Recently a lot of people have been saying that getting back to the office is great for productivity, collaboration, and quality of thinking. All of that may be true. However, there’s a more fundamental reason why I am a huge advocate for people getting back to the office, and having their default set to ”I will work at the office – unless I really really can’t’, and that’s because it makes you happier and more satisfied.
Everyone lauded technology and in particular Zoom and Google Meets during Covid / lockdowns – and remarked how bad Covid would have been just 5 years previously. I don’t think it’s as simple as that… I wonder if these breakthroughs in technology are taking us down a pathway to efficiency, productivity and ease, all of which are deceptively dangerous.
Imagine a single 25 year old who’s just moved out of home into a one bedroom apartment. They work from home using Zoom, they eat at home using home delivery, they do their exercise on a delivered Peloton (paid for by their parents?), and they have relationships at home thanks to social media. There’s little reason for them to leave the couch. Check out this clip from one of the best, and most predictively accurate movies of all time, Wall-e and see what life will (and already is becoming) look like.
This is an easy lifestyle to exemplify the issues with this increasingly efficient lifestyle, and I can hear you already saying what people who look after kids, what about carers, what about access for those with disability, what about those who have global roles. Yes, yes, yes, they are all reasons why increased flexibility of working conditions can have benefits – but they are not all reasons why we shouldn’t set the default to be work at work – if you can.
There are going to be increasing reasons why going to work will become increasingly difficult whether it be extreme environmental conditions, increased traffic, or having to work in places where one is not physically present. However, this chase for efficiency comes at a cost, and I (admittedly rather dramatically) think that cost is humanity.
Just like the characters in Wall-e (watch the clip) we begin to become less human, less conscious, and less able. The easier things become, the more sanitized our world becomes, the less we are able to build resilience and grow (psychologically and biologically).
We have a big curvy desk that winds its way through the office. The other day I was standing on one side of the desk and someone on the other wanted to show me something – she couldn’t just pass it over and she had to walk right around the office to get to me. In that moment of extreme inefficiency I watched as she had a couple of moments of incidental chats and when she arrived we laughed about how badly designed the office was. However, we also kind of recognized the beauty in the inefficiency (I hope).
So this is an invitation to everyone to get dressed, put up with traffic, get a coffee at the local café, make small talk in a lift, work with people and have conversations, drive home and then do it all again the next day. Now that may or may not sound like much fun, but the alternative looks far worse.
Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist, and founder of Thinkerbell