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Fleming: Work is dead, long live ‘peopling’

Young group showing 'peopling' in the office

Imagine walking into the office, the glass doors opening to reveal a colourful, inviting reception area lush with couches, chairs, and coffee-tables.

You catch the eye of a couple of your colleagues seated at one of the gathering areas. You can smell the dark roast coffee, emanating from the café nearby. Someone steams a latte. You stride into the main office space beyond, golden rays of sun wash through the floor to ceiling windows, lacing everything with a beautiful, shimmering glow.

You hear the buzz, and it strikes you: it’s this buzz that you’ve been missing for the past three years while at home by yourself. 

It’s not difficult to see why, to some, the home office has become more desirable than the traditional office. On the surface working from home is comfortable, quiet, and immediate. It looks like the perfect place for working in the digital age. However, for many of us something is missing: people. 

Spaces that attract people are stimulating and human centered. Laptops, café-culture, and COVID all contributed in their own way to the decline of the traditional office as ‘the place where I do my work’. Since it can be done anywhere, it remains that the office is where people come to engage with their colleagues, to share ideas, and be a part of something.

Activity-based workplaces, spaces made up of a palette of zones for facilitating productivity and interaction, are particularly effective at bringing people into the office and supporting them while they are there. 

Traditionally, going to work used to be associated with a drudge-like existence chained to a desk. It was where we would do all our work which, for many of us, consisted mostly of heads-down typing, writing, or reading. It was our 40-60 hour per week second home. Now, those types of activities don’t need a central physical space as an anchor; most of that work can be done anywhere and our employees demand better. The old reality of working in an office is dead.

Suddenly we have a chance to re-envision the purpose of ‘going to work’. What is our purpose in going there at all? If it is a space where we go not just to do heads-down tasks, then instead it must be for a combination of social & in-person tasks, meetings and interactions or, more informally, ‘peopling’.  

Regardless of the space, however, people yearn to feel supported. Mental-health awareness has come into extreme focus as the whole world experienced COVID-19. It’s understandable then, that a population isolated for three years would place a high value on in-person social interaction. When asked what they want out of their office, we often hear from our clients that face-to-face interaction is extremely important for celebrating, connecting, and clearing blockages in communications.

There is a different quality of energy transfer when people meet in person that cannot be replicated through the formal context of a screen. It’s a primal human experience. 

Offices are worth coming back to, but just not for the same-old work. While head-down tasks can be done anywhere, the ‘coming-together’ of workplace communities can only happen at a central, physical location: the office. For the past three years you’ve been sitting at home by yourself, missing the buzz. The buzz is back and it’s coming from the office.

Let’s be intentional when we bring people back to the office and create a space of supporting, collaborating, and peopling.

Written by: Darren Fleming, CEO of Real Strategy