The future of work: The office reimagined as a clubhouse

A recent essay suggests that the days of the office as a workplace are numbered, and the replacement should be more of a social club.

A recent Wall Street Journal essay provided a novel suggestion for repurposing large offices: turning them into a “clubhouse” or social space of some sort. Like many who have experienced remote work over the course of the pandemic, the author suggests that remote work lies somewhere on the spectrum of tolerable to preferable for most of us when it comes to actual heads-down work. This is likely news to no one, and most organizations have seen minor flashes of rebellion when suggesting mandatory return-to-office policies.

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However, most remote workers readily acknowledge that in-person encounters are superior for some activities, where human interaction is the focus rather than heads-down time on a task. Most companies have recognized this phenomenon and are attempting to recast offices as destinations, with social spaces and even yoga studios to attract workers.

The author of the WSJ essay takes this one step further, suggesting that the primary focus of the physical office be fostering social interactions. Aside from a few shared desks, he envisions spaces that resemble bars or cafes more than cubicle villages and workers leaving laptops and noise-canceling headphones at home for a day of interaction.

Do we need offices at all?

Many of the remote workers I’ve spoken to miss the informal interactions that come over a meal or cup of coffee. The few business trips I’ve taken since the pandemic were focused on in-person collaboration and idea generation, tasks that were far more effective than a video meeting with the same objective. A significant portion of that collaboration was accomplished over meals or in a hotel lobby rather than huddled over laptops, lending credence to the idea of a company clubhouse.

We’ve seen early iterations of this concept on large campus-style offices, where a single dominant employer has created a tiny city of sorts. In extreme examples, some of these corporate campuses contain dry cleaners, multiple eateries and coffee shops, daycare facilities and even five-star restaurants.

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The purported benefit of these campuses mirrors what many corporate leaders are suggesting: a set of interesting services and social opportunities will draw employees to the same physical location. However, outside the campuses that are located away from major cities, do we really need social spaces, cafes, exercise facilities and restaurants in urban centers that are already choc-a-block with these amenities? Furthermore, do corporations want to compete not only against their current market rivals, but as yoga studios, restaurants and coffeehouses? At a more…

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