The 7 Capital Sins of Dreary Offices

March 3, 2023

It sounds like a broken record on a slow turntable... the hallowed (damned) home office remains on the agenda in the politically-correct media and in the angry grumbles in hallways.

On one side, workers enjoying the sensation of freedom in their coming and going. On the other side, bosses mad at the empty offices and turned off cameras. Strong passionate advocacies on both sides. At the center, a question: what is the impact of the abstraction of the workplace on corporate culture?

A legitimate question given the relevance of cultural aspects on business performance in itself. Would it then be possible to produce better sustainable results without the continual socialization of individuals under the orchestration and articulation of leaders?

A lot has already been discussed and written about companies’ attempts (often, frustrated) to lure their employees back to the offices. We have seen a little bit of everything... From movie screenings with popcorn, to pop rock concerts with beer rounds... Even pets (but not children) have been welcomed on office floors. Amazing (despite the smell)!

Some reflection has emerged on the very role offices play in this “new normal” of corporate life. Out of different possibilities, a thread seems to be common: “offices are becoming more informal meeting points, with a warmer color palette... the rest we do at home, really”, declare cheerful voices. While many still think to themselves: “how are we going to bring these people back to the office?”.

It still is early to consider this the new way of doing things... It is more reasonable to say we are in the eye of the hurricane... Where, actually, many leaders advocate their own preferences and needs.

Another way to look at the phenomenon of the abstraction of the workplace is to ponder on the responsibility that must be assigned to the evolutionary path of offices itself over the past decades. After all, were offices absolutely delightful environments, the current agenda would be different. Abandoned office floors also have their share of guilt... they are not mere victims.

Therefore, The 7 Capital Sins of Dreary Offices are listed below:

1. “Canned Shared Desk”. Desks have turned into cubicles to be concatenated into large desks with office chairs. So long family portrait and kitsch knick-knacks! So long drawer unit! So long books and filing cabinets! The shared desks are equipped only with monitors and power strips. Chairs were lined up in the best possible optimization per square meter. Noise pollution was added to the utter lack of privacy in the people-canning process.

2. “Lights, Camera, Pressure!”. Office floors have become increasingly brighter and intense. Successive white-light bulbs coupled with computers shining screens, resulting in severe eye fatigue along daily routines.

3. “Small Spaces for Big Dreams”. The underestimated space has caused lines longer than at amusement parks: at the parking, lifts, restrooms, cafeteria and vied-over meeting rooms. More recently, lines to use phone booths.

4. “Asepsis on Scale”. Environments were gradually decorated by furnishings manufactured in large scale, lacking identity. More or less in the same neutral shades of color, placed on greyish raised floors, under foam ceilings fitted with floodlights, monitored 24/7 by surveillance cameras, equipped with black monitors and chairs. On the walls, the traditionally proclaimed values (often not practiced) were pasted next to industrial printers. In the center, the elevator shaft and shared restrooms.

5. “People Stacks”. The verticalization of urban land has been inexorable in the face of the property speculation, rendering single-user buildings impossible for most companies. The acquisition of patches of square meters on floors in all-glass office buildings has created less fluid dynamics, deepening silos across areas, and distances across hierarchies. Despair parking in the morning, craziness moving at lunchtime, intoxicating annoyance facing the lines of cars in parking levels.

6. “Penguins in Cold Chambers”. Air-conditioned climatization – as the name says – has conditioned the climate on glass-clad office floors. The impossibility of opening windows in skyscrapers, the harshness of the concrete jungles that annihilate the green, the lack of birds’ chirping, the absence of the horizon in the views. The cooling down has resulted in shared colds.

7. “Jammed Islands”. The concentration of office buildings in small central areas has pushed dwellings to the outskirts and the suburbs. Commutes have only become slower, further and boring – in some cases even dangerous in the face of urban violence. Getting up in the early morning to be on time and killing time on the chaotic way back home have become the maddening daily routine of millions and millions of people.

Who would miss going back to places as dreary as that?

In conclusion, the return to the office so dreamed of by many bosses is also associated to a difficult reflection about their appetites to truly invest in productive, creative, and meaningful environments. Otherwise, the resistance will remain great.


Daniel Augusto Motta é Managing Partner e CEO da BMI Blue Management Institute. Doutor em Economia pela USP, Mestre em Economia pela FGV-EAESP e Bacharel em Economia pela USP. É Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. Atua também como Managing Partner da corporate venture capital WhiteFox sediada em San Francisco (EUA), como Senior Tupinambá Maverick na content tech Bossa.etc e com Membro do Conselho de Administração da Afferolab. Também atua como Diretor de Planejamento Estratégico da UNIBES e Membro do Conselho Deliberativo do MASP. Foi Membro-Fundador da Sociedade Brasileira de Finanças. Foi Professor nos MBAs da Fundação Dom Cabral, Insper, FGV, ESPM e PUC-SP. É autor de diversos artigos publicados por Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA e Folha de São Paulo, e também tem três artigos publicados pela Harvard Business Review Brasil. É autor dos livros best-sellers A Liderança Essencial, Anthesis e Data Insights.