One of the biggest challenges the IT sector was faced with following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 was to adapt to the inevitable culture of working from home.
Across the world, employees were abruptly asked to leave their workstations as an emergency evacuation measure with the threat of the virus in the air.
What began as a temporary disaster-management step was soon to be declared the 'new normal'.
The uncertainty around when or if business as usual would resume led to complacency among many and burnout among others.
Whatever the preferences or challenges may be, with COVID-19 restrictions being eased, vaccines being made compulsory, and the pandemic receding, many organisations are beginning to open doors for employees to return to the office, either full-time or via a hybrid model.
Do people want to return to office?
According to a poll by management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates, which surveyed nearly 10,000 people around the world, only 3 per cent of white collar workers wanted to return to the office five days a week. A vast majority (86 per cent) wanted to work from home at least two days per week.
Having no commute and saving money were listed as the biggest advantages of working from home.
However, while this model might seem convenient in the short term, the cons of this arrangement outweigh the pros in the long term.
Why return to the office?
Overworking and tech problems remain key downsides to working from home.
But that's not all. There are several perks of being physically present in the office and these are crucial enough for employees to definitely return to office.
Here are five reasons why returning to the office is beneficial for employees and employers.
Culture and community
According to a report by Ernst & Young, the culture of an organisation has a proven influence on the performance of a business in terms of revenue growth, net income, productivity, creativity and employee retention.
But it's not about the employer or the business alone.
The culture of an organisation has a bearing on employees' well-being at work. It provides a framework for increased engagement, interactions and discussions and gives them a sense of belonging.
Culture acts as a strong support system and facilitates personal development of employees if they are all based out of one location rather than working in silos.
An office is the representation of the culture of any organisation. It encourages employees to identify with the brand and helps them become better representatives of the brand they are working for, thereby ensuring overall development and mutual growth of the organisation and the employees.
A Harvard Business Review report found that while working from home had enabled many to choose the hours they wanted to work and to schedule their work time around other responsibilities, such as child care and household chores, it had definitely thrown work-life balance out of gear.
It is a general human tendency to attend to personal matters first, either as priority or as a way to procrastinate.
On account of this pattern, employees are finding themselves stretching their work hours and feeling burnt out.
Working from the office ensures employees dedicate focused attention to work-related matters, which expedites completion of projects and, hence, increases productivity.
It also subliminally encourages employees to avoid carrying work back home.
Working from home over an extended period can reduce people's networking and interactions to only the people they directly need to work with and takes away the opportunity to bond with other teams.
Being physically present in the office gives employees more time and exposure to connect with people they may not directly interact with everyday.
These spontaneous interactions with people across teams provide different perspectives about the business or the organisation. As a result, there are greater learning and growth opportunities.
Face-to-face interactions are always more effective and personalised. The potential for misunderstanding or miscommunication is higher through video calls because it can be hard to read a person's body language and expressions accurately.
When it comes to growth and promotions, the perks of working from the office far outweigh the benefits of remote working.
Despite the best efforts by organisations to implement ways to track employee productivity, managers have found it difficult to monitor the performance of remote workers, especially in real time.
Regular monitoring can be misconstrued as micromanagement, and employees can have negative reactions to too much interference from their managers.
On the flip side, if an employee is not constantly being monitored, managers may construe temporary absence or a lag in response time as a sign of poor performance.
Setting goals and targets for the team and measuring them is easier when the team is present in the office, where they can be managed and monitored more effectively.
Problem solving is faster when there is no hurdle of virtual interaction and this might expedite learning.
It is easier to identify and remedy any performance-related issues at an early stage.
Better connectivity and ergonomics
An office guarantees certain workplace standards by law.
The internet connection is always more stable in the office than a personal connection, given the infrastructure capacity.
Remote workers can sometimes, if not often, run into internet problems, causing delays in work and disruptions to virtual calls.
There's also easy access to IT support in an office.
Though many large organisations paid employees to set up a home office or to buy suitable office furniture, including a desk and chair, the ergonomics facilities in an office remain more conducive to long hours of sitting.