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Why are companies forcing people back to the office?

Virtual collaboration tools have come a long way
Virtual collaboration tools have come a long way
October 30, 2013

For a while now companies have been advised that flexibility is a key component to a successful workplace strategy, with remote working being a big consideration. But more recently corporate America seems to be on a tipping point, wanting to bring people back to the office. Some argue that we’ve moved the needle too far towards a “work anywhere” culture.

Two noteworthy cases are Marissa Mayer’s much criticized ban on working from home at Yahoo! and more recently, Meg Whitman setting a new policy at HP “encouraging” many employees to work from the office, noting:

“During this critical turnaround period, HP needs all hands on deck. We recognize that in the past, we may have asked certain employees to work from home for various reasons. We now need to build a stronger culture of engagement and collaboration and the more employees we get into the office the better company we will be.”

In both cases, the main drivers behind the decisions seem to be a need to increase collaboration, innovation, and employee engagement. The timing of Meg Whitman’s move comes as HP continues to struggle with its core business and lack of growth. Part of Whitman’s memo reads: “This effort is part of the company’s cultural shift and will help create a more connected workforce and drive greater collaboration and innovation.”

This begs the question; does physical, face-to-face interaction produce a more connected, more innovative workforce? The easy, consultant-friendly answer: it depends. Most companies are organized into smaller business units or service lines, with varying work styles and sub-cultures. Some groups work very closely together, others tend to focus on more solo, heads-down tasks, while others are constantly bouncing from one location to the next.  

A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. A goal of any good workplace strategy should be to align the physical elements of the workplace with not only the day-to-day tasks people need to accomplish, but also the long-term goals of the business. This includes strategizing both how and where space is allocated.

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About the Author: Mike McKeown is a senior workplace strategist with HOK Strategic Accounts + Consulting group. Based in Dallas, Mike specializes in workplace strategy including: facility programming, trends and benchmarking, space utilization, workplace anthropology and change management. Mike regularly consults with client's facilities and corporate real estate teams to provide solutions that align business goals and workplace strategy. Originally from Philadelphia, Mike attended Carnegie Mellon University where he studied Industrial Design. He is currently earning his MBA at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. Prior to Dallas, Mike lived in Chicago for a number of years, working as an Interior Designer and Workplace Consultant. Read more posts by Mike McKeown.


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