How to Market the Office
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How to Market the Office

Going back to how things were isn't going to work. Focus on new ways to entice employees back to the workplace.
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It isn’t really the office anymore.

“Out of office” messages now amuse me. Many people have been out of the office for a year and a half. Now people on vacation are “out of pocket,” “out of communication,” or out of their thinking mind for at least a week. The pandemic detached “work” from the “office.”

Let’s be honest—it meant something when you said, “I’m going into the office.” I’m going to do something productive for society. I’m going to earn for the family. I’m going to meet with people face-to-face and make grand plans. We came together in an office and stuff got done, pre-pandemic. Now we are scattered to the four winds—and still, stuff gets done.

In fact, more stuff seems to get done. More hours, more work, more video meetings, more messages read, and more tasks done. We have become more productive outside the office, further separating the office and productive, thoughtful work. Speaking for our team at Capsule, our results for clients have not faltered, and it could even be said our creative work has improved since we left the office.

The office needs to be redefined as a space for heads-up work.

Meanwhile, major corporations have just dropped their corporate real estate costs onto their employees. Those employees have accepted them willingly because they have a tax benefit—and who wants the frustration, risk, and carbon impact of a commute? These are the overwhelming odds against a return to “the office.”

To recapture its relevance, the office needs to be redefined as a space for heads-up work versus head-down work. It needs to be a social space where our connections are more genuine and intimate (in a business-appropriate way) than we may have demanded prior to working away from the office for a year and a half. It needs to be a place we can transition to and from in the morning and evening.

I hear from friends at Minneapolis architectural design studio Yellow Dog about office space redesigns that start, stop, start again, and then pause. It’s clearly a challenge to find the new purpose of an office. If we don’t have a clear purpose, design can just wander in the wilderness of “Oh, that’s a creative idea” without ever landing on a final result. This, too, is indicative of the challenge to find a new purpose for the office.

Early in the pandemic, I wrote about how habits form in 66 days. Pandemic habits are deeply rooted now; fear and joy are the emotions most likely to change them. Since fear isn’t the ideal leadership trait, we need to turn to the other end of the spectrum—love, joy, and happiness. “I love going into the office,” said no one ever—until the pandemic hit, and we can now appreciate the simple joys of a quiet place away from the kids, spouse, dogs, and other distractions.

We need transitions in life. Here are some thoughts on how to market the office experience for employees.

Teamwork is office work. The office can become a place of communal work, where face-to-face matters. For instance, training new interns and team members always seems better in person, and so do the types of work where an immersive experience helps improve the outcome. It’s also the place where you meet up to go other places together.

Take a break from the hustle at the office. Make that, a “spa-fice.” OK, maybe it doesn’t need to be spa-like attractive, but yes, that’s a factor. More important, the idea of an office needs to change from a place where workers wordlessly perform mindless drudgery into a community we enjoy belonging to and where we feel inspired by our surroundings.

The change of venue is a creative spark. Travel, even a short distance to a new space, can be a creative trigger because it takes us out of our routine. The office can be a “workation,” where we go to see a challenge differently. Now that we have extra space with fewer people in the office, we might as well make it dramatically different.

Whatever you do, please don’t force people back to the same space, with the same smells, same cliché art, same cubicles, and the same old reasons for being present. Things have changed. We need a new purpose for the office, and this is an opportunity to create more loyalty, productivity, and passion for the work we do.

Aaron Keller (aaronkeller@capsule.us) is co-founder and managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis branding agency. He co-authored The Physics of Brand.

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