Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Since 2020, millions of office workers have transitioned to working from home, and some of the biggest proponents of long-term remote work have been SaaS (software as a service) companies like Twitter and Amazon Web Services. So as the future of work changes, it begs the question: Does your company need an office?
Why we work in shared spaces
As early as the 17th century, people were gathering at cafes and libraries to work together. Today’s coffee shops are still full of people laboring away, of course, but now they’re doing it remotely from their laptops — instead of collaborating with the people sitting around them, they are connecting with distant colleagues.
Private workrooms began as a way for elite government officials and academics to collaborate, and essentially these first offices weren’t all that different from today’s — spaces that allowed people to communicate easily, because sending letters back and forth took time. Even after telephones were invented, in-person meetings were the most convenient way of exchanging ideas, and offices have remained until very recently the place to foster creativity and collaboration. So, as we consider the future of work, we must also consider the best option of supporting both those qualities.
Office design reflects the times
The history of office design is fascinating. While information on very early ones is limited, we know that 20th-century layouts often changed to reflect work culture. In the early 1900s, most spaces were sizeable open-concept rooms similar to a factory floor and were loud, vibrant environments. Often the supervisor’s office was raised to overlook the shoulder-to-shoulder desk workers.
German office design became influential in the United States beginning in the 1950s, part its intention being to organize space to reflect worker functions. Irregularly spaced desks and conference tables replaced the structured rows of desks in this new Bürolandschaft (literally “office landscape”) style, and the same movement introduced the cubicle, so that workers could have privacy to focus and isolate themselves from collaborative spaces.
Related: In Defense of the Office
By the 2010s, most workplaces had once again adopted the large and open-concept style — cubicles perceived at that time as roadblocks to networking and collaboration. While these designs weren’t always practical (a fact detailed in a 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review), they were still the dominant layout leading into 2020.
Put succinctly, office spaces have always changed to reflect the work culture of the day, and there is potential for them to remain a key business component, as long as they keep up with trends.
What purposes can an office serve today?
In a world where so many can now operate remotely, you may find yourself wondering, “What is the point of having a collective work space?” (Especially for SaaS companies that don’t need to store physical products.) Actually, they can serve a host of important functions, even for remote-first businesses.
Top factors to consider when deciding if you need one:
• People: Would employees use the office? Even if they can work from home, some may actually prefer to use it a couple of times a week, or even just for key meetings. Hiring new talent can also be easier when you have an onsite location for interviews and training.
• Events: Would your company benefit from having a space to host stakeholder or progress meetings, holiday parties or other gatherings? Investing in a dedicated space can have a positive impact on brand confidence for investors, employees and others.
• Mail: Even if you run a SaaS company, don’t overlook the importance of having a mailing address. To register your company and open bank accounts, you will need one, and an office is an obvious choice.
• Storage: Many companies need storage space for servers, equipment and other items. If that’s the case for yours, then an office space could be a great option. Many buildings, of course, also have built-in security features to help keep them safe.
• Community: Employees may prefer working remotely, but at what cost? If your business is stalling, then an office may get creative collaboration flowing again; face-to-face time with colleagues can encourage new ideas and also build a sense of community.
So, does your company need an office?
The short answer is, maybe. When we started ButterflyMX in 2014, flexibility was already a priority. I wanted my team to be as agile as possible and remote work allowed us to choose the best talent, regardless of location. But even as a globally distributed company, having an office has been vital. We’ve invested in spaces where our employees can meet, create and develop as they see fit. After watching this endeavor grow over the past eight years, I feel confident that the choice to be remote-first with the option to work in the office has been the best choice for us.
There’s a lot to consider before you commit. For many businesses like mine, an office has more pros than cons. If you’re thinking about securing one for your company, then chances are you already know why you need it. The best solution will be unique to you.