiet everything was. It was wonderful and productivity was simple as a result. Then with level three came the lawnmowers, the water-blasters, and the building site next door hammering away. All of a sudden, the office started beckoning.

Of course, until eight weeks ago, our offices had become our second homes. The place we go for eight or ten hours a day to get stuff done, and to earn a pay cheque. They are where we bring people together to work for common goals. And notwithstanding the success of the WFH experiment, the reality is that managers and leaders are more readily able to rally the troops, discuss plans and facilitate debate than is possible on a video call.

But most important of all, is this.

Going to work at the office is, in part at least, a social experience. We spend so much time at work, that the people there are more than colleagues. In many cases, they are our friends.

They’re the people that we banter with about the weekend sports (remember sports?) and with whom we share the storyline of the latest book we’ve read. We look forward to a drink with each other on Friday night before heading home. Our workmates are part of our social fabric. And we’re not going to give that up in favour of Zoom meetings.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to meeting up for a morning coffee or a beer after work. I can’t do that from home.

With the lockdowns now over and us returning to our old lives, there is no question that our working habits will have changed forever. Some companies will be ok with some of the people working from home some of the time. Some people will want to work from home.

But that’s not new. The flexible workplace was already a thing. Sure, it’s advanced more quickly than we thought possible and we can now be a bit more confident that it can be made to work.

Companies might work out how to do more with less space. But shared workspaces or hot-desking might be out for a while and so we’ll need a desk for everyone for the foreseeable future.

I recall from my school studies the words of Mark Twain when he said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. I can’t help but feel it’s the same for our offices. Reports of their demise are somewhat premature.

So let’s not knock over those wonderful buildings just yet. And, I’ll see you at the office.

This article first appeared in the NZ Herald on the 15th May, 2020.