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Culture Builder / Remote work / Workplace culture

The office is changing, not going away

Despite breathless reporting of tech workers retreating to the mountains, the data and the stories point to a return to office (and the cities that host them). Here's more from’s latest Culture Builder newsletter.

Remember when we met in conference rooms instead of Zoom? (Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink,’s new Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up here to get the next one this Friday.

A friend works for a global tech platform company. She’s worked there remotely for years, long before a pandemic forced fully two-thirds of Americans to do the same.

She said something interesting to me last week: “I want to go into an office!” So she’s looking to go from big famous tech company to one growing in her hometown because she wants place.

No, she doesn’t want to punch a clock and be required to sit in an office desk five days a week. She still wants the flexibility that comes with most modern companies. But she does want to have more personal relationships with coworkers. She wants to work a problem out with a team in person.

Robert Half reported this week that one in three workers report they’d seek new employment if they were forced to return to the office five days a week — but that number radically changes once any degree of flexibility is added.

Unlike the breathless reporting of San Francisco tech workers retreating to the Idaho hills, my friend represents a very real trend. Most employers and employees want to be tethered to a place; 95% of managers reported they believed employees needed to go to an office at least in part for company culture, according to a PwC survey.’s own surveying of growth-stage tech firms with teams in the mid-Atlantic reports similarly: Just 3% report being remote-only. Employees, too: Three in four report wanting to return to an office at least in part.

Since most managers and most workers want in-office time, density will remain a tool for doing so efficiently. COVID-19 won’t kill cities. Communities outlast companies. Those communities certainly can take place online — in fact, they’re thriving. But there is something very old about tying place to identity.

The office, then, is changing, not going away. It should be a tool for productivity gains, not surveillance. Coordinate meetings and team gatherings and find common ritual and tradition. Where is the employee most productive? That’s where employers should want employees to be.

For me? Give me a couple work from home days and remote flexibility when it helps, but I want in-person time too. That mix will be different for different teams and people. Find the right balance.

Here’s my bet after COVID: Most companies will continue to recruit with a geographic lens. Seventy percent of the companies we survey identify as “remote-flexible” — they’re open to great teammates from anywhere, but they benefit most when a core team is most able to spend time together in person. The continued rise of remote-only companies is real, and some experienced professionals really are well suited for distributed, asynchronous work.

The data shows though that my friend is far more common: She wants the flexibility of a modern work environment with the opportunity to forge relationships in person. I don’t think she’ll have a problem finding that role. Professionals like her (she leads partnerships with major corporate clients and is built to be a chief of staff) are in high demand. But if anyone with an office is looking for a star, I have a lead for you.

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