How remote work will change the tech office indefinitely

Social distancing hasn’t stopped us from socializing. In fact, we’ve been more social, virtually, than we ever expected. Here at Aura, we’ve used this time to pick the brains of local and international leaders on what the future might look like now that we’ve been forced into working remotely and seen the benefits. 

In this interview, Dan Boram, Aura’s CEO, spoke with Jason Bailey, the Co-Founder and Chairman of East Side Games. Home to 150 employees, the game studio was ready to sign a lease on a space of 25,000 sq. ft. to accommodate its growing team, and it was about to work with Aura on reconfiguring that space to fit their needs. Right in the midst of signing paperwork and getting organized, COVID19 hit and the company was forced to work completely remotely, pushing Jason to re-think the company’s next move. The decision was to pause all renovations on the brand new lease and have staff work remotely until the end of 2020. 

Chatting about this experience and discussing what the future holds, this conversation uncovered some innovative approaches that could change the way tech offices work, forever. Here are some of the highlights.

 

Office spaces won’t completely vanish

“So I get up early, rush out the door to get in the car for a long traffic commute where I burn fossil fuels. Once I get there, I pay for expensive city parking and buy a coffee in a disposable cup, so that I can then sit down in the rows of desks at the office and send a slack message to someone 5 feet away from me. Doesn’t this seem absurd?” — Jason

Jason’s right. This way of working suddenly sounds bizarre! With the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen that we can accomplish most of what is achieved at the office, from home. So what do we really need the office for?

Well, after boiling down that question to the root core, we found that as humans, we crave connection with other people. Work relationships are incredibly important to employee well-being as they create a sense of belonging—something that social psychologists have found to be an extremely important intrinsic motivator. A study by Cigna dug into the cost of loneliness, finding a 15% average engagement score of employees worldwide when human connection and belonging were ignored. 

Based on this natural need to connect in person, Jason and Dan agreed that the office isn’t going to completely disappear any time soon. Despite staff being more productive working remotely, employers will still need to cater to their staff’s desire to gather in a physical space. 

 

Offices will become social destinations

Knowing that a sense of culture, belonging, team spirit, and the feeling of being part of a family is typically achieved through ‘watercooler chats’ and workplace events, can we start setting up office spaces for those purposes, and leave the majority of work to be done from home?

Certainly. Jason and Dan dug into the idea that offices will transform into hubs. The idea is that a lot of individual focus work, such as reports, emails, data, engineering, etc. can be done from home, and so the office instead becomes a social place for the team to gather and collaborate as needed. With this arrangement, team events and meetings are organized at these spaces as needed and employees choose when they would like to come in. Jason’s ideas even went as far as suggesting that the office could function similar to controlled-access country clubs with bars or full restaurants as the social hubs, rather than office buildings. Using these destinations gives the team culture a space where it can thrive while lowering leasing costs and helping employees enjoy a more harmonious work-life balance.

 

WFH set-ups will improve 

Without large office spaces to pay for, companies will now be able to allocate funds elsewhere, as investments in the specific needs of their employees. As East Side Games transitioned to working remotely, they wanted to equip their employees with everything and anything that they would need to regularly work from home. This would include high-speed internet, ergonomic chairs, stand up desks, second monitors, and the list goes on. Jason stated that it is crucial to the company to not “only make it work for employees, but make it comfortable for them”. 

Moving forward, we expect to see more companies increase work-from-home office allowances per employee.

 

Every office will evolve differently

While East Side Games made the call to transition to a fully remote workforce, it’s not to say that every company will follow this lead. Independent research at Aura has shown us that work arrangements of the future can take many different forms.

Some will gladly follow the hub idea, others will allow employees to work from home a couple days a week with business as usual otherwise, and many other companies will fall somewhere in between. Future work arrangements will also largely depend on the industry the company is in. Tech companies might be the most adaptable to a fully remote environment, while traditional law firms might be more hesitant to pull such a trigger. 

If there’s anything these hard times have brought us, it’s a new opportunity to learn and evolve. Any industry that can offer remote working or any company that is currently deep in the process of either moving, re-signing their lease or renovation should consider rethinking the strategy behind the decisions being made. 

We can’t be certain what the offices of the future will look like, but what we can do is analyze the moves of leaders like East Side Games, and make predictions. One thing is for sure though, the office will certainly not be the same again.