If you want to lure employees back to cubicles, add adventure incentives.
America has a problem. Ok, America has a few problems (crumbling bridges, understaffed national parks, and a popular music scene that seems to be devoid of anything resembling rock & roll…). But I don’t have a solution for any of those issues, so I’m focusing here on the country’s office space problem. As in, where the hell are most of us going to work moving forward as this global pandemic tails off?
Most of us have been working from home for the last couple of years, and I’ve watched as the country has ridden the emotional roller coaster that such an arrangement entails. First, you’re psyched. You can get more done during a work day because Nancy from accounting isn’t always stopping by your desk to talk about her cat with asthma, and you can wear sweatpants all day. You can’t believe how productive you are! And there’s no commute! You have an extra hour or two added to your day! Maybe you’ll use that time to learn German! Or start painting again!
Then you start to ease off the throttle a bit during the work day and start mixing in episodes of The Family Guy between tasks because, really, what is the work day when your home is your office and you never leave the office? You’re going to be answering emails and filing TPS reports at 10pm anyway, so you might as well take a bit of the 9 to 5 as personal time. Instead of learning German, you use your commute time to sleep more. Also, you’ve started drinking at breakfast.
Slowly it dawns on you that working from home isn’t as great as you thought it would be. Yes, you can wear sweatpants, but your boss still expects you to actually work, even though your spouse thinks you can run errands and rebuild the back deck because you’re at home all day. Also, it’s been three days since you’ve talked to anyone other than your mailman during daylight hours. And he’s starting to think you’re a bit clingy. It’s not healthy. You need structure. You need Nancy to tell you about her asthmatic cat. You need to go back to the office. And your boss agrees; a number of companies are now expecting their workforce to come back into the office at least for a couple of days a week.
But not all office spaces are created equal. I’ve been working full time as a writer for roughly 20 years now and during that tenure I’ve experienced every single iteration of professional office space. I’ve worked in a soulless cubicle and more free-form open space offices where people just sort of float from desk to table to bean bag. During the last decade of working from home, I’ve filed stories from my kitchen table, surfed every coffee shop and bar in town, and even occasionally dragged my laptop to the trailhead and worked from the back of my truck.
Recently, though, I’ve found the best co-working office space ever. It has 16,000 square feet of climbing walls, a dozen lines of progressive dirt jumps, a yoga studio, gym, cornhole, and a bar. Oh, and some tables and chairs for working. Okay, it’s not technically a co-working space. It’s The Riveter, an adventure/fitness facility about 20 minutes from my house, but they don’t seem to mind when I show up with my laptop and work all day, so I’m going to call it a co-working space, and that distinction will be reflected on my tax returns.
I show up on a Tuesday and I work for an hour, I climb for 30 minutes, I work for an hour, I hit the dirt jumps for 30 minutes, I work for an hour, I drink a beer…rinse and repeat until it’s time to clock out for the day. I understand I have a unique situation here and not everyone has a “co-working space” like The Riveter in their backyard, but I think the corporate world could learn a thing or two from my office scenario and the pandemic in general.
Silicon Valley tried to reshape the workspace with nap pods, ping pong tables, and free sushi bars, but why not bring a bit of nature and adventure into that stale high rise office space? You want your managers and IT guys to come back into the office? Replace the third-floor conference room with a bouldering cave. I don’t think it’s outrageous for employees of Enron to ask for a pump track in the corner of the parking lot. How about a quarter mile of singletrack wrapping around the building for lunch-break jogs? On Wednesdays, turn off the escalator and give a bonus to the first employee to Everest inside the building that day.
The pandemic showed us how far a bit of nature and exercise go towards making us happier, more complete individuals. If companies want their workforce to come back to the office, they need to take that into account. If having a fleet of BMX bikes and three lines of tabletop jumps behind the office park help increase the bottom line, then so be it. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to institute Pajama Mondays and throw up an episode of The Family Guy in the conference room every once in a while.