By now, we’re all well aware how drastically the remote working era ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly changed the way businesses operate. But more and more companies are making the deliberate choice to return to the office—at least part-time. When even the tech companies that drove the remote work revolution, including Zoom, Google, and Salesforce, are bringing employees back to the office, one can’t help but wonder; What exactly is driving this decision? Let’s explore six main benefits of in-person work that these companies are hoping to tap into.
6 Benefits of In-Person Work
While many professionals prefer the flexibility of remote work—34% of remote-capable workers prefer staying fully remote, and 90% never want to return to the office full time—the notable benefits of in-person work make exploring at least a hybrid workplace model appealing to many organizations. Given the distinct popularity of hybrid work arrangements, the decision to go back to in-person work all the time should be weighed with care.
Regardless whether a full return to the office or a more flexible work arrangement makes sense for your business, by bringing back some form of in-person work, you have the opportunity to foster many of these benefits for your employees:
1. Reinforcing Human Connection
As humans, we’re inherently social creatures—meaning that we crave connection the old-fashioned way, physically face-to-face. Sure, digital communication tools have bridged the distance during remote work, but they can’t completely replace the unique qualities of in-person interactions. Social psychology researchers found that face-to-face meetings are 34 times more successful than emails at achieving a desired outcome based on provided instructions, highlighting the irreplaceable impact of physical presence.
Loneliness is another concern, with a 2022 global survey showing that 72% of workers experience loneliness at least once a month. A partial or complete return to in-person work could help combat workers’ loneliness, offering a space where colleagues can reconnect, engage with, and stimulate each other.
2. Facilitating Employee Growth and Career Development
Especially for younger employees, the office environment is essential for developing networks and social capital. Sociologist Tracy Brower explains that being physically present in the office can help aspiring leaders stay on the radar of their supervisors so they remain top-of-mind when growth opportunities arise.
The initial years of people’s professional careers are critical for developing essential skills that help lay the foundation for future success, which is often facilitated through on-the-job training and face time with managers or mentors. Remote work—whether on a sales team, in marketing, engineering, or another department—could hinder this essential growth phase for new workers, which makes the return to office a strategic choice for organizations that prioritize employee development.
3. Creating Optimal Workspaces for Creativity and Engagement
The pandemic prompted many companies to rethink and redesign their workspaces in a way that further enhances creativity and collaboration. Beyond ergonomic seating, focus areas, and amenities tailored to different working styles, companies are prioritizing spaces that encourage social connection like lounges and coffee bars, and meeting rooms with interactive displays that encourage group collaboration. Modern office designs can also incorporate features that cater to the diverse needs of employees, from accessible facilities for disabled workers to quiet spaces for neurodiverse individuals—signaling an organization’s commitment to inclusivity and helping make employees feel more comfortable and valued.
Keep in mind that, while some remote workers may have set up their workspaces optimally for their individual working preferences, not everyone has the resources to do so—making the in-office amenities potentially impactful for these workers. And for those professionals who are feeling isolated or lonely in a remote work environment, the opportunities for connection that the office offers will likely be appealing.
4. Balancing Work-Life Integration
The hybrid approach, offering both remote and on-site working options, provides employees with the flexibility they desire while still offering the benefits of an office environment. Working some days in the office also helps create more distinct boundaries around work and home life, which many fully remote workers appear to have lost. One study found that 45% of remote employees reported working more than 8 hours per day and 68% worked on the weekend—blurring the line between work and home life.
While many people dislike the hassle of commuting, others find that it offers an important separation between work and home that is beneficial to their well-being and sense of balance. For employees that are hesitant about returning to the commute, some organizations offer commuting perks to help lighten the burden.
5. Enhancing Collaboration and Communication
In-person collaboration often builds stronger relationships and trust due to a range of factors including non-verbal communication, opportunities for spontaneous interaction, and more potential for team bonding. Social bonds often form through shared experiences and casual interactions. In-person work settings provide opportunities for socializing during breaks, lunches, or team events, helping build a sense of camaraderie and trust.
In-person collaboration provides a shared physical space where team members can work together, solve problems, and create solutions in real time. For example, a sales team can benefit from an in-person seminar on sales enablement so that they can workshop the process together. This can lead to more effective collaboration, which can further enhance trust within the team, whereas virtual collaboration can be limited by technological barriers or the lack of a shared workspace. A blend of in-office and remote work, guided by clear expectations, can offer an optimal balance.
By allowing for a richer, more nuanced form of communication and collaboration, in-person interactions can help create a work environment where relationships and trust thrive, contributing to a more cohesive and effective team.
6. Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives
Returning to the office provides a space for authentic face-to-face interactions, potentially dismantling barriers and nurturing a more inclusive environment. For one, being physically present in the office can reduce proximity bias, where managers unintentionally favor those who are physically closer or more familiar to them. In-person interactions can also lead to stronger relationships between colleagues from diverse backgrounds, as face-to-face communication encourages empathy and understanding and helps break down barriers that might be harder to dismantle in a virtual environment. Sharing experiences and learning about others’ perspectives can help build a more empathetic and inclusive organizational culture.
Finally, it’s important not to overlook the inequities that come with remote work. Not all employees have access to a conducive remote working environment, with people’s living space, internet access, and home responsibilities varying widely. This variance leads to inequalities in work experience. Achieving “collaboration equity” has become an increasing imperative for remote work employers striving to ensure all workers have the ability to contribute equally—but it’s difficult to even the playing field completely in an all-remote work environment. A return to the office can provide a more accessible and culturally sensitive working environment, helping to level the playing field.
Embracing a Thoughtful Return
The decision to return to the office, whether full or part-time, is complex and requires a thoughtful, empathetic approach that involves your employees and other key stakeholders. While in-person work offers many benefits to employees and organizations, it’s important that it makes sense both from a human capital and financial perspective, and that your organization is able to gain the buy-in of the majority of your workforce.
A successful transition to hybrid or in-person work will depend on clear communication, flexibility, and a willingness to meet both company goals and employee needs. Work with your company leadership to craft strategies that serve your organization and the people who make it thrive, taking full advantage of what the office environment uniquely offers.