Remote working, home working is no longer unique thanks to COVID. We can and do work from anywhere. This has led to an exodus from some cities as people flea COVID and offices. We’ve learned how to work Zoom, Teams, Slack, and shared files on the cloud. We’ve realised meetings can be just as effective (sometimes more effective) than in person. Although we’ve now starting waving when the meeting is over (who ever did that before??). Even conferences have gone virtual successfully in many cases.
However, in some parts of the world restrictions are lifting and offices are reopening. And conferences too. Perhaps it’s time to ask what they are for. Not as silly a question as it sounds. If we now know we can do panels, speakers, content provision, just as well remotely as we can in person, then we need to consider what’s left. Why do we have offices? conferences? Are they left over relics of the industrial era? Are they the factories of today? Why do we ask our teams to come into a building, sit at a desk in a cubicle, put headphones on, and type on a computer. Often even using slack or teams to message the person two cubicles over. What’s the point of this?
As we’ve discovered we can do this now from home, skipping the commute. Conferences are similar. Why do we invite people into a large room to listen to speakers, then queue for a coffee, for lunch, for the toilet, when we can skip the queues and listen online.
Offices and conferences can be so much more (but often aren’t). Now is our chance. And no, this is not about making them more boisterous, adding ping pong tables, or anything like that. It’s about considering what is unique about bringing people together in a space. It’s about considering how do we help people connect with others. Not just the extroverts, but the frankly how do we make it work and easy for the introverts, for the outliers, for those who struggle.
Offices and conferences, just like universities, are not about content delivery or transference. We don’t need them for that. Offices and conferences are about connecting people. They are about just enough structure, but not too much. Enough to foster connection and then they need to fade into the background. In that sense, offices and conferences are like good architecture, not cubicles and lectures.
The choice is up to us