Here’s why communal workplaces will live on

The coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown throughout the UK and the rest of the world has affected many aspects of working life. Most workplaces, particularly offices, have been closed and working from home has been a necessary alternative.

Whether using established home offices, or working from a kitchen table or a corner of an attic, many people have been surprised by how easy this transition has been.

Only in recent years, superfast broadband, cloud-based computing and conferencing apps such as Zoom have become readily affordable and accessible to the general public. Some experts are suggesting that working from home will become the future, and that offices will become confined to the history books.

However, I believe that communal workspaces play an important role in business, and I think they will live long after the lockdown ends and we have the freedom to choose once more.

People are social beings

Workforces are more productive when they’re made up of happy and contented people. (Faris Mousa: Evolving spaces) Individuals benefit from connecting with others, and that’s not as easy to replicate over video conferencing. People enjoy chatting about the weekend’s football, last night’s reality TV, holidays, the weather. Most of this personal connection has been lost in recent months - as evidenced by the number of people who couldn’t wait to swamp parks and pubs again after restrictions eased. People will welcome the return of sharing space with work colleagues.

Working together sparks creativity

Working in close quarters with others also creates the opportunity to share ideas and learn. Colleague who work together can quickly solve a small problem or combine their expertise to tackle a big project together. Maybe two people are working on separate projects, but realise they can work together to meet both their aims. One employee can be searching for a solution to a problem that a colleague has already solved. Problems are solved quicker in groups. And while some of this can happen via email, Slack and video meetings, these are limited by being formal and structured. Serendipity is a major factor that is lost when people aren’t sitting next to each other.

Home working is added pressure

Working from home relieves an individual of certain responsibilities. Commuting and wearing smart clothing are just two that are not missed by many. But it does present other challenges: maintaining your own technology, for example (not to mention those who live in areas with poor phone signal or broadband speeds). And if this new way of working was to become a permanent state of being, the kitchen table wouldn’t do for long. A dedicated working space would be required, which might require an extra room in the house, which will bump up future rent or mortgage costs. 

Most workers want to mentally leave their work behind when they physically exit the workplace. Not only does a clear mind help mental health, stress and productivity, but there are many responsibilities which we generally accept are those which our employers should shoulder. Working from home comes with its own burden, and as the novelty wears off, this will become more evident.