Are Companies Looking at the “Return to the Office” the Wrong Way?

Why it’s time to cut our losses and redefine the place of work

Kevin Ervin Kelley, AIA
Index
Published in
6 min readSep 8, 2021

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iStockphoto.com:peshkov

When I watch old movies, I’m always fascinated by the absence of computer screens on manager’s desks. The same goes for secretaries taking dictation from their bosses. Likewise, future generations might find the elaborate cost of the traditional high-rise office buildings wasteful and the formal coat, tie, shiny shoes, and starched white shirts antiquated. They might also find the water bottle gossip ritual, power lunches, and 9–5 work schedules an odd if not unrecognizable behavior.

Twenty years from now, we’ll find ourselves trying to explain to younger generations how people worked BC (Before Covid) and AC (After Covid). When we tell them how many hours we spent stuck in rush hour traffic each day, they’ll wonder how we could be so reckless with our time. When we describe the hierarchical rules of who got the corner office or sat in which seat in the conference room, they’ll think we had our priorities misplaced. And when we tell them how many distractions and interruptions we encountered during the average workday, they’ll be curious how we ever got any work done. Most of all, though, they’ll want to know why we accepted these archaic rules and institutional practices.

What these younger generations will struggle to understand, however, is how ingrained this way of working was in our society. They might also not grasp how much we had to scramble to get our work done from home when COVID forced office workers into lockdown mode. While the pioneering tools, systems, and processes for working from home are vastly improving now, most companies couldn’t have envisioned operating their businesses outside of a traditional corporate office environment. But now that we’ve had 18 months of it, we’re getting used to it.

The yet-to-be-defined future of work

We’re all well aware — and perhaps even tired — of reading the headlines talking about the pros and cons of working from home since the pandemic. However, it’s worth pausing for a minute to consider how much the place of work and the process of value creation are changing right before our eyes.

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Kevin Ervin Kelley, AIA
Index
Writer for

I’m a retail architect that studies human behavior, perception, and decision-making. I’m fascinated with the intersection of where commerce and community meet.