office

Businesses are trying to find people to sit in empty offices

As more staff work from home, freelancers are being bussed in to sit at their desks

As more and more staff work remotely, some companies are looking for people to come in and fill their empty office space.

What it means: For many people, there are countless advantages to working from home: doing conference calls in your PJs, dodging the sweaty cesspit that is commuting at rush hour, and getting time away from Gavin the Intern and his unbelievably annoying knuckle-cracking habit. (Gav, if you’re reading this: take the hint.) These are the sort of things that make staff happier, more productive, and less likely to quit - all of which is good for their employer’s business and bottom line. And it’s not small change being saved - unhappy workers cost US businesses $550 billion dollars a year because they’re not producing as much work as they could.     

But having lots of staff frequently out-of-office  can have negative consequences. For a start, it can leave office spaces kinda empty. Which can seem like a bad use of all the money businesses put into their offices - for things like rent, electricity, internet, cleaning services, pencil sharpeners etc. An obvious solution would be to simply get rid of the office space entirely. And that is indeed what lots of companies, including WordPress, have done.

There can be downsides to ditching the office though. Meetings are harder to arrange. Staff who spend little time together don’t develop the bonding camaraderie that encourages teamwork and pushes them to excel. And, let’s be honest, it’s just that much harder to impress clients/investors/job applicants when you don’t have an office swimming pool and treehouse to show them.

So some companies are getting creative and headhunting randos to come in and keep their office swivel chairs warm. Mostly these are freelancers who rent a desk or area, often for a short period of time. Business get help keeping their swanky offices’ light on, freelancers get to use the fancy coffee machines and pool tables that actual employees have decided are not worth a 50-minute commute on the Northern line.

The rent-a-desk model is just the latest example of how our notion of a workplace can change over time as people’s preferences and ideas about how to maximise workplace productivity shift. It remains to be seen if office spaces will die off completely, stage a big comeback, or morph into something else entirely (how about virtual reality offices? All the boredom of an identik work cubicle from the comfort of your living room sofa).   

Read our explainer on the economics of workplaces.

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