Does COVID-19 mark the end of the office?
Every morning before I enter my home office, I start with a ‘virtual commute’. I walk for twenty minutes around the block and process my tasks for the day. It helps me separate home mode from work mode, gets in some essential daily exercise, and provides a much-needed change of scenery.
After a few weeks of ‘virtual commuting’, I started to notice a few things around the neighborhood. Teddy bears were peeking from behind every other household window. The pavement beneath my feet was exploding with colorful chalk drawings.
It brought a moment from Avengers: Endgame to mind. Five years after Thanos blipped half of all sentient life out of the universe, Captain America says to Black Widow, “You know, I saw a pod of whales when I was coming in, over the bridge… fewer ships, cleaner water.”
This week marks one month of PaperCut entering our businesswide Distributed Working model. Across the globe, we’re all transitioning to this new way of life, uncertain of how long it will last. But, like Captain America, I don’t want to focus on the negative.
In the last month, I’ve never seen so many families walking together, drawing together, sitting on their front lawns together. Right now it feels like we’re more connected as a community than we’ve ever been.
However, an area of connectedness we’re all sorely missing right now is office life. Many publications are claiming COVID-19 might bring about the long-anticipated end of office working.
Those of us currently working from home can attest that we’re perfectly capable of doing our jobs from home. It does have its advantages. It can mean more quality family time, and increased productivity (well, at least when the kids are not under my feet!)
But I miss the office. And I’m not alone.
6 things PaperCutters miss about office life
If you know PaperCut, you know we’re coffee obsessed. We leaned into the “coders live on caffeine” stereotype long ago. All our offices have professional coffee equipment and our team members receive professional training as part of the onboarding process.
But it provides more than our daily caffeine requirements, it’s a vital part of our working culture. The coffee machine is our “water cooler”, a place for organic personal and professional networking. It’s amazing how many business/coding/customer problems are solved standing and chatting next to the coffee machine!
Same as the coffee machine, lunchtime is a haven for both small and big talk. Whether it’s a lunch date over what you’ve brought from home or our various lunch groups.
There are Parma day Thursdays and Friday team lunch excursions. In the Camberwell office, we miss our regular haunts East and Trangs.
We also have dedicated groups to favorite foods like noodles and fish & chips. There’s also a breakfast club as well as snacks and drinks in the arvo on a Friday. Let’s not forget pop-up snackables on various team tables and our monthly birthday cake celebrations!
Self-isolation means your variety of views is limited: home workspace, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. A daily commute to the office meant a change of scenery which was a prime method for preparing for the day and powering down. Whether by car, motorcycle, bicycle, public transport or foot.
Our Camberwell office is near a wonderful trail where many a PaperCutter would stroll or go for a lunchtime run. There’s also the city views from our building.
And then we’re even missing just being able to simply go for a little walk in the building, change to a different meeting room just because I can, or stop by a colleague from a different team to simply say, “Hi”.
Before COVID-19 you’d overhear many a PaperCutter say they looked forward to going to work. We’re a serious workplace but part of productivity is making time for play and having fun. PaperCut is rich with social activities for health and recreation.
From our Tuesday soccer matches to weekly Wednesday yoga sessions. There are also opportunities for ad hoc fun like regular rounds of table tennis in our games room. Impromptu Nerf wars can happen at any moment.
Our Camberwell office is also close to a number of gyms. Nothing motivates you to put in some exercise when you’re surrounded by colleagues shuffling off in their active-wear at lunchtime.
5) A cleaner
No explanation required.
6) Each other
This will hit close to home. It’s obvious but it’s the truth. I think we all appreciate how serious “social isolation” is as a concept. We miss our colleagues.
We miss random chats at our desks, in the hallway, and in the stairway. Even silly things like rescuing people stuck in the stairwell because they forgot their security fob.
We’re more than colleagues, we’re a family, and we miss each other dearly.
More than an office
Don’t get me wrong, we’re making the most out of our Distributed Working model. We’ve created virtual substitutes for many of the above cravings. All team-members have weekly virtual coffee chats with a randomly selected colleague (coordinated through a code bot of course!) We have virtual brekkie club Friday mornings and virtual drinks Friday afternoons. Our yoga group still meets at the same time virtually as well.
But it’s not just the social side of the office we miss. It’s more than an office. That’s why the teddy bears in the household windows and the footpath chalk scribbles bring a smile to my face. It reminds me of that sense of connectedness.
I don’t think COVID-19 is seeing us forget the office. I think it’s making us appreciate it. All those social interactions actually informed us as a business – they actually make up a key part of our collective consciousness and group intelligence. By being able to come together at the coffee machine, over table tennis, while walking to the soccer game or the gym, our work felt like more than work, it felt like a community.
So is this the end of the office?
No, I don’t think so. Just like all the communities and neighborhoods across the globe, the office is going to come out of this richer, and stronger.
I’m reminded of another scene in Avengers: Endgame (social isolation has meant for a bit of binge-watching). Tony Stark stops by the Avengers compound and after initial reluctance, agrees to embark on a Hail Mary mission to save the universe. He says to Captain America, “I’ve gotta tell you my priorities. Bring back what we lost: I hope, yes. Keep what I found: I have to, at all costs.”
I think what COVID-19 has helped us find is that appreciation for what we take for granted.
So when we’re on the other side of this thing, I hope I’m still regularly walking around my neighborhood, still seeing teddy bears in windows, chalk drawings on concrete, and families out walking and playing together. Just like I hope to soon be talking with my fellow PaperCutters over the coffee machine, and before we know it our casual chats about what we did on the weekend become excited chatter over what we’re currently working on.