I was recently asked, “Why do people need to go into the office?”  It wasn’t a naïve question.  The person asking me has done significant research on the subject and was legitimately asking for evidence that supports why showing up at the office helps people be more effective at their job.


At the time, all I had to give her was a bunch of anecdotal stories.  I went on about why people sitting next to each other every day builds trust, how some jobs require team work and rubbing elbows is important for that.  But the truth is, I wasn’t really convincing myself.  I mean, showing up every single day for work is not necessary anymore for a surprisingly large number of people.  And you know what?  All that hanging out in the office isn’t that good for our health, either.  Office spaces as are quickly becoming obsolete.

Here are three big reasons:

1. Our workforce is becoming more and more dynamic.

The “gig economy” refers to the ever-growing group of workers who do not have full-time employment, including independent contractors (self-employed), diversified workers (who do traditional and freelance work), moonlighters, temporary workers an freelance business owners.

Larry Katz from Harvard and Alan Krueger from Princeton, in their article, “The Rise and Nature of Alterative Work Arrangements in the United states, 1995-2015,” conducted a detailed analysis of tax data and found that, “The percentage of Americans engaged in alternative work increased by more than 50 percent over the past decade from 10 percent to 15.8 percent in 2015.  An even more striking finding?  “All of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements,” not from full time jobs.

A recent Intuit study claims that, “more than 80 percent of U.S. corporations plan to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce in coming years.”

Let’s face it, our workforce is more flexible and dynamic than it was just a few years ago.  And do all of these non-FTE employees need to come into the office?  Nope.  They are performance-driven.  The companies they work for will renew contracts based on performance, not attendance.

2. Remote working increases engagement.

Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace “found that from 2012 to 2016, the number of employees working remotely rose by four percentage points, from 39% to 43%, and employees working remotely spent more time doing so.”  Even more interesting is their discovery that, “engagement climbs when employees spend some time working remotely and some time working in a location with their coworkers. The optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time — or three to four days in a five-day workweek — working off-site.”

There is a surprising amount of work that can be done remotely today.  And for many people, working in a quiet environment, away from their colleagues and the buzz of their office is the best way to stay focused and maintain flow.  Plus, as our cities get more and more dense, the increase in commute time only adds to an already long  workday and the opportunity for disengagement. The average commute time at my company (across all of our office locations) is 1 hour each way.  That’s an enormous amount of productive time lost and a stress that can be easily avoided.  Working from home more benefits employees and reduces the stress on our infrastructure.

3. The healthiest place to work is not in an office.

I realize I’m shooting myself in the foot by saying this.  I mean, I design workplaces for a living and I just wrote a book called The Healthy Workplace for goodness sake.  But hear me out.  The deeper I get into researching what makes us healthy and productive at work, the more I realize we’re just trying to recreate the outdoors.  The workplaces that make us happiest, most creative and reduce chronic stress most effectively today are those that mimic natural light (circadian lighting), are biophilic (use or mimic natural elements like trees, plants or water features) and encourage movement.

But no matter how “healthy” our workplace are, they pale in comparison to the positive health impacts of being outside.  As much as we try to recreate places that mimic the outdoors, we’ve got a long way to go to compete with mother nature.

Florence Williams in her new book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative talks about modern technology and what it reveals about what goes on in our brains when we step outdoors—and why nature is so good for us.  Check out her short video below to get a taste.

It’s time to reinvent.

It’s almost incredible how quickly work is changing right before our very eyes.  We live at a time in history where it’s possible, for the first time in a long time, to work while moving around from place to place and to see and experience life from different angles, not just from the four walls of our cubicle or conference room.  Why not spend our time, money and energy creating workplaces that are beautiful, warm, welcoming, meaningful and sustainable ?

It’s time we took a hard look at what makes us tick — psychologically and physiologically — and redesign our work and our workplaces around that.  For a long time we’ve been force-fitting our bodies and minds to work in ways and places that are stressful and uninspiring and frankly, impeding our progress and limiting our thinking.  It’s time to reinvent.

(Image above if of me working at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago.  Now that’s a nice office!)

Want to learn more?  Check out:

Designing a “Free Range” Workplace

A Healthy Environment Can Nudge Behavior

On the Importance of Boredom

We Are Wired To Be Outside

The Rise and Nature of Alterative Work Arrangements in the United states, 1995-2015

The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want, by Diane Mulcahy

2017 State of the American Workplace, Gallup

Photograph of Leigh StringerLeigh Stringer is a workplace strategy expert and researcher.  She works for EYP, an architecture, engineering and building technology firm and is the author of The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.